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69. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter 1


  • Chemical Warfare

The SCC met on June 8 to review the results of PRM–27 on Chemical Warfare. A summary of the discussion is at Tab A.2 This memo reviews the issues involved, and presents to you the recommendations reached by the SCC concerning both a CW arms limitation posture and CW military programs.

Principal Issues

Discussion in the SCC focused on four issues:

International Background: There is considerable support for a comprehensive CW treaty; the USSR continues to press strongly for a joint USUSSR initiative. CW and CTB are the two main issues on the agenda of the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament (CCD) this year. The British, Japanese and Soviets all have draft treaties for comprehensive CW limitations on the table, and the US indicated last year that we would have specific proposals ready this year. In 1974 the Soviets passed us a draft treaty3 for consideration and the same year we agreed at the Moscow Summit to seek a joint CW initiative for submission to the CCD. There have been three meetings of US-Soviet technical experts on the issue—the last in May4 in response to the commitment for a CW working group made at Vance’s Moscow meeting.5 The Soviets have hinted at possible flexibility in their longstanding position that verification be based on national technical means.

Domestic Background: Several times Congress has defeated budget requests to build a new binary chemical facility. Congress has [Page 158]passed laws restricting the transportation, disposal and open air testing of chemical weapons, and requiring the recipient’s approval before chemical weapons are deployed overseas. There is also a law requiring the President to certify that lethal chemical weapons are in the national interest before funds can be authorized for their production. Finally, the Environmental Policy Act established additional measures to prevent environmental damage from chemical munitions. All in all, Congressional opinion is very hostile to CW.

US and Soviet CW Capabilities: [1 line not declassified] it is they—not we—who have been pushing for a CW ban. While there is a consensus that the Soviets are doing much more than we in the CW area, [4 lines not declassified] This large Soviet effort and their apparent eagerness for a treaty may derive from Russia’s huge CW casualties in World War I (Tab B)6—in addition to the good politics of taking a leading role on this issue.

Verification: Although some types of CW activities—such as the destruction of declared stocks—can be verified independently, [2 lines not declassified] On the other hand, the risk from a violation is related to the military significance of the weapons system involved and, in this case, the US has an insignificant CW capacity. Moreover, a nation considering whether to violate a CW treaty will realize the consequences if a violation is detected. Most important, adequate verification does not require absolute certainty that a violation will be detected but rather really means enough verification to ensure that a side’s security is not endangered, and that confidence in the agreement is maintained. Finally, we would make clear to the Soviets that the verification procedures we may accept in a CW treaty do not set any precedent as to what we may consider necessary in a SALT or CTB agreement.

Results of the SCC Meeting

I. Arms Limitation

There was unanimous agreement that the US should seek a comprehensive treaty banning development, production and stockpiling of chemical weapons, and requiring the destruction of existing stocks, rather than any type of more limited agreement. The agencies also approved unanimously the draft of proposed key elements for such a treaty (Tab C).7 If you approve these elements, they will form the basis for our initial negotiations with the Soviets.8

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II. Military Programs

Only JCS supported a force improvement option (Option 1 in the PRM) which would cost anywhere from $500 million to $2 billion, and involve building the binary facility that Congress has rejected on several occasions. All other agencies recommend that we continue the CW force as it now is and review this decision in mid-1978 on the basis of the progress or lack thereof in the CW negotiations.


That you approve the status quo military option, with the proviso that you will review the situation on the basis of progress made in arms limitation talks.9

Where We Go From Here

If you approve the arms limitation posture presented here, the US will immediately undertake consultations with the British, French, Germans and Japanese. Then, at the opening of the CCD conference on July 5, we will begin our long-promised bilateral talks with the Soviet Union with the goal of developing an outline of the principles of a comprehensive treaty. This would be presented as a joint initiative to the membership of the CCD, which would then work from that base in developing the detailed text of a comprehensive international CW treaty.10

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 86, SCC 015, Chemical Warfare Limitation and Programs, 6/8/77. Secret. Carter initialed the top of the memorandum.
  2. See Document 68.
  3. In July 1974 the Soviets proposed that the “development, production, and stockpiling of all lethal CW” be banned. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XVI, Soviet Union, August 1974–December 1976, Tab 1, Document 13.
  4. Telegram 3797 from Geneva, May 16, reported that during a four-day discussion of mass destruction weapons between the United States and the Soviet Union, “there was virtually no discussion of specific issues” regarding chemical weapons. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770173–0565)
  5. See Document 64 and footnote 1 thereto.
  6. Not attached.
  7. Not attached.
  8. Carter checked the “Approve” line.
  9. Carter checked the “Approve” line.
  10. Carter wrote “ok” underneath the last paragraph of the memorandum.