Briefing Books | Prohibiting Environmental Warfare.
In the early 1970’s, the Nixon administration confronted the potential implications of a burgeoning new field of technological development: environmental and weather modification, especially modifications that could be used for warfare, according to the May 2, 1972, National Security Decision Memorandum Number 165. The administration first addressed the issue in 1972, culminating in the 1972 Report of the National Security Council (NSC) Under Secretaries Committee on International Aspects of Weather Modification. Then, in August of 1973, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution calling for countries to pass a treaty prohibiting environmental or geophysical manipulation as a weapon of war.
For the second time during his administration, Nixon requested that the NSC Under Secretaries Committee take up the issue on April 26, 1974.
In the Committee, Bill Clements argued that the U.S. should maintain the ability to work on R&D related to environmental modification techniques, but supported the U.S. developing an international agreement to ban the use of such techniques in warfare.
On July 3, 1974, President Nixon and Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev released a joint statement advocating for “the most effective measures possible to overcome the dangers of the use of environmental modification techniques for military purposes.” In that spirit, they decided to hold bilateral talks to outline a possible treaty.
Despite the upcoming bilateral talks on environmental warfare, the Soviets took the diplomatic initiative without American input. In August of 1974, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko sent a letter to the United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim proposing that the General Assembly pass a resolution banning environmental warfare, according to a report on the Analysis of the Soviet Proposal and Key Questions.
In response, the Ford administration decided to push the Soviets to delay taking up the issue in the General Assembly until after the bilateral talks, according to a memo for Kissinger. Notably, the Ford administration was concerned that the Soviets were pushing for a ban on all environmental modification, not merely its military application. The American government continued to argue that some techniques of environmental modification for civilian purposes, such as a fog dispersal in emergency rescues, should be allowed.
During a Senior Review Group Meeting on August 28, 1974, the policymakers decided that they would create a working group to prepare for the bilateral negotiations based on two premises: first, the administration would “accept prohibitions on any military use of environmental modification techniques having long-term, widespread or especially severe effects.” Second, the Ford administration supported international guidelines and a mechanism for settling disputes when environmental modification was used for civilian purposes. President Ford approved this approach in October of 1974 with National Security Decision Memorandum 277.
The bilateral talks led to the decision to pursue an international treaty in 1975 through the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament. The Ford Administration negotiated the Environmental Modification (or ENMOD) Treaty with the Soviets over the course of 1976. After further interagency study of the legal and national security issues in the treaty, the United States supported the approval of a United Nations General Assembly resolution approving the Convention on Environmental Modification on December 10, 1976. Ford sent a letter to the Speaker of the House and President of the Senate on January 19, 1977, urging them to support the treaty. The treaty banned the “military or any other hostile use of environmental modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting or severe effects as the means of destruction, damage or injury to any other State Party.” President Carter signed the Treaty on the day it opened for signatures, on May 18, 1977, and the U.S. ratified the treaty on January 17, 1980.
Notably, the treaty addressed Bill Clements’ concerns by allowing the continued research and development of environmental modification techniques for civilian purposes, so long as the techniques did not lead to widespread, long-lasting, or severe effects to the environment. 
FULL TEXT: Convention on the prohibition of military or any other hostile use of environmental modification techniques
(with annex). Adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10 December 1976
The States Parties to this Convention, Guided by the interest of consolidating peace, and wishing to contribute to the cause of halting the arms race, and of bringing about general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control, and of saving mankind from the danger of using new means of warfare,
Determined to continue negotiations with a view to achieving effective progress towards further measures in the field of disarmament,
Recognizing that scientific and technical advances may open new possibilities with respect to modification of the environment,
Recalling the Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (https://legal.un.org/avl/ha/dunche/dunche.html), adopted at Stockholm on 16 June 1972,2
Realizing that the use of environmental modification techniques for peaceful purposes could improve the interrelationship of man and nature and contribute to the preservation and improvement of the environment for the benefit of present and future generations,
Recognizing, however, that military or any other hostile use of such techniques could have effects extremely harmful to human welfare,
Desiring to prohibit effectively military or any other hostile use of environmental modification techniques in order to eliminate the dangers to mankind from such use, and affirming their willingness to work towards the achievement of this objective,
Desiring also to contribute to the strengthening of trust among nations and to the further improvement of the international situation in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations,
Have agreed as follows:
1. Each State Party to this Convention undertakes not to engage in military or any other hostile use of environmental modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting or severe effects as the means of destruction, damage or injury to any other State Party.
2. Each State Party to this Convention undertakes not to assist, encourage or induce any State, group of States or international organization to engage in activities contrary to the provisions of paragraph 1 of this article.
As used in article I, the term “environmental modification techniques” refers to any technique for changing-through the deliberate manipulation of natural processes-the dynamics, composition or structure of the earth, including its biota, lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere, or of outer space.
1. The provisions of this Convention shall not hinder the use of environmental modification techniques for peaceful purposes and shall be without prejudice to the generally recognized principles and applicable rules of international law concerning such use.
2. The States Parties to this Convention undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of scientific and technological information on the use of environmental modification techniques for peaceful purposes. States Parties in a position to do so shall contribute, alone or together with other States or international organizations, to international economic and scientific co-operation in the preservation, improvement and peaceful utilization of the environment, with due consideration for the needs of the developing areas of the world.
Each State Party to this Convention undertakes to take any measures it considers necessary in accordance with its constitutional processes to prohibit and prevent any activity in violation of the provisions of the Convention anywhere under its jurisdiction or control.
1. The States Parties to this Convention undertake to consult one another and to co-operate in solving any problems which may arise in relation to the objectives of, or in the application of the provisions of, the Convention. Consultation and co-operation pursuant to this article may also be undertaken through appropriate international procedures within the framework of the United Nations and in accordance with its Charter. These international procedures may include the services of appropriate international organizations, as well as of a Consultative Committee of Experts as provided for in paragraph 2 of this article.
2. For the purposes set forth in paragraph 1 of this article, the Depositary shall, within one month of the receipt of a request from any State Party to this Convention, convene a Consultative Committee of Experts. Any State Party may appoint an expert to the Committee whose functions and rules of procedure are set out in the annex, which constitutes an integral part of this Convention. The Committee shall transmit to the Depositary a summary of its findings of fact, incorporating all views and information presented to the Committee during its proceedings. The Depositary shall distribute the summary to all States Parties.
3. Any State Party to this Convention which has reason to believe that any other State Party is acting in breach of obligations deriving from the provisions of the Convention may lodge a complaint with the Security Council of the United Nations. Such a complaint should include all relevant information as well as all possible evidence supporting its validity.
4. Each State Party to this Convention undertakes to co-operate in carrying out any investigation which the Security Council may initiate, in accordance with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations, on the basis of the complaint received by the Council. The Security Council shall inform the States Parties of the results of the investigation.
5. Each State Party to this Convention undertakes to provide or support assistance, in accordance with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations, to any State Party which so requests, if the Security Council decides that such Party has been harmed or is likely to be harmed as a result of violation of the Convention.
1. Any State Party to this Convention may propose amendments to the Convention. The text of any proposed amendment shall be submitted to the Depositary, who shall promptly circulate it to all States Parties.
2. An amendment shall enter into force for all States Parties to this Convention which have accepted it, upon the deposit with the Depositary of instruments of acceptance by a majority of States Parties. Thereafter it shall enter into force for any remaining State Party on the date of deposit of its instrument of acceptance.
This Convention shall be of unlimited duration.
1. Five years after the entry into force of this Convention, a conference of the States Parties to the Convention shall be convened by the Depositary at Geneva, Switzerland. The conference shall review the operation of the Convention with a view to ensuring that its purposes and provisions are being realized, and shall in particular examine the effectiveness of the provisions of paragraph 1 of article I in eliminating the dangers of military or any other hostile use of environmental modification techniques.
2. At intervals of not less than five years thereafter, a majority of the States Parties to this Convention may obtain, by submitting a proposal to this effect to the Depositary, the convening of a conference with the same objectives.
3. If no conference has been convened pursuant to paragraph 2 of this article within ten years following the conclusion of a previous conference, the Depositary shall solicit the views of all States Parties to this Convention, concerning the convening of such a conference. If one third or ten of the States Parties, whichever number is less, respond affirmatively, the Depositary shall take immediate steps to convene the conference.
1. This Convention shall be open to all States for signature.
Any State which does not sign the Convention before its entry into force in accordance with paragraph 3 of this article may accede to it at any time.
2. This Convention shall be subject to ratification by signatory States. Instruments of ratification or accession shall be deposited with the Secretary General of the United Nations.
3. This Convention shall enter into force upon the deposit of instruments of ratification by twenty Governments in accordance with paragraph 2 of this article.
4. For those States whose instruments of ratification or accession are deposited after the entry into force of this Convention, it shall enter into force on the date of the deposit of their instruments of ratification or accession.
5. The Depositary shall promptly inform all signatory and acceding States of the date of each signature, the date of deposit of each instrument of ratification or accession and the date of the entry into force of this Convention and of any amendments thereto, as well as of the receipt of other notices.
6. This Convention shall be registered by the Depositary in accordance with Article 102 of the Charter of the United Nations. Article X. This Convention, of which the English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish texts are equally authentic, shall be deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who shall send duly certified copies thereof to the Governments of the signatory and acceding States. IN WITNESS WHEREOF, the undersigned, being duly authorized thereto by their respective Governments, have signed this Convention, opened for signature at Geneva on the eighteenth day of May, one thousand nine hundred and seventy seven