110. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Tarnoff) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Reported Use of Chemical Weapons

As you know, we are continuing to receive and analyze reports of the use of lethal chemical weapons (CW) by the Soviets and some of their friends in Afghanistan, Laos, and Kampuchea. Press and Congressional attention is intensifying.

Efforts to Date

We have taken a substantial number of steps to assemble pertinent data and make our concerns known. Our country officers conducted the first systematic interviews of Hmong refugees and took the initial steps on the diplomatic front to raise the level of consciousness regarding reported use of gas in Laos and Kampuchea. Working with Defense, we organized a very professional investigation by a medical team sent to refugee camps in Thailand. We have made démarches to the parties concerned with regard to use in Indochina and have had our Delegations express concern over the reports in general in the Human Rights Commission (HRC), the Committee on Disarmament (CD), and the US/Soviet negotiations on CW.

Strategy for the Future

We have thought through a broad internationally-oriented strategy that builds on the actions already taken—a strategy intended to mobilize our allies and other concerned states behind the effort to resolve the CW use issue. We particularly need an investigation into the reports by some impartial third party or international group. However, for this approach to succeed we must be careful so that we can avoid being perceived as attempting to engage others in the growing East/West rivalry.

The strategy consists of seven interrelated parts, setting out a number of actions to involve other states and appropriate international fora more actively in the issue. Specifically:

[Page 241]

Intensified collection efforts to further substantiate the reports, particularly but not exclusively focused on Afghanistan—[less than 1 line not declassified] Working with [less than 1 line not declassified] other countries, we will press for acquisition of physical data (e.g., gas residue, empty canisters or dud rounds, blood samples from victims). We are examining the feasibility of sending a US medical team to Pakistan to interview Afghan refugees who may have first-hand knowledge of CW use.

Consulting with Allies and other interested countries, stressing US concern over the reports; providing briefings; and seeking support for our strategy.

Stimulating multilateral action, most importantly an investigation into this matter by a disinterested third party or an apolitical international organization. In the HRC and appropriate committees of the UNGA we will request that an observer team investigate the reports and/or that the SYG appoint an ad hoc Experts Group to study the issue. As this is unlikely to work, we are also considering other international bodies and approaches.

Consulting further with the French on their idea of convening a meeting of the States Parties to the 1925 Geneva Protocol to look into the reports.

Making appropriate démarches to the countries involved whenever the intelligence justifies an approach.

Public expressions of concern, continuing to say that if the apparently credible reports are true, we would regard such use as outrageous and inhumane.

Keeping Congress well informed. And thorough documentation of our actions, as a report on this issue is owed the House Foreign Affairs Committee in four months.

We will continue to pursue this strategy vigorously, working with your staff and appropriate agencies in its implementation.

Peter Tarnoff
Executive Secretary
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 110, SCC 288, USSR CBW Convention, 3/14/80. Secret. Copies were sent to the ACDA, JCS, OSD, and the CIA.