Chapter 17 – Taking on Soviet Imperialism in Afghanistan

NSDD on Soviet CBW Use and U.S. Arms Control Policy—January 1982. At this point, the intersection of the defense and arms control aspects of Reagan’s new national security strategy becomes more evident in his Afghan policy through NSC staff coordination of Interdepartmental efforts on such issues. As reviewed in Chapter 14, Reagan formally approved recommendations made in December 1981 by the Interdepartmental Group on CBW Arms Control when his National Security Decision Directive, NSDD 18—CBW Arms Control, was issued on January 4, 1982. The directive calls for further assessments of the Soviet CBW threat and the development of vigorous diplomatic and public diplomacy campaigns on the Soviet use of chemical and toxin weapons in Afghanistan (and Laos and Cambodia) and for the development of strengthened provisions for verification and compliance in future CBW arms control treaties.

U.S. Report to Congress—March 1982. Following months of interagency analysis, an early Reagan Administration “must read” report on Soviet use of chemical weapons and toxins in Afghanistan is a Report to the Congress on Chemical Warfare in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan, transmitted by Secretary of State Alexander Haig on March 22, 1982 following months of interagency analysis. In thirty-two pages, the report details the chronology of Soviet use of such weapons, numerous U.S. and U.N. investigations and demarches, lists of the toxins used, and eyewitness accounts of the Soviet air attacks and water poisoning efforts as well as the horrific effects that these Soviet actions had on their innocent victims. The report similarly detailed the sustained use (since 1976) of trichothecene toxins and other chemical agents against the anti-communist Hmong tribes in Laos by Communist Pathet Lao and other such use by Communist Vietnam’s forces against local troops and villages in Cambodia, which were all supplied and supervised by Soviet forces.

Reagan’s Address to British Parliament on June 8, 1982 (his “Westminster Address”) includes the following reference to Afghanistan in the larger Cold War context of democracy, Soviet imperialism, nuclear threats, and chemical warfare:

Historians looking back at our time will note the consistent restraint and peaceful intentions of the West. They will note that it was the democracies who refused to use the threat of their nuclear monopoly in the forties and early fifties for territorial or imperial gain. Had that nuclear monopoly been in the hands of the Communist world, the map of Europe—indeed, the world would look very different today. And certainly they will note it was not the democracies that invaded Afghanistan or suppressed Polish Solidarity or used chemical and toxin warfare in Afghanistan and Southeast Asia.14

Reagan at UN: Soviet Record of Tyranny—June 1982. Reagan’s Address to the U.N. General Assembly’s Special Session on Disarmament, on June 17, 1982, enters the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan into the long Soviet “record of tyranny.”

[This] includes the takeovers of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Afghanistan; and the ruthless repression of the proud people of Poland . . . [while] Communist atrocities in Southeast Asia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere continue to shock the free world as refugees escape to tell of their horror.15

Shultz Report to UN on Soviet CBW—November 1982. A follow-up to Secretary of State Haig’s March 1982 report on Soviet use of chemical and toxin weapons was a Report to the Congress on Chemical Warfare in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan: An Update, transmitted in November 1982 by George P. Shultz, Haig’s successor as Secretary of State. The report, also reviewed as a core Reagan CBW arms control policy document in Chapters 14 and 15 summarizes the horror and broader implications of the Soviet terror weapons:

Chemical and toxin weapons are of special concern to mankind. . . . [The U.S.] is seeking an outright ban on the development, production and stockpiling of chemical weapons.
I regret, then, to report that chemical and toxin weapons are nevertheless being used today in Laos, Kampuchea and Afghanistan by the Soviet Union and its allies. . . . Our (March) report . . . contained a comprehensive and detailed compilation of the evidence available [and] was designed to bring the issue to the attention of the world community. In presenting it, we invited others to join us in examining the evidence and in confirming the truth. . . .
These efforts have not led the Soviets and their allies to halt their illegal use of chemical and toxin weapons. Instead, they continue to deny the truth about their illegal activities. The world cannot be silent in the face of such human suffering and such cynical disregard for international law and agreements. . . . Respect for existing agreements must be restored and the agreements themselves strengthened.16

[Book pg. 409]