51. Minutes of Senior Review Group Meeting1


  • Chemical Weapons Policy (NSSM 192)


  • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • Robert Ingersoll
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt
  • William Hyland
  • Defense
  • William Clements
  • Robert Ellsworth
  • Dr. James P. Wade
  • JCS
  • Lt. Gen. John W. Pauly
  • CIA
  • Lt. Gen. Vernon Walters
  • [name not declassified]
  • ACDA
  • Dr. Fred Ikle
  • Thomas Davies
  • NSC Staff
  • LTG Brent Scowcroft
  • Dr. David Elliott
  • James Barnum


It was agreed that:

—the Working Group would prepare a paper showing the arguments for and against producing binary chemical weapons on a best-case basis. The paper would also include a deployment scheme and the costs of deployment and production of binaries.

Secretary Kissinger: I’m sorry I’m late. Do we need—have a briefing?

General Walters: I have one if you want. It’s short. (Began to brief from the attached.)

Secretary Kissinger: Did you say the Soviets have an antidote for nerve gas?

General Walters: Yes, they do.

Secretary Kissinger: How do they use it? What form is it in, pills?

[name not declassified]: No, it’s injected by a syringe.

General Walters: (Continued to brief.)

Secretary Kissinger: Who’s this you’re talking about?

General Walters: Iraq. Iraq wants to develop an offensive chemical weapons (CW) capability. They have purchased and installed a nerve [Page 243] agent production plant which may give them an agent capability by this Spring. They want it to use against the Kurds. (Finished his briefing.)

Secretary Kissinger: As I understand it, we have two issues before us. The first is what should U.S. policy be regarding the production of chemical weapons. The second is whether we should support some type of international agreement on the limitation of chemical weapons at Geneva. In respect to the first issue, we have three options as I understand it. The first is whether we should acquire binary chemical weapons. The second is whether we should rely instead on our existing CW offensive capability, and the third is, in effect, doing away with our capability and relying instead on conventional and nuclear forces. We don’t really have the first option because of congressional opposition, isn’t that right?

Mr. Clements: Well, I don’t know, Henry. Senator Stennis has indicated to me that he would help us if the President supports the acquisition of binary weapons.

Secretary Kissinger: Do you think such a thing would ever get through Congress?

Mr. Clements: I really don’t know, Henry. I, personally am not in favor of going to binaries. I’m just passing on what Stennis told me.

Dr. Ikle: It would be a big fight.

Secretary Kissinger: Can anybody make a good case for producing binaries?

General Pauly: The Joint Chiefs would prefer to produce binary weapons. We believe we are at the stage now where our stockpiles need to be improved in quality. Binaries would do this for us. They are safer, for one thing. Also, they would give us the ability to deploy further forward.

Secretary Kissinger: Why would they be easier to deploy further forward?

General Pauly: Well, for one thing, they are safer. They are easier to handle and you can move them around easier. Only two percent of our stockpile is now deployed overseas—in Germany.

Secretary Kissinger: Do we have any in the Pacific?

General Pauly: Yes, six percent of our stockpile is on Johnson Island.

Mr. Clements: It’s a problem of getting them from Colorado to Germany.

Dr. Ikle: Isn’t the real question one of how widely they are deployed in Germany? The problem is the quantity there.

General Pauly: That’s true.

[Page 244]

Secretary Kissinger: Then, as I understand it, our chemical weapons are currently deployed at only one base in Germany, and I would presume the Soviets know where that base is, am I right?

General Pauly: Yes. I think we can be pretty sure they know where they are stored.

Secretary Kissinger: And, if war breaks out we can be fairly sure that one of the first things they will do is knock out that base.

General Pauly: Yes.

Secretary Kissinger: Are there any plans—do we have any plans for CW deployment in the event of war?

General Pauly: I’m not sure, but there would be a distribution problem . . .

Secretary Kissinger: Then it would not be unreasonable to assume that the probability of the U.S. being able to retaliate in the event the Soviets use CW would be very slight.

General Pauly: Yes, that’s right.

Secretary Kissinger: So we end up with a weapon we really can’t use because we can’t get it to where it needs to be used. Could we see (get a paper on) what difficulties we would encounter if we decide to go with the binaries? Could we see what kind of deployments you would have to make? I think that what we have now does not give the President a fair chance to make a decision. We ought to look at the whole deployment thing—and make it on a best-case basis.

Mr. Clements: I’m against producing binaries.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, I want to bring all of the alternatives to his (the President’s) attention, and I think that we ought to make a better case for producing binaries. I don’t think we have it here.

Mr. Clements: Okay, we can do it.

Secretary Kissinger: I see that one of our new options is to maintain our present CW stockpiles. Do you support that?

Mr. Clements: Yes.

Secretary Kissinger: Why?

Mr. Clements: So that we can retain some appearance of being able to retaliate.

Secretary Kissinger: What do we have, two percent of our stockpile in Germany and six percent at Johnson Island, and no where else? There is nothing that prevents us from moving it, is there?

Dr. Ikle: No, you can move it to an area of conflict, if you need to.

Secretary Kissinger: The point is, if there is a conflict in say, Korea, can you move it there if you have to? I would like to see a rational deployment plan for getting the stuff out of Johnson Island. Where’s the rest of it?

[Page 245]

Mr. Clements: The rest—ninety percent or so—is in Colorado and Utah.

Dr. Ikle: One of the problems is that it costs an awful lot to get rid of. It’s cheaper to store than to destroy.

Secretary Kissinger: I’m not in favor of getting rid of what we already have. What bothers me is that we don’t have adequate studies that would show how we would get the stuff from Colorado to the place where it might be needed. It seems to me that we are in a de facto anti-CW position. How does one go about using chemical weapons? Can you move it by air?

Dr. Ikle: Yes, air is probably the best method.

Secretary Kissinger: What kind of aircraft, drones?

Mr. Davies: No, you use airplanes for safety reasons and because of the public image of moving them by other means.

Secretary Kissinger: Yes, but how do you move it from Colorado and Utah to some foreseeable war zone? Do you use C–150s?

Mr. Clements: Yes, that would probably be the aircraft you would use.

Secretary Kissinger: Can we take a look at how we would move the stuff in the event it would be needed?

General Pauly: Yes, we can. One of the imponderables, however, is how its movement would fit into other air priorities at the time of conflict. My estimate would be that you could get it to the area in four to five days.

Secretary Kissinger: Four to five days? I think it would be a reasonable assumption that any enemy that would use chemical warfare had crossed over the threshold, don’t you? I mean, that’s pretty extreme. It was not used in Vietnam.

General Walters: We have a study here that shows that 25 percent of your air capability . . .

Dr. Ikle: The real question is what is an adequate CW capability.

Secretary Kissinger: I don’t see—I have no strong views on this question, but what I am trying to do is identify just what the President is going to have to decide. We have no real retaliatory capability in the Pacific. We do have some retaliatory capability in Germany. But what if the Soviets attack our stockpiles? The rest of it is in the U.S. and how many days would it take to get there? Ninety-two percent of our stockpiles are so positioned that unless there is an immediate high-point in a war we wouldn’t get it there in time.

General Pauly: That’s right. But, you might have information that they are moving the stuff up. Then you would make a conscious decision to deploy.

[Page 246]

Secretary Kissinger: It’s hard to imagine that you would have a build-up period. Suppose the Soviets double their forces. Could you double your CW reserves in time? You wouldn’t move them until after you’re hit, would you?

General Pauly: That’s right. But, if you have information that they are moving their weapons up, you might want to begin to move yours.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, all of you are against binaries except the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Is that right?

Mr. Clements: Yes.

Secretary Kissinger: Is there any law against it being rationally deployed? It seems to me to make no sense to keep ninety-two percent of the stuff where it can’t be used.

Dr. Ikle: Domestic opposition to moving it around would be very strong.

Mr. Clements: Yes, but we’re not going to deploy it domestically.

Dr. Ikle: But you still have to move it within the country.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, could we see what a rational deployment would look like? Where is all this stuff kept?

Mr. Clements: Our biggest stockpile is in Denver, right at the end of the runway (Denver International Airport).

Secretary Kissinger: Do they (Denverites) know it’s there?

Mr. Clements: Oh yes, and they are worried about it. You know, that stuff is not easy to handle.

Secretary Kissinger: Okay. I’m just trying to move this thing to the President for decision and I want to be sure he has all the rationale for his decision.

Dr. Ikle: We are all agreed that further deployment is politically impossible.

Secretary Kissinger: We now have the ability to wage chemical warfare, but it is deployed in such a way that it is not useable. I don’t understand that. How do you get it out of Johnson Island? Do you see any area that would be able to get these weapons in four to five days?

General Pauly: No, sir.

Secretary Kissinger: Then it would take four to five days before it would have any effect. What kind of weapon is it? Does it make you sick?

Dr. Ikle: Yes.

Secretary Kissinger: It just seems to me that our chemical weapons capability is irrelevant to the situation.

Mr. Ingersoll: Not unless you have an inadequate defensive capability.

[Page 247]

Mr. Clements: That’s true, and an adequate defensive capability is a whole new story.

Secretary Kissinger: Can anybody make a case against stockpiling an anti-CW capability?

Dr. Ikle: No, but ours is very weak, and Congress has to support it—with money.

General Pauly: There is no real opposition on the Hill to storing a defensive capability. But, the problem is time. It would take until the early 1980s before we could build up an adequate defensive capability.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, do we have a Working Group?

Dr. Elliott: Yes.

Secretary Kissinger: Can the Working Group do a paper . . . I don’t think we need a separate NSC on this. We’ll just tack it on the end of one in the near future. We need a paper that defines the issues so the President can make his decision. Am I correct that nobody here favors the destruction of our current stocks and that nobody but the Joint Chiefs of Staff favor production of binaries? Do it (the paper) on a best-case basis, and also include arguments against producing binaries.

Mr. Clements: Do you want the costs included as well?

Secretary Kissinger: Yes, include the costs.

Dr. Ikle: Is it fair to say that we would reduce our stockpiles if it doesn’t cost too much?

Secretary Kissinger: What are our agents? What do we use?

Mr. Clements: Nerve gas.

Secretary Kissinger: Why nerve gas? How do we store it?

Dr. Ikle: In tanks. It’s cheaper to store it that way.

General Pauly: You have a two-pronged problem with storing the stuff: one, it loses its potency after a certain period of time, and two, it becomes contaminated from the tanks—a chemical reaction.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, that leads to the next set of issues—what do we want to propose at Geneva? As I understand it, the Joint Chiefs’ position is that they want to maintain current stockpiles at our present level as a retaliatory deterrent. Another option is a ban on all current production.

Dr. Ikle: A production ban on agents only.

Secretary Kissinger: The third option is to prohibit both stockpiles and production. My problem is that all of these alternatives are totally unverifiable. If we go for an agreement, it’s unverifiable. We can’t get a handle on their production, can we?

General Walters: [less than 1 line not declassified]

Secretary Kissinger: [1 line not declassified]

[Page 248]

[name not declassified]: [2 lines not declassified]

Dr. Ikle: That would be one advantage of an agreement—you may stop them from producing it.

Secretary Kissinger: For whom? The Eastern European countries?

Dr. Ikle: No, Iran and Egypt.

Secretary Kissinger: That’s the whole issue here. We can get an agreement, but we can’t verify it. What good does that do? Iran and Egypt could have it and we wouldn’t even know. I don’t even know where to look for it, do you?

General Walters: I believe we could find it.

Dr. Ikle: One thing you could do is soften an agreement—make it a ten year deal with the stipulation that the whole issue could be reopened.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, the President just can’t make a decision based on what we have here. All these options are unverifiable. How would you handle the refilling problem if we chose Option II?2

Mr. Ellsworth: That’s the problem, we’d have to build a new plant.

Secretary Kissinger: Would you refill the old equipment or the new?

Dr. Ikle: The old stuff.

Secretary Kissinger: What, with a new batch of the old stuff, or a new batch of the new stuff?

Dr. Ikle: No, the old stuff.

Secretary Kissinger: Are we going to run out of it?

Dr. Ikle: Not for a long time. We have quite a bit now.

Dr. Elliott: OST has just completed a study which shows that the gas stored in bulk has an indefinite lifetime, but that it tends to deteriorate in the filled.3

Secretary Kissinger: I might as well get an education here. What is bulk? Does that mean tanks? Where is it stored? What is filled?

Dr. Elliott: Bulk means tanks. That’s where it is stored—in tanks. Filled means in weapons, like artillery shells.

Dr. Ikle: The problem is that the casings of artillery shells deteriorate over a period of time.

General Pauly: We’re finding that some of our weapons, particularly the filled variety, lose their purity over a period of time.

Secretary Kissinger: What does it do to the casings?

[Page 249]

General Pauly: I’m not sure. It has something to do with aging.

Secretary Kissinger: Would I offend anybody too much if I said that the level of analysis in this group is not on the level of the SALT people? Well, let’s get this stuff together.


Briefing Prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency4


The Intelligence Community’s contribution to NSSM–192 was in the form of CW threat assessments for the Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact Countries (WPC); Middle East (Egypt, [less than 1 line not declassified] and Iraq); Peoples Republic of China; Republic of China (Taiwan); and NATO, [less than 1 line not declassified] A summary of these assessments follows:


The Soviet Union/WPC CW program continues to provide them with a capability, superior to that of NATO, to operate for a limited time in a toxic environment whether created by the enemy or their own forces. [2 lines not declassified] Chemical munitions include a wide variety of air and ground delivery systems. The Soviets possess the technological capability and materiel required to produce any of the known toxic CW weapons. [2½ lines not declassified] CBR defense equipment is far more widely distributed in the Soviet Union/WPC forces than in NATO/US forces. The continued training of Soviet/WPC forces with CBR equipment further enhances their capability to operate in the severe environment that we expect CBR conditions to impose on the battlefield.

Middle East


Continuing reports over the past few years lead us to believe that Egypt possesses an offensive CW capability without Soviet participation.

Defensively, Egypt is equipped with a wide variety of modern Soviet CBR defense equipment of good quality. Soviet CBR training and doctrine were incorporated into Egyptian training, and recent evidence [Page 250] continues to reaffirm the Egyptian interest in CBR defense training. Good equipment, coupled with effective training, give Egypt a good capability to operate in a toxic environment.

[place not declassified]

[1 paragraph (7½ lines) not declassified]


According to recent reports, Iraq desires to develop an offensive CW capability for use against the Kurds. The Iraqis have purchased and installed a nerve agent production plant which may give them an agent capability by this spring without Soviet aid.

Peoples Republic of China

The PRC continues to show interest in defense CW aspects in training exercises of their infantry and armor forces.

Republic of China

The ROC has a high priority program to develop an offensive and defensive CW capability but is in an early stage in both areas.

NATO-[place not declassified]

Any NATO capability in CW is dependent on the US. [1 paragraph (5½ lines) not declassified]

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, National Security Council, Box TS 71, Committees and Panels, Senior Review Group, Aug. 1973–Oct. 1975. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room.
  2. The second alternative outlined in the NSSM 192 study called for the United States to rely on its existing CW offensive capability. See Document 39.
  3. The study, summarized herein, was not found.
  4. Top Secret.