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


  • SCC Meeting on Chemical Weapons (C)

The SCC recently reviewed the U.S. chemical weapons posture. The Summary of Conclusions is at Tab A.2 An issue concerning the future of the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile requires your decision. (S)

Defense argues that an improved U.S. retaliation capability is essential to the deterrence of chemical warfare and advocates the inclusion of a binary production facility in the FY 1980 Defense budget. (Binary implies that munitions are filled with two relatively harmless chemicals which when mixed after firing form the toxic agent. The advantage is improved safety in handling and storage.) Although an actual production decision would not be made for several years, the intent is to replace and increase the present U.S. stockpile with modern binary munitions. The cost in FY 1980 is only $18 million; however, the ultimate cost of the program including production could approach $2.0 billion. (S)

On the other hand, State, ACDA and OMB acknowledge the deterrent role of the U.S. stockpile but maintain that because of the political sensitivities associated with chemical warfare, it is not possible to achieve a much improved retaliatory posture. All agree that in order to improve the U.S. retaliatory capability additional munitions must be forward deployed to locations in Europe. Our allies remain very negative on this issue, based not only on safety which binary munitions resolve in part, but more importantly on even acknowledging that NATO is considering the prospect of chemical warfare in Europe. In addition, Congressional attitudes are quite hostile to the idea of chemical weap[Page 214]ons production. Congress removed the binary facility from the budget each time it was proposed by the previous Administration. It would require an enormous Administration effort to defend a binary facility on the Hill, and even then, the outcome is uncertain. State, ACDA and OMB recommend that, for now, the binary facility should not be built, although this decision would be reviewed. As an alternative, they suggest that there might be certain low cost and politically feasible steps which could be taken to arrest the gradual deterioration of the current stockpile. On this point, Defense maintains that there is no way to improve the U.S. stockpile significantly without chemical weapons production, and if the Administration is considering new production, a binary facility is the best approach. (S)

I concur with State, ACDA and OMB that a binary facility should not be included in the FY 1980 budget. It would be a guaranteed no-win situation on the Hill. If attitudes in Congress and those of our allies change markedly or the negotiations with the Soviets take an adverse turn, the issue can be reopened. I agree with the Defense judgment that if the U.S. undertakes the production of new chemical munitions they should be binary. (S)


That you approve the exclusion of a binary facility from the FY 1980 budget. (S)

State, ACDA and OMB concur.3

That you approve the attached Summary of Conclusions.4

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 100, SCC 170, Chemical Weapons, 12/1/78. Secret. Sent for action. Carter initialed the upper right-hand corner of the memorandum.
  2. Attached but not printed. See Document 96 for the minutes of the meeting.
  3. Carter checked “Approve” and wrote “J” in the right-hand margin.
  4. Carter checked “Approve.”