75. Letter From Secretary of State Vance to Secretary of Defense Brown1

Dear Harold:

I recently reviewed Congressional action on the FY 78 Defense budget and noted that funds were again included for the R&D of binary chemical munitions. I also understand that plans exist for requesting funds for a production facility. I am concerned that we do not hinder our efforts to work out a CW ban with the Soviets by seeking a binary production capability.

The Presidential guidance contained in PD–15 concerning the direction of our CW limitation proposals is quite clear. We are striving for the prohibition of not only the production and stockpiling of CW munitions, but their development as well. In addition, the President has directed that our CW forces be maintained without improvement.

I recognize the need to maintain binary munition technology as a hedge against the possible failure of our efforts to obtain a CW ban. Thus, I currently support a limited R&D program. At the same time, I believe that pilot production of binary munitions should not be planned at this time.

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I believe that if we were to forego plans for production we will have achieved a significant psychological advantage over the Soviets. This would force them into the position of having to respond to a US initiative by taking a positive step toward reducing their own CW program. Additionally, such restraint would serve to demonstrate our sincere intent to limit offensive weapons thereby improving the overall climate for our arms control efforts. By maintaining our R&D program while curtailing production we would retain a certain amount of leverage at the negotiating table. To forego for now production of binary munitions seems a small price to pay for the potential gains that might accrue from such action.

While I oppose the production of offensive binary weapons, I support the enhancement of our CW defensive measures and the limited R&D necessary for these programs.


  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–80–0017, Box 45, 370.64 CBR (Aug–Dec) 1977. Secret. The memorandum is stamped “SEC DEF HAS SEEN.” In the upper right-hand corner, Brown wrote “10/25. Dave McG—I believe that to get Congressional support for production we must first make a real try at a verifiable CW ban. To that end I lean toward the CV view. HB.”
  2. Vance signed the memorandum “Cy.”