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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 22, January 1998

Documents and Sources

US Arms Control Obligations and Ratification Priorities: Letter from Senator Helms to President Clinton

Letter to President Clinton from Senator Jesse Helms (Republican - North Carolina), Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 21 January 1998


"As Congress prepares to reconvene shortly, I am convinced that it is important to share with you the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's agenda relating to consideration of treaties during the second year of the 105th Congress.

There are a number of important treaties which the Committee intends to take up during 1998, and we must be assured of your Administration's cooperation in making certain that these treaties receive a comprehensive examination by the Senate.

...the Committee's first priority when Congress reconvenes will be to work with you and Secretary Albright to secure Senate ratification of NATO expansion. The expansion of the Atlantic Alliance to include Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic is of critical importance, and we have come a long way in resolving some of the concerns that I, and other Senators, had raised about various details of this expansion (e.g., ensuring an equitable distribution of costs, limiting Russian influence in NATO decision making, et. al.).

While much work remains to be done, I am confident that if we continue to work together, the Senate will vote to approve the expansion of the Atlantic Alliance early this Spring.

Following the vote on NATO expansion, the Committee will turn its attention to several other critical treaties which could affect both the security of the American people and the health of the United States' economy. Chief among these are the agreements on Multilateralization and Demarcation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, and the Kyoto Protocol to the UN Convention on Climate Change.

...I feel obliged to make clear to you my concern that your Administration has been unwisely and unnecessarily engaged in delay in submitting these treaties to the Senate for its advice and consent.

Despite your commitment, made nearly eight months ago, to submit the amendments to the ABM Treaty to the Senate, we have yet to see them. As our current stand-off with Iraq clearly demonstrates, the danger posed by rogue States possessing weapons of mass destruction is growing - and, with it, the need for a robust ballistic missile defense.

The Senate has not had an opportunity to consider the rationale behind the ABM Treaty since that treaty was ratified nearly 26 years ago, in the midst of the Cold War. The world has changed a great deal since then. It is vital that the Senate conduct a thorough review of the ABM Treaty this year when it considers and votes on the ABM Multilateralization and Demarcation agreements.

Similarly, the Senate is forced to continue to wait for any indication that your Administration intends to submit the Kyoto Protocol for the Senate's advice and consent. Indeed, I have heard a great deal of discussion from supporters of this treaty indicating that the Administration may attempt to circumvent both the Senate - and the American people - by simply imposing the treaty's requirements on US businesses by executive order. Mr. President, I must respectfully counsel this would be extremely unwise. This treaty dearly requires the advice and consent of the Senate. Further, because the potential impact of the Kyoto Protocol on the American economy is so enormous, we owe it to the American people to let them know sooner, rather than later, whether they will be subject to the terms of this treaty. Ironically, while the Administration has delayed in submitting these vital treaties to the Senate, some in your Administration have indicated that the White House will press the Senate for swift ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), immediately following the vote on NATO expansion.

Such a deliberate confrontation would be exceedingly unwise because, Mr. President, the CTBT is very low on the Committee's list of priorities. The treaty has no chance of entering into force for a decade or more. Article 14 of the CTBT explicitly prevents the treaty's entry into force until it has been ratified by 44 specific nations. One of those 44 nations is North Korea, which is unlikely to ever ratify the treaty. Another of the 44 nations - India - has sought to block the CTBT at every step: vetoing it in the Conference on Disarmament so that it could not be submitted as a Conference document. India has opposed it in the United Nations. And, India has declared that it will not even sign the treaty.

By contrast, the issues surrounding the ABM Treaty and the Kyoto Protocol are far more pressing (e.g., the growing threat posed by nuclear, biological, or chemical-tipped missiles, and the potential impact of the Kyoto Protocol on the US economy).

Mr. President, let me be clear: I will be prepared to schedule Committee consideration of the CTBT only after the Senate has had the opportunity to consider and vote on the Kyoto Protocol and the amendments to the ABM Treaty.

When the Administration has submitted these treaties, and when the Senate has completed its consideration of them, then, and only then, will the Foreign Relations Committee consider the CTBT.

Mr. President, please let's work together, beginning with the effort to secure Senate ratification of NATO expansion this Spring, and then with your timely transmittal of these treaties."

Source: Congressional Report, 22 January 1998.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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