Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.As part of the price for Senate approval of the Chemical Weapons Convention, President Clinton announced plans to abolish the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and fold its functions into the State Department. Although it has received little public attention, ACDA's demise as an independent voice for arms control will impair national security by narrowing arms control options for presidential decisionmaking.
A subdued Clinton administration quietly claimed the abolition was a planned component of the program to "reinvent government." But the State Department, which had sought the elimination of ACDA from the beginning of the administration, proclaimed that its new acquisition will eliminate one of the vestiges of the Cold War, and allow arms control to be handled as an arm of foreign policy.
ACDA was created as an independent agency by President Kennedy 36 years ago, not to serve as an instrument in the Cold War but to provide future presidents with a source of arms control policy options as an alternative to the ongoing arms race. Kennedy and his advisors rejected the State Department as the location for the new organization because it would be dominated by a foreign service bureaucracy preoccupied with relations with client states. Similarly, the Defense Department was rejected because of its preoccupation with seeking security by building rather than limiting arms.
While ACDA's success has always been dependent on presidential interest in arms control, the new agency proved its worth as a component of the national security establishment in a succession of administrations. During the Johnson administration, ACDA's persistent efforts to negotiate the nuclear NonProliferation Treaty (NPT) despite State Department opposition gave Johnson the opportunity to go forward with the treaty over objections by major allies. During the Nixon administration, a strong ACDA team working with Henry Kissinger negotiated the ABM Treaty and the SALT I agreement despite a less than enthusiastic Defense Department and an apathetic State Department. During the Carter administration, ACDA played the lead role in the president's ambitious arms control agenda, including the negotiation of the SALT II agreement.
The second half of ACDA's short life was less propitious. During the Reagan years, ACDA's leaders were as often opponents as advocates of arms control. When President Bush and Secretary of State Baker had to deal with the collapse of the Soviet Union, they demonstrated that a few senior State Department officials working with the president could quickly accomplish major steps by bypassing the bureaucracy, including ACDA. But the arms control agenda and implementation of past accomplishments has become too complex to be handled routinely in this topdown manner. During the first Clinton term, ACDA demonstrated its value by delivering a consensus agreement to the indefinite extension of the NPT and spearheading the successful completion of the Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB) Treaty. The administration, however, treated ACDA shabbily by delaying appointments and permitting its frequent exclusion from interagency activities.
As the victim of an unfriendly takeover, ACDA will be in a poor position to bargain with the vastly larger institution that will absorb it. Nevertheless, an effort is being made to give arms control some measure of titular independence by allowing the responsible undersecretary to have access to the president through the secretary of state. If Congress approves, this may work with the present incumbents. However, such an unnatural bureaucratic arrangement cannot long endure. With its budget; personnel; and its legal, public and congressional relations in the hands of the State Department, the arms control function and its experienced practitioners will not fare well in the face of declining budgets, and the department's many other pressing responsibilities as well as concern for furthering the careers of foreign service officers.
In the coming year, the administration will be faced with many critical arms control policy issues, including Russian ratification of START II, negotiation of START III, defense of the ABM Treaty and Senate approval of the CTB Treaty. It remains to be seen how these difficult issues will be handled within a State Department consumed with the crusade to expand NATO and faced with extraordinarily difficult congressional relations.
In merging ACDA into the State Department, President Clinton has taken a major step without serious congressional or public debate. Thus, he must take responsibility to assure that ACDA's demise does not deprive him and his successors of independent arms control and national security recommendations which the State Department might judge to be in conflict with some tactical foreign policy objective. If the process fails to meet presidential needs, his successors will have to resurrect ACDA.