Administration, Senate Opposition Draw Battle Lines Over CWC

January/February 1997

By Erik J. Keklem

With less than three months remaining until formal entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the Clinton administration's renewed push for Senate approval of the accord has encountered stiff opposition by top Republicans still seeking to link Senate consideration to other arms control and foreign policy issues. The treaty is once again being held up by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R NC), who last year led a successful effort to derail the administration's effort to bring the convention to a vote. (See ACT, September 1996.)

The 1993 treaty, now signed by 161 countries including the United States and ratified by 70, will enter into force April 29 with or without U.S. ratification. If the United States fails to ratify the treaty by that date, it will be barred from membership in the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the implementing body that will begin formal operation April 29. As a result, the United States will be unable to participate in the decision making process during the first critical months of the convention's implementation.

The Congressional Debate

The administration's campaign, led by new National Security Advisor Samuel Berger, hopes to persuade Republican leaders to bring a resolution of ratification before the full Senate for a vote before the April 29 deadline. However, both Helms and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R MS), either of whom can prevent the CWC from coming to the Senate floor for a vote, have told the administration that other issues must be addressed before they will move to vote on the treaty.

In a January 8 letter to Clinton, Lott said, "[I]t will be very difficult to explore the possibility of Senate action on the Chemical Weapons Convention without first addressing legitimate security and Constitutional concerns on other important arms control issues." In particular, Lott suggested Senate advice and consent are required for any "demarcation" limits to the Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, for the ABM Treaty's multilateralization and for new "flank" limits to the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. "As you seek bipartisan cooperation [on the CWC]," Lott said, "you must understand our expectation for such cooperation on ABM multilateralization, ABM demarcation and CFE flank limits."

Opposition By Helms

In a January 29 letter to Lott, Helms said he remained opposed to the treaty "as transmitted" by the president, and recommended instead that the Senate consider the CWC only after it passes legislation on "top Republican priorities." Among the issues that must first be addressed, according to Helms, are legislation to restructure U.S. foreign policy agencies, legislation that ensures comprehensive UN reform, submission to the Senate for advice and consent of modifications to the ABM Treaty and the CFE Treaty, and legislation to deploy a national missile defense system.

In his letter, Helms said, "at a minimum the only acceptable end result of our efforts must be a resolution of ratification, approved by the Foreign Relations Committee," that addresses key Republican concerns. In an accompanying memo, Helms included the conditioning of U.S. ratification on: a Russian commitment to implement the 1990 U.S. Russian "Bilateral Destruction Agreement" and ratify the CWC; accession to the CWC by "those countries possessing chemical weapons which pose a threat to the United States"; and presidential certification that U.S. intelligence can "monitor with a high degree of confidence the compliance of all parties" to the convention. Other key conditions in the memo included clarification of the U.S. response to acts of non compliance with the CWC, ensuring the primacy of the Constitution over all convention provisions and the protection of confidential business information.

The specific language of the resolution of ratification will be key, as some of the conditions outlined by Helms, if included or attached as "poison pill" amendments to the resolution on the Senate floor could effectively block U.S. ratification. In his letter to Lott, Helms said, "I believe that the starting point for any further discussions on the CWC must be the resolution of ratification which I presented to the Foreign Relations Committee on April 25, 1996." The original Helms resolution was rejected by a majority of the committee last year before it approved an alternative resolution co sponsored by committee Republicans and Democrats.