Disarmament DiplomacyIssue No. 45, April 2000
Senator Helms StatementStatement to the Senate by Jesse Helms (Republican - North Carolina), Chair, Foreign Relations Committee, April 26, 2000 "Mr. [Senate] President, the news media are buzzing with speculation that President Clinton will attempt, in his final months in office, to strike a major arms control deal with Russia - including a new ABM Treaty that would limit the United States' ability to defend itself against ballistic missile attack. White House officials have openly stated their concern that Mr. Clinton faces the prospect of leaving office without a major arms control agreement to his credit - the first President in memory to do so. … So, Mr. Clinton wants an agreement, a signing ceremony, a final photo-op. He wants a picture shaking hands with the Russian President, broad smiles on their faces, large ornately bound treaties under their arms, as the cameras click for perhaps the last time - a final curtain call of sorts. I must observe…that if the price of that final curtain call is a resurrection of the US-Soviet ABM Treaty that would prevent the United States from protecting itself against missile attack, then that price is far too high. With all due respect, I do not intend to allow this President to establish his 'legacy' by binding the next generation of Americans to a future without a viable national missile defense. For nearly eight years, while North Korea and Iran raced forward with their nuclear programs, and while China stole the most advanced nuclear secrets of the United States, and while Iraq escaped international inspections, President Clinton did everything in his power to stand in the way of deploying a national missile defense. Want some facts? Let's state some for the record:
While Mr. Clinton was dragging his feet, foreign ballistic missile threats to the US grew in terms of both range and sophistication. Today, several third world nations possess, or are developing, ballistic missiles capable of delivering chemical, biological, or nuclear warheads against US cities. … So Mr. Clinton is in search of a legacy? He already has one. The Clinton legacy is our nation's continued, inexcusable vulnerability to ballistic missile attack. The Clinton legacy is eight years of negligence. The Clinton legacy is eight years of lost time.
But, in the twilight of his presidency, Mr. Clinton now wants to strike an ill-considered deal with Russia to purchase Russian consent to an inadequate US missile defense - one single site in Alaska, to be deployed, but not until 2005 - in exchange for a new, revitalized ABM Treaty that would permanently ban any truly national missile defense. The President is attempting to lock the United States into a system that cannot defend the American people against even the limited threats we face today. And the President is trying to resurrect the US-Soviet ABM Treaty to make impossible any future enhancements to national missile defense.
The agreement Mr. Clinton proposes would not permit spaced-based sensors; it would not permit sufficient numbers of ground based radars; and it would not permit additional defenses based on alternate missile interceptor systems - such as Naval sea-based interceptors. All of these, and more, are necessary to achieve a fully effective defense against the full range of possible threats. Mr. Clinton's proposal is not a plan to defend the United States; it is a plan to leave the United States defenseless. It is, in fact, a plan to salvage the antiquated and invalid US-Soviet ABM Treaty. It is a plan…that is going nowhere fast in protecting the American people.
After dragging his feet on missile defense for nearly eight years, Mr. Clinton now fervently hopes that he will be permitted, in his final months in office, to tie the hands of the next president. He believes he will be allowed to constrain the next administration from pursuing a real national missile defense? Well I, for one, have a message for the President: Not on my watch, Mr. President. Not on my watch!
Let's be clear, to avoid any misunderstandings: any modified ABM treaty negotiated by this administration will be dead-on-arrival at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This administration's failed security policies have burdened this nation long enough. In a few months, the American people will go to the polls to elect a new President, a President that must have a clean break from the failed policies of this administration. He must have the freedom and flexibility to establish his own security policies.
And to the length of my cable-tow…it is my intent to do everything in my power to ensure that nothing is done in the next few months, by this administration, to tie the hands of the next administration in pursuing a new national security policy, based not on scraps of parchment, but rather on concrete defenses; a policy designed to protect the American people from ballistic missile attack; a policy designed to ensure that no hostile regime - from Tehran to Pyongyang to Beijing - is capable of threatening the United States of America with nuclear blackmail. …
It is clear that the United States is no longer legally bound by the US-Soviet ABM Treaty. Isn't it self-evident that the US-Soviet ABM Treaty expired when the Soviet Union - our treaty partner - ceased to exist? Legally speaking, I see no impediment whatsoever to the United States proceeding with any national missile defense system we choose to deploy. That said, for political and diplomatic reasons, the next president may decide that it is in the US interest to sit down with the Russians and offer them a chance to negotiate an agreement on this matter. Personally, I do not think that a new ABM Treaty can be negotiated with Russia that would permit the kind of defenses America needs. As Henry Kissinger said in testimony before the Foreign Relations Committee last year:
'Is it possible to negotiate a modification of the ABM Treaty? Since the basic concept of the ABM Treaty is so contrary to the concept of an effective missile defense, I find it very difficult to imagine this. But I would be open to argument, provided that we do not use the treaty as a constraint on pushing forward on the most effective development of a national and theater missile defense.'
Like Dr. Kissinger, I am open to the remote possibility that a new administration - unencumbered by this president's desperate desire for a 'legacy' and this administration's infatuation with the US-Soviet ABM treaty - could enter into successful negotiations with the Russians. The Republican nominee for president, Governor Bush of Texas, has declared that, on taking office, he would give the Russians an opportunity to negotiate a revised ABM Treaty, one that will permit the defenses that America needs. But, Mr. Bush made clear that, if the Russians refuse, he will go forward nonetheless and deploy a national missile defense. Mr. Bush believes in the need for missile defense, and he will negotiate from a position of strength.
By contrast, President Clinton clearly has no interest whatsoever in missile defense. His agenda is not to defend America from ballistic missile attack, but to race against the clock to get an arms control agreement - any agreement - that will prevent him from going down in history as the first president in memory not to do so. It is obvious, therefore, that any negotiations he enters into in his final months will be from a position of desperation and weakness. …
Now, this administration's time for grand treaty initiatives is at an end. For the remainder of this year, the Foreign Relations Committee will continue its routine work - we will consider tax treaties, extradition treaties, and other already negotiated treaties. But we will not consider any new, last minute arms control measures that this administration negotiates in its final, closing months in office. And, as chairman of this committee, I should make it clear that the Foreign Relations Committee will not consider the next administration bound by any treaties this administration may try to negotiate in the coming months.
The Russian government should not be under any illusion whatsoever that any commitments made by this lame-duck administration, will be binding on the next administration. America has waited eight years for a commitment to build and deploy a national missile defense. We can wait a few more months for a president committed to doing it and doing it right - to protect the American people."
Source: Text - Helms Statement on US-Russia Arms Agreements, US State Department (Washington File), April 27.
© 2000 The Acronym Institute.