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.