WHEN President Nixon submits the Geneva Protocol of 1925 to the Senate this month for ratification, a nationwide coalition of concerned citizens will be pressuring the Senate to include irritant gases and anti-plant chemicals within its scope.
The Geneva Protocol prohibits "the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous liquids, materials or devices," in addition to "the use of bacteriological methods of warfare."
The United States is one of only three countries in the entire world which interpret the Protocol as excluding tear gases and defoliants. Eighty-four nations, including Russia, have ratified the Protocol.
If the Senate accedes to the coalition's objectives, a major change in current U. S. military policy in Vietnam will have to be made. Tear gases and defoliants, both being profusely used in Vietnam at present, will have to be eliminated from the military arsenal.
In the Boston area, sponsors of the Senate petition to include tear gases and defoliants within the scope of the Protocol include Dr. John Knowles, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital, the chairmen of the major science departments at M. I. T., and some Harvard notables: Mary I. Bunting, President of Radcliffe; Karl W. Deutsche, professor of Government; H. Stuart Hughes, professor of History; Alex Inkwells, professor of Sociology; Matthew S. Meselson, professor of Biology, and others.
Most of the work to get an organization rolling, however, has come from a handful of students in the Chemical and Biological Warfare section of Nat Sci 26: "Biology and Social Issues."
Kevin J. Middlebrook '72, one of the organizers, said that the minimum objective is to give national publicity to the issues of tear gases and defoliants. The maximum objective, Middlebrow said, is to convince the Senate to attach a rider to the Protocol stating that according to the latest U. S. interpretation, tear gases and defoliants are encompassed by the Protocol.
Middlebrook outlined a three-fold plan of action:
contacting other campuses and student groups,
talking to ecology groups,
getting the support of public officials, particularly members of Congress.
Another coalition planner, J. Brian Walsh '72, emphasized the environmental damage which the group is fighting. "Herbicides and gases deal with destruction of the environment. We're part of the ecology coalition. And this is one of the aspects of the April 22 teaching."
The Political Scene
When Nixon took office, he ordered a comprehensive review of United States chemical and biological warfare policy after nerve gas accidents, such as one killing 6000 sheep in Utah. The review, undertaken by the National Security Council and the appropriate Executive departments, resulted in Nixon's major policy speech on November 25, 1969, in which he promised to resubmit the Geneva Protocol of 1925 to the Senate.
Nixon declared that the United States would never engage in biological warfare, even to retaliate, and ordered the Defense Department to dispose of existing BW stockpiles. The President also reaffirmed America's "renunciation of the first use of lethal chemical weapons" and extended the renunciation "to the first use of incapacitating chemicals."
The November policy statement, however, did not mention tear gases, defoliants, or toxins.
America's policy on toxins, which are chemical poisons produced by bacteriological means, became much clearer two weeks ago when Nixon banned toxins along with BW.
The next step will be for Nixon to submit the Protocol to the Senate leadership, probably some time this month, along with a formal letter from Secretary of State Rogers to the Senate leadership stating that the Protocol is indeed worthy of being ratified.
The Senate leadership will turn the Protocol over to Senator William Fulbright (D-Ark.) who, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, will begin hearings a few weeks later to discuss the pros and cons of the Protocol.
If history repeats itself, the Protocol will be doomed. The United States, which helped propose the Geneva Protocol and signed it in 1925, submitted the Protocol to the Foreign Relations Committee in January, 1926. Six months later the Protocol was reported out of committee favorably. But floor debate in December, 1926, revealed considerable opposition and the issue was never actually brought to a vote. After some delay, the Sentae returned it to the Executive with other doomed treaties in 1947.
Drawn up after the horrors of gas warfare in World War I, the Protocol stands as one of the most closely adhered to agreements involving warfare. There have been only three confirmed violations: Italy against Ethiopia under Mussolini, Japan against China at the outbreak of World War II, and recently Egypt against Yemen.
Eighty-four countries have ratified the Protocol. These include all members of NATO except the United States and the Warsaw Pact nations. China ratified the Protocol in 1929 and Red China remains a party today.
Japan and the United States are the only industrial nations which have failed to ratify the Protocol. Nevertheless, the U. S. has conscientiously abided by its terms without question-until Vietnam.
The Protocol can be interpreted as a very modest document. It binds nations to refrain from first use only in warfare. It does not exclude research and development, stockpiling, or retaliating with either chemical or biological weapons in international conflict. So if a nation wants to use lethal chemicals to control a domestic riot, the Protocol presents no problem.
One ambiguity is whether the Protocol pertains to tear gases and defoliants. The United States disagrees with the interpretation that includes these within the Protocol's scope. But the U. S. is finding itself in a lonely position.
In December, 1969, the United Nations General Assembly passed a Swedish resolution, 80-3, stating that the Geneva Protocol of 1925 included prohibitions against irritant gases and anti-plant chemicals. The U. S., along with Australia and Portugal, constituted the entire minority vote.
One danger is that the U. S. Senate may ratify the Protocol with a formal reservation excluding tear gases and defoliants. Such a move would set a precedent for further weakening the Protocol.
An intermediate strategy would be ratifying the Protocol with no floor debate on whether tear gases and defoliants are included. This ambiguity could then be cleared up after Vietnam.
The most progressive decision would be to phase out tear gas and defoliants in Vietnam and then attach a rider to the Protocol stating explicitly that irritant gases and anti-plant chemicals are included within its scope.
Abandoning the use of tear gas in Vietnam would be a welcome sign of desolation. Defense Department purchases of antipersonnel gas, mostly CS, have risen from 367,000 pounds in 1964 to 6,063,000 pounds in 1969.
THE ARGUMENT that tear gas is more humane than artillery is compelling but misleading. In Vietnam, it is used to flush out the enemy from his hiding places and then conventional fire mows him down.
Tear gas, commonly pumped down Viet Cong tunnels, can cause death by asphyxiation and thus is as lethal in effect as any other gas.
And when a group of Viet Cong and civilians are gassed, it is the civilians who panic, run from hiding, and expose themselves in a Viet Cong-Allied crossfire.
The use of chlorine in World War I was precedents by tear gas, breaking down the barriers to chemical weapons. Our use of tear gas in Vietnam is again eroding the barriers to CBW-an unwise policy for the United States; for CBW is the poor nation's nuclear weapon.
As Thomas S. Schelling, professor of Economics, has pointed out, it is relatively easy to interpret an international agreement barring all gas warfare. But when nations begin differentiating between gases, inconsistencies and disagreements arise.
Defoliants and Herbicides
Since 1962, four million acres of Vietnam have been sprayed with 100 million pounds of assorted defoliants and herbicides. These anti-plant chemicals, used to defoliate woody canopies and to destroy enemy crops, can cause permanent damage to soil, agriculture, and people.
Botanists have estimated that 50 per cent of Vietnam's soil is laterizable-it can be converted irreversibly to rock when deprived of organic matter.
The mangrove seasonal cycle has become erratic through much of Vietnam and has caused secondary agricultural dislocations. In addition, the U. S. deflation campaign has been plagued with accidents. Thousands of Michelin rubber plantation trees were sprayed and killed north and west of Saigon; the U. S. compensated France $87 per tree. Cambodia is currently suing the United States for $9 million in damages covering an area allegedly sprayed accidentally-700 square kilometers.
Tests on rats conducted by the Bionetics Research Laboratory with 2,4,5-T, the most commonly used defendant in Vietnam, revealed birth defects so shocking that the U. S. banneddomestic use of 2.4.5-T, yet continues to use it many times above the suggested concentration in Southeast Asia. Meanwhile. since late 1967, numerous reports of unusually malformed babies have appeared in the Vietnamese press.
Congressman Robert W. Kastenmier of Wisconsin. who has devoted much of his time to CBW probes. testified on December 9, 1969 before the House Subcommittee on National Security Policy and Scientific Developments, that we should not "regard the submission of a 44-year-old treaty to the Senate as a signal achievement by itself. The decision to seek ratification is more in the nature of atonement for past errors and inaction."
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