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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 15, May 1997

US Ratifies CWC

On 24 April, the US Senate ratified the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) by 74 votes to 26. A two-thirds majority was necessary for the motion to pass. US ratification came 5 days before the treaty entered into force.

See last issue for extensive documentation. A selection of statements made prior to and following the vote follows.

Build-up to the vote

I. Statements in favour of ratification

Stephen Ledogar, US Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, Geneva, 14 April

"We took a leadership role in the negotiation, and quite frankly the international community has a well-founded sense of betrayal that when it comes time to put it into effect, we are not there. ... I would be appalled to find that the United States winds up in the category of the rogue States who have an absolutely opposite attitude towards chemical weapons than I understand to be that of fellow Americans..."

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, 18 April

"If we don't join by 29 April, we will not have a chance to be among those that inspect other countries to see how they are abiding by the treaty. We will not be able to be part of the governing board of this organization. Also, we, ultimately, would be penalised by those countries that are a part of it. Our chemical industry would lose $600 million worth of business a year... Frankly, people would wonder what was the matter with us...."

Former Republican Secretary of State James Baker, The White House, 23 April

"[Failure to ratify would send] a clear signal of retreat from international leadership to our allies and enemies alike."

Former Chair of Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, speaking alongside former Secretary Baker, 23 April

"It's a good treaty because it's in America's interest [and] the interest of the world. ...it affects no Department of Defense programme, it makes future battlefields safer for American troops, and not to be in the treaty would do violence to our commercial interests. By any measure it's a treaty that should be ratified... we ought to be on the side of those who are outlawing this horrible weapon."

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Geneva, 21 April

"I have taken every opportunity to urge Member States to ratify the treaty to ensure that the decades of difficult negotiations will not be in vain... This treaty is too important for the security of every State to be handicapped by the failure of some to become parties."

II. Statements against ratification

Former Republican Defense Secretaries Donald Rumsfeld, James Schlesinger and Caspar Weinberger, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 8 April

Rumsfeld: "Were there pending before the Senate a Convention that was verifiable and global and which would accomplish the elimination of chemical weapons in the hands of the nations most likely to use them, I would be appearing before this Committee as a supporter..."

Schlesinger: "[This] is a feel-good treaty... This treaty will not serve to banish the threat of chemical weapons."

Weinberger: "My motive [in opposing ratification] is the security of the United States... [The CWC is] badly flawed [and] cannot be verified or enforced..."

Former Republican Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 8 April

"The Senate is being asked to ratify the CWC even though it is likely to be ineffective, unverifiable, and unenforceable."

Senator Jesse Helms (Republican - North Carolina), Foreign Relations Committee Chair, 8 April

"This is a dangerous and defective treaty. It is not global, it is not verifiable, it is not constitutional, and it won't work. ... It's a bum deal."

Reaction to the vote

Vice-President Al Gore, 24 April

"Tonight the United States has taken an historic new step on our journey toward a more secure world. ... The entire world watched the United States carefully during this debate, with a single question in mind - is the world's greatest deliberative body still that, and is it up to the challenge at this key moment?"

Senator Joseph Biden (Democrat - Delaware), Democrat Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee, 24 April

"The...Senate, by an overwhelming majority, went on record to say that we as a nation are going to be engaged in the world... We decided to engage the world, not retreat from the world."

Senator Helms, 24 April

"[I] find some solace in the fact that, thanks to our effort, this treaty is much less harmful than it would have been."

Senator Majority Leader Trent Lott (Republican - Missouri), 25 April

"He [President Clinton] was on the phone with individual Senators... I wish he'd get on the phone each day and work with individual Senators on the budget."

Editor's note: Senator Lott's support for ratification was voiced only on the might of the ratification vote, and was secured only after what he described on the floor of the Senate as an "unprecedented...ironclad commitment from the President" that he would be prepared to withdraw from the Treaty if he considered it in US vital national security interests to do so. Given that commitment, Lott said, the US would be "marginally better off with than without" ratification. Lott added: "there will be real and lasting consequences to the United States if we do not ratify... [I]n a very real sense, the credibility of commitments made by two Presidents of our country - one Republican, one Democrat - is at stake." The CWC was negotiated and signed by President Bush.


As of mid-May, the Senate was still wrestling with legislation to cover CWC inspections in the US. On 13 May, Senator Jon Kyl (Republican -Arizona), who voted against ratification, stated: "We've got two weeks to fix it [the legislative arrangements], and this is a tough, tough problem... [We have to make sure we] take care of the rights of US citizens."

Reports: Former Defense chiefs testify against chemical weapons pact, United States Information Agency, 8 April; Ledogar - ratification of chemical weapons treaty 'essential', United States Information Agency, 14 April; Transcript - Albright's 'CWC satellite TV tour', United States Information Agency, 22 April; UN Secretary General urges all to ratify chemical accord, United States Information Agency, 22 April; Lott announces his support of CWC, Congressional Report, 24 April; CWC vote signals US resolve on engagement in the world, United States Information Agency, 25 April; Treaty may boost Clinton's prestige, AP Online Washington News Wire, 25 April; Senate mulls chemical weapons pact, AP Online Washington News Wire, 13 May.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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