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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 14, April 1997

US CWC Debate Intensifies as Entry-Into-Force Deadline Nears

The US debate over ratification of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) intensified in March as the deadline for the Treaty's entry-into-force -29 April - began to loom large. See Documents and Sources for material related to the outcome of the debate.

The most prominent opponent of ratification is Republican Senator Jesse Helms (North Carolina), Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. Addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference on 8 March, Helms stated:

"I have given the White House a long list of changes that must be made in this treaty before we agree to Senate ratification of it... I promise you this: unless the administration makes the modifications I am demanding, the [treaty] will not leave my Committee, period. ... As long as I'm around, there's not going to be a Senate Foreign Relations Committee that rubber-stamps dumb and dangerous arms control treaties while sending blank cheques to the United Nations and embracing Fidel Castro."

However, on 25 March, after meeting with Secretary of State Albright, Helms announced that "there's a very good chance that there could be a treaty" before the deadline. Helms added that "maybe [the CWC] has some goods points that are sort of hard for me to find."

The same day, Helms and Albright held a press conference to report on their deliberations. Describing ratification as "a major priority," Albright would only say that "it is our hope that it will go through and that it will be seen as a contribution to to the security of the American people." Denying any direct linkage between CWC ratification and the reform of either US foreign policy agencies or the UN, Helms observed:

"For my part, there would be no problem if we could continue to negotiate as we have been doing for the last few days. There was a time, earlier on, when some in the Administration were stonewalling... But [Democratic Senator] Joe Biden and I consulted in my office, Wednesday night past [19 March], for about four and one half hours and we covered 21 differences and resolved them [Editor's note: see a subsequent letter from Biden, Documents and Sources]. So, if both sides will sit down and be realistic about it, there is a very good chance that there could be a treaty. Otherwise...there could be a difficulty."

Helms also met with US Ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson, who stated on 23 March: "[we had] very good discussions... [S]ome of the conditions and initiatives that Senator Helms put forward we're working on. We've accepted some. ... I am very confident that we will get a vote and that the vote will be positive."

Earlier (18 March), Senator Jon Kyl (Republican - Arizona), another prominent foe to the CWC cause, wrote in the Christian Science Monitor:

"The Senate has a solemn obligation to give its advice and consent to treaties only when certain they are in the best interests of the US... The US has much more to lose in embracing this treaty than in rejecting it."

On 19 March, it became clear that the Democrats were considering blocking anti-drugs legislation until the Republicans proceeded with CWC ratification. According to Democrat Senate Leader Tom Daschle: "Unless we get to some sort of date [foe a CWC decision], we're not going to be inclined to move any additional legislation - even Mexico..."

Earlier in March, three former Defense Secretaries laid out their opposition to the treaty. Writing in the Washington Post on 5 March, Donald Rumsfeld, James Schlesinger and Caspar Weinberger described the treaty as "contrary to US security interests" on the following grounds: its "essential unverifiability, its lack of global coverage," and "the prospect that it will inhibit non-lethal use of chemicals, including tear gas."

On 18 March, Assistant Democrat Floor Leader Senator Byron Dorgan (North Dakota) predicted that his Party would "have to take very aggressive action to wedge [the treaty] to the floor of the Senate and have a vote." The same day, Senator John Kerry (Democrat - Massachusetts) also used the phrase "very aggressive action", adding:

"We're not going to allow the debate just to slide by. Our intention is to use every tool available to us in the minority... We're going to be very militant."

On 20 March, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (Republican - Mississippi) urged calm, saying that "at some point we'll get a vote on that," and adding that that point would "not be in the wild blue yonder." However, Lott maintained that the 29 April deadline was not all-important: "Whenever it's ratified, we certainly would be the big kid on the block."

Reports: Arms treaty ratification urged, AP Online Washington News Wire, 5 March; Heated US debate on ratifying chemical arms pact, Reuter News Reports; US debates ratifying chemical arms pact, Reuter News Reports, 8 March; Disarmament - uncertain fate for chemical arms ban, Inter Press Service International News, 17 March; Chemical weapons treaty pushed, AP Washington News Wire, 18 March; Dashcle demands chemical weapons ban, United Press International, 19 March; Partisan Senate showdown looms, AP Washington News Wire, 19 March; Lott promises vote on weapons ban, United Press International, 20 March; Diplomat sure of chemical treaty, AP Washington News Wire, 23 March; Albright-Helms press conference, State Department transcript, 25 March; Helms softens his stance on the chemical weapons convention, United States Information Agency, 26 March.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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