"Yellow Rain" and the Future of Arms Agreements

Courtesy Reuters

This Convention completely prohibits biological and toxin weapons. Since it provides for the elimination of existing weapons, it is a true disarmament measure."

So it seemed to Fred Charles Iklé, then director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, as he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1974. He expressed the Ford Administration's support for ratification of a treaty with the comprehensive if awkward title, "Convention on Prohibition of the Development, Production, and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and Their Destruction." At the same time, he recommended that the Senate ratify the Geneva Protocol of 1925, already ratified by all the other major military powers, which prohibited the use of both biological and chemical agents in warfare.

This seemed entirely appropriate to the full blossom of détente. In November 1969, the same month U.S. and Soviet negotiators opened the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, President Richard Nixon undertook an experiment in unilateral disarmament, unconditionally renouncing all methods of biological warfare. Three months later this renunciation was broadened to include toxin weapons, i.e., poisons produced by biological processes but not themselves living organisms. The Administration set about destroying all stockpiles of biological and toxin weapons, and closing down the research into offensive use of such weapons that had been conducted at Fort Detrick, Maryland.

This U.S. initiative was quick to bear fruit. In early 1971, the Soviet Union dropped its previous insistence that any biological weapons treaty also include chemical weapons, which had created a negotiating deadlock because the United States and Great Britain were unwilling to destroy existing chemical weapons stocks they felt served deterrent purposes. With the Soviets willing to treat biological warfare separately, the Convention was concluded a year later, and was signed by 111 nations.1

The 1972 Convention called for an end to development of biological and toxin weapons. Signatories pledged not to acquire or maintain stocks of biological agents "of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes." Existing

Loading, please wait...

Related Articles

This site uses cookies to improve your user experience. Click here to learn more.