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International responses to weather modification

  • Edith Brown Weiss


In the past few decades we have been improving our understanding of the weather system and exploring ways to modify it. Over sixty countries have experimented with modifying the weather. The new technology of weather and climate modification will raise important political problems which will demand new responses from the international community. Whether states will be able to establish the cooperative measures necessary to develop and manage new technology depends upon whether there are sufficient incentives to do so. This article analyzes the historical patterns of international cooperation in meteorology, and then plots against several time horizons projected developments and capabilities in weather modification technology and the potential problems emerging from using the technology. It derives a tentative picture of the responsibilities demanded, compares the likely responses with those needed, and assesses whether they will be adequate for the problems projected.



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1 National Academy of Sciences, Weather and Climate Modification: Problems and Prospects, (Washington, D.C., 1966), vol. 1, p. 4.

2 National Academy of Sciences, Weather and Climate Modification (Washington, D.C., 1973)pp. 34.

3 Quotation by Ruskin, John, as given in Daniel, Howard, One Hundred Years of International Cooperation in Meteorology, 1873–1973 (World Meteorological Organization, 1973), p. 8.

4 For a review of the history of meteorological cooperation, see Daniel, Ibid; and Mieghim, Van Jr, “International Cooperation in Meteorology: An Historical Review,” International Association of Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics, Report of Proceedings, (Toronto, 04 1968), pp. 109–28.

5 Department of State Bulletin, October 16, 1961, p. 622.

6 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1721 (XVI), December 20, 1961. See Documents on International Aspects of the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, 1954–1962, 88th Congress, 1st Session, Senate Document no. 118, pp. 226–7.

7 US National Aeronautics and Space Administration, “A Survey of Space Applications for the Benefit of All Mankind,” NASA SP–142 (Washington, D.C., 04 1967), pp. 90–1.

9 For a basic description of the World Weather Watch, see World Meteorological Organization, The Essential Elements of the World Weather Watch (WMO, Geneva, 10 1966). For thecurrent program, see World Meteorological Organization, World Weather Watch, The Plan and Implementation Programme 1972–75 (WMO, Geneva, 07 1971).

10 For a basic description of the Global Atmospheric Research Program, see WMO-ICSU, Introduction to GARP (GARP Publication Series no. 1, Geneva). For a description of the proposed global experiment, see WMO-ICSU, The First GARP Global Experiment (GARP Publication Series no. 11, Geneva, 03 1973).

11 See Daniel, note 3.

12 See Malone, Thomas, “Current Developments in the Atmospheric Sciences and Some of their Implications for Foreign Policy,” The Potential Impact of Science and Technology on Future United States Policy (Washington, D.C., 1968), p. 95.

13 For reports that the US is considering a single national meteorological satellite system by the 1980s, see Aviation Week and Space Technology, vol. 99, no. 13, 09 24, 1973, p. 9; November 12, 1972; for descriptions of the military weather satellite system, see Aviation Week and Space Technology, March 12, 1973, p. 18; November 12, 1973, p. 11.

14 In July 1973, the Senate voted 82–10 in favor of a resolution that the US should seek a treaty prohibiting “the use of any environmental or geophysical modification activity as a weapon of war.” S. Res. 71, Congressional Record, 07 11, 1973, pp. S. 1301–2.

15 Weather Modification, Hearings, US Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Subcommittee on Oceans and International Environment (93rd Congress, 2nd Session) January 25 and March 20, 1974.

16 As early as 1971 the US National Academy of Sciences recommended that the United States submit a resolution to the United Nations General Assembly “dedicating all weather modification efforts to peaceful purposes.” Committee on Atmospheric Sciences, The Atmospheric Sciences and Man's Needs (National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C., 1971), p. 56.

17 At the Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs, a US and a Soviet scientist jointly proposed an international treaty prohibiting the military use of weather modification. Rich, Alexander and Engelhardt, Vladimir A., “To Ban Military Use of Weather Modification,” Bulletin of Peace Proposals, no. 4, 1972, p. 310. The Dartmouth Conference VII, composed of US and Soviet scientists and officials acting in their private capacity, issued a similar joint communique. Joint Communique, Dartmouth Conference VII, Hanover, New Hampshire, December 7, 1972.

18 The text of the Statement on the Environment appears in The New York Times, July 4, 1974, p. 2, col. 8.

19 For the text of the convention, see UN Document A/C.1/L.675, September 24, 1974. The revised resolution as adopted by the UN First Committee is UN Doc. A/C.l/L.675/Rev. 1, November 20, 1974.

20 Zhukov, G. P., Vasilevskaya, E. G., and Lukin, P. I., Legal Aspects of the Utilization of Artificial Satellites for Meteorological and Radio Communication Purposes (NASA, Washington, D.C., 03 1971), p. 80.

21 Study of Man's Impact on Climate, Inadvertent Climate Modification, (MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1971), p. 18.

22 The text of the recommendations appears in United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, Report to the Senate by Senator Clairborne Pell and Senator Clifford Case, 92nd C, 2nd Sess., October, 1972.

23 Report of the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme on Its Second Session, Nairobi, 11 to 22 March 1974, UNEP/GC/26, April 10,1974.

24 Zhakov, Vasilevskaya, and Lukin, pp. 76–84.

25 The text of the Declaration appears in supra note 22.

Edith Brown Weiss is an Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering and Politics in the Departments of Civil Engineering and Politics at Princeton University, and was formerly with The Brookings Institution of Washington, D. C. This article is based in part on the author's forthcoming book on the subject to be published by the University of California Press.


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