One of the least known incidents of the Cold War is the Nixon Administration’s decision in 1969 to abolish the U.S.’s sizable $300 million per year offensive biological weapons program.
When Congressman Melvin Laird became Defense Secretary in 1969, he asked for a review of the U.S.’s germ warfare and chemical warfare programs. Laird saw them as increasingly unpopular, both due to Vietnam and unfortunate incidents like the 1968 Skull Valley Sheep Kill.
It turned out that both the Buck Turgidsons of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Dr. Strangeloves of the National Security Council couldn’t think of any use for offensive germ warfare. From Wikipedia:
Surprisingly, Laird found the Joint Chiefs of Staff receptive to BW elimination as well. In twice weekly meetings with the Joint Chiefs during 1969 Laird found none of the officers opposed to ending the U.S. BW program. They found the weapons ineffective and militarily useless, especially when compared to the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
With nuclear weapons, you have to worry about which way the wind will blow the fallout, but at least fallout doesn’t reproduce like germs do. For example, during the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, Western Europe was divided by hundreds of miles of barbed wire and trenches, but both sides were hit hard anyway.
The Joint Chiefs made two demands, one was to continue defensive germ warfare research and the other was that they be allowed to maintain the U.S. chemical arsenal as a deterrent to the Soviet Union.
In June 1969 Kissinger asked a former Harvard colleague, Matthew Meselson to prepare a position paper on U.S. chemical and biological weapons programs. Meselson and Paul Doty then organized a private conference to discuss policy issues. The result was a September 1969 paper that not only urged U.S. ratification of the Geneva Protocol but an end to U.S. BW programs. Meselson and his colleagues argued that a biological attack would likely inflict a great toll on civilian populations while remaining largely militarily ineffective.
In his November 1969 speech announcing the change in policy, Nixon mentioned that during his 8 years on Eisenhower’s National Security Council there had seemed to be a “taboo” on discussing biological warfare. Once the higher ups had actually discussed it in 1969, it turned out virtually nobody thought much of germ warfare.