Professors Debate Policy to Develop Chemical Weapons

Experts in chemical warfare yesterday disagreed over whether the development of chemical weapons by the United States would deter the Soviet Union from using its sophisticated chemical arsenal or simply escalate worldwide production of such weapons.

Speaking to a small audience at the Kennedy School of Government, John M. Deutch, former undersecretary of Energy, argued that the U.S. must develop binary chemical weapons--which combine two harmless chemicals to produce a poisonous mixture--to deter Soviet attacks with such weapons.

But Matthew S. Meselson, Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences, disagreed, contending that such development would enhance the likelihood of chemical weapon proliferation.

Because countries can produce binary weapons more easily than the unitary ones used in the past, they would be more likely to use them, Meselson said.

"I think we would be out of our minds to make it easier for others," he explained.


Deutch, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said binary weapons--because they only become lethal after mixed in-flight--are safer than unitary chemicals in production, transportation, and storage.

"The U.S. and its allies are extremely vulnerable to chemical weapon attack at the present time. Defense measures alone cannot be relied upon to deter chemical weapons," Deutch said.

Meselson labelled the safety advantages offered by binary munitions "small," saying the $2 billion to develop the weapons could be better spent. "There are other ways to show the Russians we are serious," he said.