256. Editorial Note.1

On April 10, 1972, in a ceremony in the Main Conference Room of the U.S. Department of State, representatives from the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union signed the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction, more commonly referred to as the Biological Weapons Convention. President Nixon spoke at the ceremony. In several conversations in the Oval Office on April 10 and 11 the President and members of his administration discussed the Convention, the President’s speech, and the importance of arms control in general. In addition, National Security Advisor to the President Kissinger and President Nixon discussed ways to use the occasion of the ceremony to publicly, but indirectly, rebuke the Soviet Union for what they believed was its support of a recent Democratic Republic of Vietnam offensive against the Republic of Vietnam. Excerpts from those conversations are published below. For the text of Nixon’s speech at the signing ceremony, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1972, pages 525–526. For text of Secretary Rogers’ June 21 report to the President on the negotiation and terms of the Convention, made in anticipation of its transmittal to the Senate for its advice consent to ratification, see Document 257.

In a conversation on April 10 with Kissinger and Ambassador William Porter after the signing ceremony, the President made the following comments on his decision to make a less effusive statement about the agreement and the state of U.S.-Soviet relations than the Department of State had recommended: The editors transcribed the portions of the tape recordings published here specifically for this volume.

“Let me say, it doesn’t do any good, Bill, to follow up a lie. Now, I don’t mean that you get out there and are a belligerent son-of-a-bitch. [unclear]. I’ve heard all the crap about, you know, that science-that we’ll work in peace. We all want that. Everybody believes in that. But goddamn, why talk about it too much? That’s all the remarks were about, you know…But, for an opportunity like this to be missed. For the Soviet Ambassador sitting there, having just supported the Indians against Pakistan, and then having over the past two years supported the UAR and increasing the danger of war in the Mideast, and now at the present time with Soviet tanks and Soviet guns rumbling through South Vietnam and for me to sit there and sign it say, “Isn’t it great that we’ve now had three agreements and we hope to have a SALT agreement.” I couldn’t do it. So I just said, “By God.” Don’t you agree? We’ve got to say these things.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, April 10, 1972, 11:45 a.m.–12:23 p.m., Conversation No. 705–9)

Later that afternoon, while reviewing a transcript of his presentation with Kissinger, the President commented on the speech and asked Kissinger for his opinion.

Nixon: Just scan it quickly. See all the gobbledy-gook about all the people who have worked their asses off. I said that for the benefit of Gerry Smith and all that bunch.

Kissinger: It’s a disgrace that you should do so much better with no preparation then [unclear] have done.

Nixon: Go ahead and read the last of it.

Kissinger: Excellent.

Nixon: You get the point? Now if any smart guy in the press [unclear].

Kissinger: They’ll pick it up.

Nixon: Huh? The press? That’s all right. But we really warned them there, haven’t we? Now that really is the way that, you know, surprise [unclear].

Kissinger: Yeah, but what is so -

Nixon: A year’s worth [unclear].

Kissinger: What is so remarkable here, Mr. President, is that this is full of nuance, beautifully put, and I know that you had practically no time to prepare it, if any time. It shows you how limited that these guys are.

At this point, Kissinger raised the topic of Vietnam and CIA Director Helms, and the tape cut out abruptly. When it picked up again the two had returned to the subject of the President’s speech.

Nixon: This isn’t too badly put.

Kissinger: It’s superbly put.

Nixon: “But as we look at these various agreements, we must understand how much they mean, and also what we still need”-this is wrong, it says, “they say”- “What we still need if we are to achieve our ultimate goal. As far as these agreements are concerned, they are basically not an end in themselves.” See that sticks to the son-of-a-bitches in arms control. “They limit arms but they do not mean the end of war. They are means to an end and that end is peace.” And then I put in this crap about the university community of scientists. That’s for [unclear]. It’s not bad. That’ll bring them around to China. “[unclear] against the enemy of all mankind-disease.” Let’s not have that. “For that reason, this agreement [unclear].” But you really get to the guts of it, what you prepared. “Insofar as that goal is concerned, we begin with one proposition. That is that each nation of the world must renounce the use of force, the use of aggression against other nations.”

Kissinger: I didn’t put that in. That you put in.

Nixon: “We must also recognize”-see that goes back to China.

Kissinger: That’s right.

After reading a few more lines from the transcript, the two began discussing a proposed meeting between Mrs. Nixon and Mrs. Dobrynin. The President’s Press Secretary, Ron Ziegler, entered the room and presumably handed Kissinger a press release or wire report about the speech. Kissinger read some of the copy aloud. After briefly returning to the subject of Vietnam, the President again raised the subject of his presentation at the convention signing ceremony.

“I’ll bet ya’ that the disarmament boys at ACDA are probably just shitting their pants because of this thing…because we should have kept the emphasis on peace and all that. The hell with them. That was senseless to make us sit there with the Soviet Ambassador at a time when they’re raping South Vietnam and say that they have made a great contribution to peace by signing this silly biological warfare thing which doesn’t mean anything. Now you know it and I know it.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, April 10, 1972, 12:44–1:06 p.m., Conversation No. 705–13.)

Similarly, during a conversation with Haldeman that afternoon, Nixon made the following comments about the convention and the role of arms control in general in international affairs:

“But the main thrust of my remarks is far more fundamental than “arms control doesn’t mean peace.” It’s not an end in itself. You see, that’s directly contrary to what the Gerry Smiths and the others and the Bill Fosters, they all look upon arms control as an end in itself. That’s the Soviet line. It is not an end in itself. The purpose of arms control is the means to the end and the control of war. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, April 10, 1972, 4:00–4:41 p.m., Conversation No. 705–15)

The next day, Nixon referred to the speech again during a discussion with Treasury Secretary Connally on the North Vietnamese offensive:

“That’s why I gave them a little shot across the bow yesterday where I-at that-went over to sign that jackass treaty on biological warfare. And I said, “Well.” I said, “It isn’t just arms limitation, as an end in itself.” We’ve had the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Biological Warfare, that Seabeds [sic] because with all the arms limitation in the world there’s still enough arms left to blow up the world many times over. What we need is restraint on the part of the great powers. And as you may have noted, I said that that means that, ‘Every great power must not only exercise restraint in the use of force as an instrument of aggression. But it must not encourage, directly or indirectly, any other power to use force,’ which was a direct shot at the Russians.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, April 11, 1972, 3:06–5:05 p.m., Conversation No. 706–5)

  1. National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, April 11, 1972, 3:06–5:05 p.m., Conversation No. 706–5