50. Memorandum From David D. Elliott of the National Security Council Staff and the Counselor of the Department of State (Sonnenfeldt) to Secretary of State Kissinger 1


  • Chemical Weapons

An SRG meeting on this subject is scheduled for January 27, 1975. The issues are:

—Should we improve our chemical weapons (CW) offensive capability by producing and stockpiling new binary chemical weapons (NSSM 192)?

—Should we seek some international agreement on CW restraints (even though none could be reliably verified), and what are our options for such restraints (discussed in the 1972–73 NSSM 157 and follow-on reports)?2

—What joint initiatives are we prepared to consider with the USSR on limiting the most lethal CW agents (in light of the 1974 Summit statement on this subject)?3

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Your purpose at the SRG is (1) to confirm agency views on the binary questions; (2) to agree that based on the binary decision the President can decide on which international CW limitations, if any, should be sought; and (3) to direct that an ad hoc interagency group prepare options for a position, encompassing these decisions and any verification objectives, for a meeting with the Soviets.

As a result of the interagency review, all agencies except the JCS believe we should not now pursue production and stockpiling of binary chemical weapons at this time. However, as noted below, OSD wishes to keep open the option for future binary production, whereas State and ACDA believe this option has little real utility and would preclude any meaningful international agreement banning lethal CW production—an agreement which would be in our interest. The JCS recommended a decision favoring acquisition of binaries and oppose any arms control measures which would prohibit this. (My analytical summary, agency positions, and the interagency report are at marked tabs.)4

Also as a result of the interagency review, all agencies agree that our CW defensive posture needs to be improved regardless of the decision on our offensive posture.

The Binary Decision

Binary CW weapons would consist of two relatively safe, separate chemical components which would combine to form the standard lethal nerve agents while the munition is en route to target. Their storage and transportation would involve no special safety hazards, and they could provide a significantly improved CW offensive and deterrent capability if they alleviated political constraints on storage, transport, and peacetime forward deployment.

The binary issue has come to a head as Army development has reached the stage for a production decision on artillery shells. The issue was somewhat defused since Defense’s FY 75 budget request for $5.8 million to establish a binary production facility at Pine Bluff Arsenal, Arkansas, was knocked out on the floor of the House (by a vote of 218 to 186) after being favorably reported out of committee. The Senate agreed to the deletion. We need a decision on binaries, however, to provide guidance for Defense’s FY 76 budget and to help determine the more immediate question of what our position should be regarding options on CW limitations.

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CW Rationale and Utility

We are committed by the Geneva Protocol not to use CW except in retaliation (see marked tab).5 We maintain a lethal CW capability as a deterrent against and a response-in-kind to wartime use of CW by an adversary.

There is no CW threat to CONUS. Our primary concern today is the Soviet threat against US and Allied forces in Europe. We do not know the size or location of Soviet stocks or production facilities. We do know that their and some of their Allies’ chemical-biological-radiological (CBR) defensive measures and, therefore, their ability to operate in any toxic environment exceed our’s or NATO’s. (The very substantial Soviet capability is detailed in the NSSM 192 study, pp. 4–10.)6

If the Soviets were to initiate use of CW on a significant scale in a conventional conflict, US/NATO forces would suffer a serious net disadvantage. This disadvantage could be redressed if (1) we had adequate CW defenses (equipment and training), and (2) retaliated effectively either with CW (to attempt to impose similar severe operational constraints attendant to warfare in a toxic environment) or with tactical nuclear weapons. The CW capability may not eliminate a need to move to tactical use of nuclear weapons to redress the conflict situation, but it would allow us to make that determination on its own merits—if existing CW defensive and offensive deficiencies were corrected by both our Allies and us.

US Capability and Programs

US policy (NSDM 35 of November 1969)7 calls for a deterrent/retaliatory CW posture. What the US CW posture should be has never been defined any further.

All our currently employable CW munitions (not including bulk agent) could provide full CW air and ground support for 13–15 US divisions in Europe for 30 days, plus some CW ground munitions sup[Page 234]port for about 30 allied divisions. We have more than sufficient tons of CW agents (bulk and in munitions) for about 25+ US divisions for 90 days.

Nonetheless, our actual CW offensive capability is limited and thereby considered inadequate from the military viewpoint mainly because (1) our CW defensive posture is inadequate; (2) about a third of the filled munitions capability consists of mustard agent, which is considerably less effective than nerve agent; (3) about half the stockpile (in bulk agent) could not be loaded into munitions today on a timely basis; (4) our limited forward deployed stocks (at one site in Germany) could at best support local tactical operations for 4–7 divisions for a week; and (5) no air munitions are prepositioned.

In addition, except for France’s meager stocks, no NATO state has any CW and their CW defenses are no better than ours.

The stocks that we do have are quite durable. Agents in bulk stocks will remain unchanged virtually indefinitely. Almost all our useable filled ground munitions and bombs are not expected to have any significant problems of deterioration or obsolescence through the 1980’s, though our filled spray tank capability could well become unserviceable sometime after 1978 and the military could prefer to phase-out some delivery systems.

CW Posture Alternatives

There are three basic posture alternatives. Each alternative envisages improvements in our CW defensive posture. As noted below, each alternative has different implications for the arms control options considered in the NSSM 157 and follow-on reports.

Alternative 1. Acquisition of Binary Chemical Weapons. Current military projections would include the acquisition of about 7,600 nerve agent tons in binary ground and air munitions, at a DOD estimated cost of $333 million over 5 or more years (not including any inflation factor, operation and maintenance, or substantial demilitarization costs for an equivalent portion of the existing stockpile). This, plus existing filled munitions, would still not meet estimated military requirements for all US forces.

Arms Control Interface. This alternative would be compatible with Option 1 of the NSSM 157 study (limiting stocks to agreed or declared retaliatory levels and banning international transfer of CW), as supported by the JCS and OSD.

Advantages. Binaries would (1) provide a significantly improved CW retaliatory capability for US forces if coupled with an improved defensive posture and might provide a better CW deterrent; (2) facilitate [Page 235]rapid deployment in war or crises;8 and (3) probably not be subject to the same political/legal constraints on peacetime storage and transport as are current stocks since binaries would involve essentially no special safety hazards.

Disadvantages. Acquisition of binaries (1) would at best be very controversial in Congress and indications are that Congress may well not support substantial CW budget increase;9 (2) might require limited open-air testing (otherwise we would be stocking up with a weapon not fully tested) which would also be very controversial; (3) if not accepted as a genuine effort to deter CW use, it would be criticized internationally and domestically as contrary to our declared interest in CW arms control; (4) might spur further Soviet programs in CW to counter our improvements; and (5) might lead to further proliferation of CW capabilities.

[The JCS support this choice. They believe that binaries are needed to provide a significant improvement in our CW offensive capability and thereby provide a credible and adequate CW deterrent. OSD wants to keep the binary option open for possible future production.]10

Alternate 2. Reliance on Existing CW Offensive Capability. This would not entail new production of any CW agents (binary or non-binary). But it would not rule out filling munitions from existing bulk agent stocks to compensate for any phasing-out or deterioration of delivery systems in the late 1970’s or 1980’s. It also envisions maintenance of an adequate CW R&D program and would not rule out continuing R&D on binaries.

Arms Control Interface. This would be most compatible with Option 2 (prohibiting further production and international transfer of CW agents) of the NSSM 157 study, as supported by State and ACDA.

Advantages. This would (1) retain the existing CW deterrent/retaliatory capability (although limited); (2) be the least controversial and provocative posture, domestically and internationally; (3) be consistent with our declared interest in CW arms control and provide the most flexibility for arms control if a production ban were desired; and [Page 236](4) be less likely to encourage either an increase in the Soviet CW capability or proliferation of CW capabilities.

Disadvantages. Our current CW deterrent/retaliatory capability is admittedly limited and considered inadequate from the military standpoint. In addition, our existing CW munitions capability (not bulk) could begin to diminish sometime after 1978 (and perhaps significantly diminish sometime later if delivery systems are phased out or become unserviceable)—unless we acquire binaries or fill munitions from existing bulk stocks (which would also be controversial).

[State and ACDA strongly support this choice11 and believe we should seek a CW production ban inter alia to forestall proliferation of CW capabilities. OSD supports reliance on existing CW stocks for now (largely because a “US only” CW capability without Allied CW capabilities and/or cooperation is inadequate with or without binaries) but OSD wishes to continue binary R&D and to keep options open for future binary production.]

Alternative 3. Reliance Only on Conventional and Nuclear Forces and much Improved CW Defensive Capability, with No Ready CW Stockpile. This envisions destruction of existing CW stocks within 10–15 years, with a Soviet commitment to do the same. The existing filled munitions capability would remain for the first 5–8 years.

Arms Control Interface. This alternative coincides with Option 3 (prohibiting stockpiles, production, and international transfer of CW agents and munitions) of the NSSM 157 study, which ACDA and State believe should be our ultimate objective.

Advantages. This would (1) be welcomed internationally and domestically by some; (2) avoid the political and financial costs of binary acquisition; (3) provide an opportunity to place some political and legal constraints on Soviet CW stockpiling and production through CW arms control; and (4) call for a much improved defensive posture which could reduce the overall advantages an adversary could gain through initiating the use of CW in a conventional conflict.

Disadvantages. This could be very controversial in Congress and with some Allies since we would not be able to determine what the Soviets are doing in this area. This absence of a ready US CW capability might tempt the Soviets to maintain a secret stockpile with a view to providing CW to states in a non-NATO conflict or to initiating use of CW in a conventional war. If they did the latter, it would probably be [Page 237]necessary for us to use tactical nuclear weapons to redress the military situation.12

[ACDA believes that this should be our ultimate objective and would not necessarily lower the nuclear threshold.]

Our View. It is unlikely we can attain a significant binary capability given congressional constraints (which reflect public attitudes toward CW) and budget priorities. Even if we could, binary acquisition would certainly be controversial here and abroad, appear contrary to our declared interest in CW restraints, might confront us with the issue of some open-air testing, and provide no real leeway for arms control negotiations (thereby showing our Summit declaration to be empty).

Moreover, as OSD has noted, a “US only” CW offensive capability, with or without binaries, is not an adequate CW posture against the Warsaw Pact. The CW option is a thin one indeed unless (1) we and our Allies improve CW defenses (which is likely to some degree but is not a priority endeavor), and (2) either we and our Allies improve CW offensive capabilities significantly (which our Allies are not likely to do and we are probably not able to do politically) or we stockpile sufficient CW for ourselves and our Allies (which would be more controversial here and even less likely to receive congressional support).

Destruction of our stocks (combined with much better CW defenses) and a ban on both production and stockpiles would probably be in our interest were reliable verification possible. But it is not and retention of our significant (even if limited) CW capability provides some relatively inexpensive insurance as a hedge. Moreover, a decision now to destroy existing stocks would also be controversial in Congress and with some Allies.

Given the above, we recommend that the decision be against binary production but for retaining a CW capability as a hedge.


CW limitations have been the major subject at the Geneva Conference of the Committee on Disarmament (CCD) for three years. The Soviets have privately and publicly pressed hard for US action on CW negotiations. We have maintained, in speeches and CCD working papers, that we are committed to seeking limitations but important problems of reasonable verification need to be resolved before negotiations.

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The 1974 US/USSR Moscow and Vladivostok summit communiques13 indicates agreement to consider a joint initiative in the CCD dealing with international restraints on the most lethal means of chemical warfare. The Soviets wish to begin consultations soon and have informally given us a draft convention. Their draft proposal (which has been seen by some in State and ACDA but no one in DOD) gives us serious problems mainly because it envisages the destruction of existing lethal CW stocks (see marked tab).14

A 1973 SRG on the NSSM 157 study15 considered our options for international CW limitations, but no action resulted since the basic question of whether or not we want to produce binaries needed to be answered. Since the binary issue is now ready for decision, we should, at the same time, be able to obtain a decision on acceptable international restraints. [NB. An affirmative binary decision would necessarily reduce our options for international restraints to only the one of agreed stockpile size, considered below as Option 1. A postponement of the binary decision (the OSD proposal) would not foreclose any international agreement option, but would give us no basis for reaching any actual agreement other than Option 1. A postponed binary decision conceivably might be used as a bargaining chip in any USUSSR CW negotiations.]

The basic question (studied in response to NSSM 157) is whether we should continue to oppose negotiations on chemical weapons limitations because any limitations would not be reliably verifiable, or should we seek some form of international agreement. Another unverifiable treaty is undesirable in principle. But our CW programs are in fact already severely constrained by congressional and public attitudes and by budget priorities. They are likely to remain so. Thus, it may be preferable to try to place constraints on the Soviets and others.

Treaty Options

Interagency consideration resulted in unanimous agreement that treaty limitations on R&D and defensive measures would be unacceptable. There are, therefore, three basic treaty proposals we might make on CW limitations. (Each includes a prohibition on CW proliferation and transfer to other nations and recognizes that reliable verification of any of the limitations is not possible.)

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Option 1. Limit Stocks to Agreed Retaliatory Levels.

Advantages. This would (1) allow binary production and stockpiling to replace existing stocks and provide a better retaliatory capability, particularly if binaries eased political constraints on movement and deployment in Europe; and (2) involve little if any military risk to us, even if the Soviets did not comply, if we obtained an adequate stockpile.

Disadvantages. This would (1) be preserving an option for modernization and deployment which we may not be able to exercise given congressional and budget constraints here and attitudes toward CW stocks in Europe, while possibly stimulating more Soviet CW activity; (2) be criticized here and abroad as only justifying further CW production and, therefore, probably fail to ease pressures for broader constraints; (3) open us to criticism (e.g., by Germany) that we are discriminating since we could both stockpile and produce while asking non-chemical weapons States to forego both; (4) be the least likely treaty option to achieve international agreement; and (5) make it even more difficult to determine any non-compliance compared to the other options.

[The JCS and OSD support this option. They note that our forward deployed capability is very limited and that the percentage of our agents in filled munitions is unsatisfactory. They believe we should replace at least some of our existing stocks with binaries to provide a much more credible CW retaliatory capability.]

Option 2. Prohibit the Production of CW Agents.

(In negotiating a production ban we would have to decide if we should reserve a right to manufacture and fill CW munitions to replace existing munitions as needed or whether we should also ban these activities but limit a treaty to 10 or 12 years.)

Advantages. This would (1) place international treaty constraints on the Soviets in an area where our programs are already most constrained by Congress and budget priorities; (2) retain our existing retaliatory capability as a hedge against our inability to monitor compliance; (3) help channel pressures away from more comprehensive limitations; (4) avoid the political costs of binary production; and (5) make negotiation of a non-proliferation clause easier.

Disadvantages. This (1) would prohibit our producing and stockpiling binary agents to provide a better retaliatory capability; and (2) might still be criticized as discriminatory since we would retain stocks and the right to manufacture and fill CW munitions with existing agents while asking non-chemical weapons States not to acquire either.

[State and ACDA support this option.]

Option 3. Prohibit Both Stockpiles and Production of CW Agents and Munitions.

Advantages. This would (1) place maximum legal and political constraints on CW, an area where the Soviets have an advantage over us; [Page 240](2) appeal to the many countries which favor a comprehensive ban; and (3) provide the most chance of discovering any non-compliance.

Disadvantages. This would phase out our option to respond in kind if the Soviets failed to comply and used CW in a conventional war.

[ACDA sees merit in this option in the long-term since (1) our nuclear and conventional capabilities provide adequate deterrence against or responsive CW attack; and (2) we should try to place the greatest constraints on the Soviets since it is unlikely we or NATO will develop a real CW retaliatory capability.]

Non-Treaty Options

As a follow-up to the NSSM 157 SRG, the working group considered non-treaty options for CW restraints, entailing unilateral US declaration, parallel US-USSR declarations, or parallel declarations by a number of countries including the US and USSR (see marked tab).16 All agencies, however, recommend the treaty approach since it is more binding and more likely to curb proliferation. State and ACDA support a US declaration renouncing CW production, as we seek a treaty.

Elliott’s View. An unverifiable treaty is not desirable. But our own CW programs are already very much constrained by congressional and public attitudes and budget priorities and are likely to remain so. Thus, it seems preferable to try to place some restraints on the Soviets, even if they are not reliably verifiable.

We are being pressed internationally to make some treaty proposal, and the 197217 and 1974 Moscow Joint Communique indicates we will work toward agreement on CW restraints.

A ban on both stocks and production (Option 3) would be in our interest if reliable verification were possible. But it is not; and reten-tion of retaliatory capability provides some insurance and is not destabilizing.

If we do forego binary production, a US declaration renouncing any further CW production would probably get us some political mileage in the CCD. However, if we find a production ban treaty difficult to negotiate (e.g., because the Soviets press for destruction of stocks) we might be unilaterally restrained for years, or have to take the visible step of withdrawing our declaration.

I therefore recommend seeking a treaty to prohibit the production of CW agents and the proliferation and transfer to other nations of CW agents and munitions. We would not include a prohibition on manufacture and filling of munitions in our proposal, thereby allowing us to maintain a filled munitions capability indefinitely. However, we may [Page 241]have to reconsider our position on munitions manufacture and filling later if this proved to be a barrier to reaching international agreement. We should also be prepared to continue international discussions directed at the verification problem, with a view to possibly finding acceptable conditions for a ban on stockpiles, as unlikely as this may be.

Sonnenfeldt’s View. My view is more or less along the lines of that expressed by Bill Hyland, although not quite as strongly held. This view reflects concern over committing ourselves to an unverifiable treaty which forecloses future CW production. There are future situations, such as a greatly increased Soviet defensive CW capability which might only be countered by a greater offensive CW capability on our part, where further US production would be highly desirable. Therefore, a reasonable strategy would be to unilaterally declare a production moratorium (or a bilateral moratorium if the Soviets are interested), followed by an approach to the Soviets on the basis of treaty Option 1 (agreed stockpile levels). We might have to fall back to Option 2 (a production ban), but this could be considered on its own merits after we have had the benefit of some bilateral negotiations.


Your aim at this SRG meeting is to ensure that the issues are fully drawn and agency views expressed, such that the President can address the questions of binary acquisition, acceptable international CW limitations, and a US renunciatory declaration.

Based on his decisions, an ad hoc interagency group will:

1. Review detailed verification questions to provide a more substantial basis for considering whether or not on-site inspections and detailed information exchanges are worth pursuing in their own right (regardless of their “negotiability” for now) and could allow us to look at the implications for verifying open-air testing. (This can build on the verification analysis in the NSSM 157 study and the verification follow-on at the marked tab.)18

2. To review the Soviet draft treaty.

3. To prepare and submit to you a US position for meeting with the Soviets to consider a joint initiative in the CCD.

Granger, Lodal, and Clift concur.

  1. Source: Ford Library, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box 14, Senior Review Group Meeting, 1/27/75—CW Policy (NSSM 192) (2). Top Secret. All brackets are in the original.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 33.
  3. In the Joint Communiqué signed by Nixon and Brezhnev at the conclusion of the Moscow Summit, June 27–July 3, 1974, both the United States and the Soviet Union “reaffirmed their interest in an effective international agreement which would exclude from the arsenals of states such dangerous instruments of mass destruction as chemical weapons.” As such, both sides “agreed to consider a joint initiative” in the CCD to conclude “an international Convention dealing with the most dangerous, lethal means of chemical warfare.” (Public Papers: Nixon , 1974, p. 571)
  4. Elliott’s analytical summary, August 31, 1974, is attached, but not printed.
  5. The Geneva Protocol prohibiting the use in war of lethal and incapacitating chemical and bacteriological weapons was not in force in the United States until some 50 years after its completion on June 17, 1925. The Protocol, first submitted to the Senate in 1926 and again in 1970, received the Senate’s advice and consent for ratification on December 16, 1974. President Ford signed the Protocol’s ratifying instrument on January 22, 1975, but issued a statement of reservation: “Although it is our position that the Protocol does not cover riot control agents and chemical herbicides, I have decided that the United States shall renounce their use in war as a matter of national policy, except in a certain, very, very limited number of defense situation where lives can be saved.” Ford signed Executive Order 11850 detailing that policy on April 8, after which time the Protocol entered into force in the United States. (Public Papers: Ford, 1975, pp. 72–75)
  6. See Document 39.
  7. See footnote 14, Document 39.
  8. Binaries would also provide whatever possibility there might be for increased peacetime forward deployment in Europe, but this would not be achieved without incurring strong political opposition in Allied governments and publics. [Footnote in the original.]
  9. The DOD FY 75 budget request of $5.8 million to establish a binary production facility was just knocked out on the floor of the House and the deletion was sustained in the Senate. Binary dollar costs, not to mention defensive improvements, would require sustaining far more substantial budget increases over the current funding level for several years. [Footnote in the original.]
  10. On August 21, Clements sent Kissinger a memorandum informing him of the OSD’s and the JCS’s views. (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 330–77–0063, 040, NSC, 1974)
  11. On July 24, Springsteen sent Scowcroft a memorandum informing him of the Department’s position. (National Archives, RG 59, S/S-I Files: Lot 80D212, NSSM 192) On July 10, Ikle sent Kissinger a memorandum informing him of ACDA’s position. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–202, Study Memoranda, NSSM 192)
  12. These arguments are weakened, however, by the facts that (1) the Soviets would have to consider the likelihood of a tactical nuclear response by US/NATO forces in a major conflict whether or not the Warsaw Pact used CW; and (2) a tactical nuclear response may at any rate be the only way to redress the military situation caused by Soviet use of CW unless existing CW offensive and defensive deficiencies are corrected by the US and its Allies. [Footnote in the original.]
  13. The Joint Communiqué, November 24, signed by Ford and Brezhnev following their meeting at Vladivostok noted that the United States and the Soviet Union had established “initial contacts” regarding “the most dangerous lethal means of chemical warfare. It was agreed to continue an active search for mutually acceptable solutions” to this matter. (Public Papers: Ford, 1974, pp. 658–662)
  14. The Soviet draft convention, summarized above, is attached, but not printed.
  15. The record of the March 5, 1973 SRG meeting is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1973–1976, Vol. E–14, Part 2, Arms Control, 1973–1976.
  16. Not found attached.
  17. For the text of the U.S.-Soviet joint communiqué issued on May 29, 1972, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1972, pp. 635–642.
  18. Not found attached. Farley forwarded the NSSM 157 Ad Hoc Working Group’s follow-up verification study to Kissinger under a covering memorandum, January 26, 1973. The Working Group found “no new developments which would affect the general consideration stated in the NSSM 157 study that there is no dependable way to verify compliance with most prohibitions or limitations on chemical weapons.” As a means to enhance verification, however, the Group recommended the establishment of committees of CW experts to monitor compliance within their own countries and to exchange relevant data with committees representing other signatory countries. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–192, Study Memorandums, NSSM 157 [2 of 4])