Courtesy Reuters

Ecocide and the Geneva Protocol

In fighting the Indochina war, the United States has made extensive use of two chemical agents: tear gas and herbicides. As debate on the Geneva Protocol banning chemical and biological warfare continues within the U.S. Senate and the Administration, two highly charged issues-Vietnam and man's destruction of his environment-are likely to merge. For it is the Administration's contention that the United States should ratify the Protocol with the understanding "that it does not prohibit the use in war of riot-control agents [tear gas] and chemical herbicides." A large number of Senators, however, consider that the Protocol prohibits the use of both, and feel that the Administration understanding dilutes the significance of U.S. ratification. Consequently, the members of the Foreign Relations Committee are not likely to vote the Protocol out of committee in its present form. And until the President replies to their criticism it appears that no action will be taken on it.

Although debate both within the Administration and before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has centered around the wording of the Protocol and how it is to be understood, partisans on both sides of the question admit that the issues involved are considerably broader and more complex. In addition to the question of the use of herbicides and tear gas in South Vietnam, the progress of current chemical and biological warfare discussions at the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament in Geneva may hinge on the outcome of the current "understandings debate" and the ultimate fate of the Protocol.

To date, the Nixon Administration has compiled an excellent record in limiting chemical and biological weapons. In November 1969 the President reaffirmed the renunciation by the United States of the first use of lethal chemical weapons and went beyond previous policy statements by including incapacitating chemicals as well. The President also unilaterally renounced all possession and use of biological weapons even on a retaliatory basis and went so far as to impose limitations on research in this field. In

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