Arms Control in 1998: Congress Maintains the Status Quo

The year 1998 was a status quo year for arms control and national security issues in the 105th Congress. There was neither major progress nor significant backsliding. Although the Senate overwhelmingly approved the expansion of NATO, there was no breakthrough in securing Senate approval of the Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB) Treaty. Congress also refused to appropriate the billion-plus dollars required to pay the U.S. debt to the United Nations.

On the other hand, where things could have gotten much worse, they did not. The Senate did not vote to cripple or abrogate the 1972 ABM Treaty. Congress turned back Republican-led efforts to mandate deployment of a national missile defense (NMD) system. B-2 proponents finally gave up hunting for funds to build more than 21 bombers. Congress appropriated just enough money to avoid the loss of the U.S. vote in the UN General Assembly. House Republicans failed to decimate Nunn-Lugar security assistance funding to punish Russia for alleged bad behavior (such as selling advanced weaponry and nuclear-related technology to Iran).

The last major bill adopted by Congress as it headed out the door—the $520 billion omnibus appropriations bill—provided some good news and some bad news. While the bill included more funding to deal with nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union and to implement the 1994 U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework, Congress also added billions of dollars to the military budget and to ballistic missile defense (BMD) programs in particular.

Considering the lengthy arms control agenda facing Congress, however, 1998 should be judged on opportunity costs; that is, another year lost in which there was scant progress toward reducing or eliminating weapons of mass destruction.


Assault on the ABM Treaty

Republican hopes to cripple or kill the ABM Treaty were thwarted when the Clinton administration refused to submit a series of agreements between the United States, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine clarifying the "demarcation line" between permitted theater missile defense systems and limited strategic missile defenses, and enumerating the successor states to the Soviet Union to which the ABM Treaty applies. The administration held off submitting the agreements to the Senate until after the Russian Duma considered START II, which U.S. officials hope will be before the end of the year.

In 1998, Republicans resumed their push for NMD deployment. They had been wary of the issue since December 1995, when they precipitated a Clinton veto of the fiscal year (FY) 1996 defense authorization bill, which included language mandating deployment of a multiple-site NMD system (intended to protect all 50 states) by 2003. In 1996 and 1997, the administration and Congress reached a tacit compromise on the NMD issue: while avoiding recorded votes, Congress added money to the administration's budget request for NMD but did not try to force the administration's hand on deployment.

In March 1998, Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) launched a new campaign by introducing the "American Missile Protection Act of 1998." The bill declared: "It is the policy of the United States to deploy as soon as is technologically possible, an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack (whether accidental, unauthorized, or deliberate)." Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) brought up the legislation in May as an independent measure in order to avoid another veto of a defense bill, but the bill's supporters fell one vote short in their attempt to force a floor vote.

On May 13, the Senate voted 59-41 (60 votes are needed for a motion of cloture) to end debate and bring the bill before the full Senate. All 55 Republicans voted for the motion, as did four Democrats: Daniel Akaka (HI), Ernest Hollings (SC), Daniel Inouye (HI) and Joseph Lieberman (CT). Lott brought up the measure a second time on September 9 in a vain ploy to inject the issue of missile defense into the upcoming congressional elections, but the motion of cloture was rejected by an identical 59-41 vote.

The House of Representatives never voted on the issue of NMD deployment. On August 5, Representatives Curt Weldon (R-PA) and John Spratt (D-SC) introduced a bill with 49 co-sponsors from both parties stating "That it is the policy of the United States to deploy a national missile defense." However, that measure was never put to a vote. Hard-line Republicans, hoping to sharpen the differences between the two parties for the mid-term elections, pushed an alternative measure mandating NMD deployment by a date certain. The split among Republicans over the best strategy was never resolved, and the House ran out of time to schedule a vote.

Congressional Republicans did succeed, as in past years, in pumping more money into missile defenses than the administration had requested. After appropriating $3.7 billion in the defense appropriations bill for national and theater defenses (close to the administration's request), Congress added another billion dollars in supplemental appropriations as part of the omnibus appropriations bill passed in October before the 105th Congress adjourned. The exact allocation between national and theater missile defense programs was left to the Pentagon.


The Debate Intensifies

Ironically, the administration's victory on BMD policy and the Republican win on BMD funding—an outcome identical to the previous three years—came despite a series of major developments in 1998 that fueled the debate over missile defense policy. In February, an independent panel of missile defense experts appointed by the Pentagon and headed by retired General Larry Welch, former Air Force chief of staff, issued a study that was highly critical of the flight test programs involving four "hit-to-kill" missile defense systems, including the NMD program. Their report concluded that the programs suffer from a "rush to failure" because of efforts to rapidly deploy the systems without thorough flight testing. The Welch Panel said it was "highly unlikely" that the administration would meet its current goal of developing an NMD system in three years and, should a deployment decision be made, of fielding the system three years later.

On May 12, the day before the Senate voted on the Cochran bill, the U.S. Army's Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system failed its fifth consecutive test, again calling into question the technological viability of the Pentagon's most advanced BMD system. The test failure of THAAD (one of the four programs analyzed by the Welch Panel) underscored a key contention of missile defense opponents: after more than 30 years of research, development and testing, intercepting warheads still remains a major technological hurdle. Any workable NMD system will have to incorporate similar but more sophisticated technology than that used in THAAD and other theater missile defense systems.

Next, on July 7, Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) released a General Accounting Office (GAO) report that reviewed the costs and risks involved in the NMD program, and concluded that the program's schedule and technical objectives remain "high risk." The report cast further doubts on Republican plans to accelerate deployment.

Finally, on July 15, a report from a panel headed by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld—including experts across the arms control spectrum—warned that a long-range missile threat to the United States could develop much earlier than had been anticipated. The Rumsfeld Commission's conclusion was reinforced by Iran's test only one week later of an intermediate-range missile capable of hitting much of the Middle East, and an August 31 North Korean launch of a Taepo Dong-1 missile that demonstrated some aspects of ICBM development, most notably multiple-stage separation.

In response to the Rumsfeld Commission report, the CIA stood by its conclusion that no country other than Russia, China and North Korea could develop ICBMs capable of threatening the United States before the year 2010. And on August 24, the Joint Chiefs of Staff—much to the chagrin of missile defense hawks—weighed in against speeding up NMD deployment. The controversy over the immediacy of the ballistic missile threat to the United States continued to the end of the year.


CTB Treaty

A summation of Senate progress on the CTB Treaty can be short: there was almost no movement whatsoever. While President Clinton submitted the treaty to the Senate in September 1997 and promised to make ratification a top priority in 1998—at least after the Senate voted on NATO expansion—Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC) ignored the treaty and the president never followed through on his pledge to make the treaty a top priority.

The president started the year on a high note, with a ringing affirmation of the CTB Treaty in his January State of the Union address and a letter from four former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff endorsing the treaty. In February, the president toured the Los Alamos National Laboratory and received a helpful endorsement by the directors of the nation's three major nuclear weapons laboratories of U.S. efforts under the test ban to maintain a robust nuclear weapons force.

Helms, however, had made his views crystal clear at the beginning of the year. In a January 21 letter to the president, Helms said his committee would only consider the CTB Treaty after the president had submitted the ABM Treaty-related agreements and the Kyoto Protocol on global warming to the Senate for prior action. Lott backed up the powerful chairman. True to his word, Helms never held a single hearing on the CTB Treaty all year.

Arms control advocates vainly hoped that after the Senate vote on NATO enlargement at the end of April, the president would make the test ban treaty his top priority and lean on the Senate to act. However, the administration's decision not to submit the ABM Treaty-START II package to the Senate until after the Russian Duma approved START II further stalled consideration of the CTB Treaty. The Duma refused to cooperate by not approving START II, and the administration had no alternative plan.

When Secretary of State Madeleine Albright delivered a comprehensive arms control speech to the Henry L. Stimson Center on June 10, she said that all Senator Helms had to do was to whistle and she would be glad to testify on behalf of the treaty. Helms never whistled and the administration turned its attention to fresh crises in Bosnia, North Korea, Iraq and Kosovo.

Even after India and Pakistan conducted their nuclear tests in May, the drift continued. Test ban advocates from the president on down argued that the CTB Treaty was more important than ever. The South Asian nuclear developments, they argued, should serve as a wake-up call for the United States and the world. Treaty critics Helms and Lott, on the other hand, suggested that developments in South Asia rendered the test ban irrelevant, citing the failure of the U.S. intelligence community to anticipate the Indian tests and the likelihood that New Delhi would never sign the test ban treaty. Lott went so far as to argue that the Indians tested nuclear devices because of the administration's support for the CTB Treaty.

While most Senate Republicans, unsure if the test ban will ever be brought up for a vote, have declined to take a position on the treaty, Republican Senator Arlen Specter (PA) was motivated by events in South Asia to endorse the treaty. Working with Democrat Joseph Biden (DE), Specter tried to force the issue by offering an amendment to restore the administration's $28.9 million request for FY 1999 funding for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) Preparatory Commission, which the Senate Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittee had failed to endorse. The CTBTO's International Monitoring System will allow the United States to significantly improve its worldwide nuclear weapons test monitoring capabilities.

On September 1, the Senate approved the Specter-Biden amendment to the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill by a vote of 49-44. Not surprisingly, there were two very different interpretations of the vote. CTB advocates pointed to the success of the Specter-Biden amendment, while treaty opponents suggested that the "success" instead showed how far short CTB supporters were of the 67 votes needed for advice and consent to ratification. In the end, this vote will have little long-term significance. Specter pushed the vote while expending little effort to sway colleagues, and although Lott persuaded most Republicans to oppose the amendment, several senators who voted "nay" privately conceded that their vote did not foretell their final position on the treaty.

In the meantime, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott engaged in a series of separate negotiations with Indian and Pakistani officials to defuse the rising nuclear tensions on the sub-continent. Congress cooperated by giving President Clinton the authority to ease U.S. sanctions imposed on both countries after their May tests. In November, after modest progress in the Talbott negotiations, the president announced a relaxed sanctions policy.


Chemical Weapons Convention

In October 1998, a year and a half after the Senate approved the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), Congress finally passed legislation conforming U.S. law to all treaty obligations. This "implementation legislation" became a last-minute insert into the huge omnibus appropriations bill. On April 24, 1997, the Senate had voted 74-26 to give its advice and consent to ratification of the CWC, which entered into force five days later. In May 1997, the Senate approved implementation legislation for the CWC, which the House adopted in November but which was linked to unrelated legislation imposing sanctions on Russian companies accused of selling missile parts and technology to Iran. House International Relations Committee Chairman Ben Gilman (R-NY) sought a trade-off: the CWC legislation, which the administration favored, in return for the Russian sanctions bill the administration opposed and had threatened to veto. A deadlock ensued for the next year and a half, and the administration never made the issue a high priority. Republicans, for their part, were more interested in political gamesmanship.

Throughout that period, the United States was in "technical violation" of the CWC because it had not declared treaty-related activities at U.S. commercial facilities. Both the House and the Senate approved the sanctions legislation (the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act) to which the CWC implementing legislation had been attached, but President Clinton vetoed the legislation on June 23. For a time, it appeared that an overwhelming congressional majority would override the veto, but in mid-July Clinton announced the imposition of trade sanctions against nine Russian companies that had been aiding Iran's missile program. The Republican leadership decided against an override vote.

As the 105th Congress completed its work in October, it appeared that the CWC implementing legislation would have to be reconsidered in 1999. However, a last-minute miracle occurred. With pressure from the Chemical Manufacturers Association and the administration, Representative David Obey of Wisconsin, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, with the acquiescence of incoming House Speaker Bob Livingston (R-LA), managed to include the legislation in the omnibus appropriations bill. However, the implementing legislation contains a number of disputed provisions, including one that gives the president the authority to block "challenge" inspections in this country on national security grounds and a second that prevents the transfer outside the United States of samples from U.S. facilities for analysis. The bill's controversial provisions are likely to be revisited in 1999.


ACDA's Merger

In 1995, then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher proposed merging the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), the Agency for International Development (AID) and the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) into the Department of State. Although these agencies fought the merger and won early bureaucratic battles within the Clinton administration, Helms ran with the idea, having long wanted to abolish the independent arms control agency. In April 1997, the administration announced that it would agree to merge ACDA and USIA into the State Department. That plan, after negotiations with Helms and Biden, was inserted into the fiscal years 1998-99 State Department authorization bill in the summer of 1997. As part of the bargain, Helms agreed to payment of the U.S. debt to the United Nations. The legislation stalled, however, when House Republicans insisted on adding anti-abortion restrictions on international family planning funding to the State Department authorization bill. The president had made it clear that he would not jeopardize his support among women by compromising on this issue.

The bill languished through the remainder of 1997 and most of 1998. ACDA, which had engaged in an extensive planning process for the expected merger, was left in limbo. In April 1998, the bill—including the anti-abortion language—cleared Congress, but it was not sent to the president for another six months. Republicans hoped to build pressure on the president to sign the legislation. That tactic failed; on October 21, Clinton vetoed the bill.

ACDA has remained in limbo for two years—neither independent nor a part of the State Department. Administration lines of authority on arms control issues have become even more blurred than usual. ACDA Director John Holum was designated acting under secretary for arms control but held his original post as well. Thus, when Republicans at the last moment attached the State Department reorganization measure to the omnibus appropriations bill—minus the UN funding, which was still linked to the abortion issue—even devoted supporters of ACDA felt that an unsatisfactory solution was better than none at all. The merger is to be completed no later than April 1999.


NATO Expansion

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, NATO grappled uncertainly with its mission. The military alliance established to confront the communist menace had to find a new role for itself. Nevertheless, NATO decided to expand the alliance to include former Warsaw Pact members in Central and Eastern Europe. The enlargement process was moving at a rather languid pace until the 1996 presidential campaign when President Clinton, under pressure from Bob Dole, promised to expedite NATO's expansion. In December 1996, NATO adopted an accelerated timetable for enlargement, and in July 1997 designated the first three countries to be invited into the venerable institution: Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. In December 1997, NATO formally agreed to accept those three countries, subject to approval by the 16 current members, including a two-thirds vote in the U.S. Senate.

Many arms control advocates opposed NATO expansion on the grounds that it undermined the goal of safeguarding and reducing weapons of mass destruction in an increasingly chaotic former Soviet Union. Partly in response to NATO's decision to expand, which is opposed by Russians of all ideological stripes, the Russian Duma has held up approval of START II for three years. In addition, drawing Russia into closer economic, political and military relationships with the West could help reduce the likelihood of military confrontation in Europe—confrontation that could lead to the use of weapons of mass destruction. The United States chose this path with Germany and Japan after World War II. In contrast, the expansion of NATO served to drive Moscow away from the West, drawing a new dividing line in Europe with struggling Russia on the other side of the line.

The debate over NATO expansion became heated, but only as the Senate approached an April 30 vote on the issue. The Clinton administration had significant advantages in its pursuit of ratification. It was unusually well-organized and highly focused on the NATO issue, having appointed a government-wide coordinator many months before. Moreover, key Republicans such as Helms and Lott agreed with the administration's policy and worked with it to win Senate approval.

In addition, few senators were willing to invest time and energy in the fight against NATO enlargement early, when it would have been most effective. Most senators are reluctant to focus on an issue that is many months away from a vote. By the time senators closely examined NATO expansion, any doubts they may have had were overridden by concerns that it was too late to stop a train that had long since left the station. In other words, first, it was too early; then it was too late. In 1997, only Senator John Warner (R-VA) had publicly declared his opposition to NATO enlargement.

In April 1998, NATO expansion opponents offered a series of amendments to crack the pro-enlargement coalition, but failed. The closest vote, which lost 41-59, came on an amendment offered by Warner to delay further expansion of NATO for at least three years. On April 30, the Senate voted 80-19 to approve the new members. The bipartisan majority included 45 Republicans and 35 Democrats. Opposition too was bipartisan, with the "nay" votes spanning the political spectrum from Paul Wellstone (D-MN) on the left to John Ashcroft (R-MO) on the right.

In April 1999, the 50th anniversary of the founding of NATO, the United States will host a NATO summit in Washington, DC, at which the three countries formally will join the alliance. NATO enlargement opponents hope that the concerns raised in early 1998 will lead NATO to avoid hasty moves to add more Central European countries, and particularly to avoid the flashpoint of admitting the three Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.


Military Spending

A White House-congressional deal cut in 1997 capped military spending budget authority at $271 billion for FY 1999. That cap was first loosened and then eviscerated completely. Early in the year, the president permitted the Pentagon to retain about $21 billion in extra funding over five years due to savings from lower-than-anticipated inflation rates. Then Congress played budget games to give the Pentagon an additional $3.5 billion in FY 1999 spending. Finally, the omnibus appropriations bill added another $8.3 billion in "emergency" funding for Pentagon programs. The final budget authority total for the Department of Defense comes to about $279 billion. These increases came while many members of Congress, along with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, launched a lobbying campaign to persuade President Clinton to include another large hike in the new defense budget to be presented in February 1999.


>North Korea

A number of members of Congress, such as Senator John McCain (R-AZ), threatened to cut off all U.S. funding for North Korean oil purchases due to a raft of stories about possible nuclear weapon-related activities in the North and the country's continuing sales of ballistic missiles. The oil purchases are a key element in the 1994 U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework, by which the administration is seeking to persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons pretensions. At the end of the year, a compromise was reached: the omnibus appropriations bill included $35 million for the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), the international consortium leading the implementation of the nuclear deal, but the funds will become available only after March 1999 and only if North Korea makes progress in ending its weapons of mass destruction programs.


Nuclear Security Issues

Congress endorsed and even exceeded the administration's funding requests to deal with the problem of unsecured nuclear materials and weapons in the former Soviet Union. At the beginning of the year, the administration requested $442 million for the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program (the Nunn-Lugar program) in the defense bill. Congress appropriated all but $2 million of that amount. In the omnibus appropriations bill, thanks to efforts by Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), Congress approved $200 million toward the disposal of 50 tons of excess Russian weapons-derived plutonium, and $325 million to permit the Department of Energy to pay Moscow for some of the costs it incurred in 1997 and 1998 for down-blending highly enriched uranium to low-enriched uranium for sale to the United States under the 1993 HEU deal.


UN Funding

Congress narrowly avoided a loss of U.S. voting rights in the UN General Assembly by approving a little less than $300 million for the United Nations' regular budget and another $231 million for UN peace-keeping activities. Nonetheless, the United States still owes the United Nations more than $1.3 billion in unpaid dues. A deal at the end of the 105th Congress to fund a substantial portion of those arrears ultimately floundered on the linked anti-abortion issue.


A Peek Ahead to 1999

The 106th Congress, which will be sworn in on January 6, 1999, will look remarkably like the 105th Congress. The Senate will continue to have a ratio of 55 Republicans to 45 Democrats. While the Democrats picked up five seats in the House, Republicans retained control of that body as well. Nonetheless, Democrats have been emboldened and Republicans chastened by a worse-than-expected electoral performance by Republican candidates. Senate Democrats early in the year had been wary of a filibuster-proof, 60-seat Republican majority that would limit their influence in the Senate. Avoiding that train wreck means that Democrats remain in a strong position to push their priority issues.

In 1999, the two parties will have to negotiate in both the House and Senate to enact any legislation. That result, and a possible favorable Russian Duma vote on START II, are good news for the CTB Treaty during the next Congress. Democrats will have an opportunity to force this treaty onto the Senate agenda despite Helms' continued objections.

There is one major unknown at this point that could have a significant impact on the 106th Congress. If the Duma approves START II, the administration is expected to send to the Senate a package of five agreements related to the ABM Treaty in the face of stiff Republican opposition to the 1972 agreement limiting strategic missile defenses.

However, the administration has been gradually giving ground in the face of the onslaught. In October, Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre agreed with Republican questioners that the ABM Treaty would not be permitted to block NMD deployment if the United States deems deployment necessary. As part of its deliberations in December over the budget to be presented in February, the administration has to decide whether to include deployment funds in its five-year Pentagon spending plan. It is also considering an approach to the Russians to propose changes in the treaty to reflect eventual missile defense deployment.

A second major uncertainty is a Senate impeachment trial of President Clinton. For arms control proponents, 1999 offers more than the usual unknowns.

John Isaacs is president and executive director of the Council for a Livable World in Washington, DC.

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