“We continue to count on the valuable contributions of the Arms Control Association.”

– President Joe Biden
June 2, 2022
Helms Asks Administration to Reject Arms Control Treaties
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Philipp C. Bleek

Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has asked the Bush administration to formally reject a range of international agreements, including the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), a 1997 package of agreements concerning the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, and the Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel landmines.

Helms' request was made in a March 12 letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell and first reported March 29 by Knight Ridder. In the letter, Helms complains about the Clinton administration's neglect of the Senate in the treaty-making process and says that "the administration's sorely misguided arms control policies" must be "undone."

A Bush administration official declined comment but emphasized that the status of various agreements was under consideration in the context of ongoing reviews.

Noting the opposition of both the president and the secretary of defense to the test ban and Powell's January 17 pledge not to seek the treaty's approval during the 2001-2002 Congress, Helms called on the administration to "articulate a new policy on nuclear testing, to withdraw the U.S. signature from the CTBT, and to terminate funding to CTBT organizations." Although he does not support the test ban, President George W. Bush has pledged to maintain the testing moratorium initiated under his father's presidency.

Despite the Senate's October 1999 rejection of the test ban, the United States has continued to fund the CTBT Organization Preparatory Commission, which is currently assembling a network of sensors that will serve as the treaty's "eyes and ears" to verify compliance. While most experts think that the United States benefits from the verification resources the treaty provides even though it has not ratified the treaty, Helms argued at a March 29 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that the resources do not benefit and may actually hamper the U.S. intelligence community's efforts to monitor other nations.

On the package of ABM Treaty agreements—which designate Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan as successor states to the Soviet Union for the purposes of the treaty and delineate boundaries between theater and strategic missile defenses—Helms said, "It is my hope that your administration will repudiate these agreements." Arguing that the agreements perpetuate a defunct Cold War treaty that unduly constrains U.S. missile defense efforts, Helms has long called for their submission to the Senate for advice and consent and has pledged to reject them at that time.

Urging that the Ottawa Convention be formally repudiated, Helms also called on the administration to "end all efforts to bring the U.S. into de facto compliance with that treaty" and to cease "de-mining activity on the margins of Convention conferences." The Clinton administration declined to sign the 1997 convention but pledged that the United States would do so by 2006 if "suitable alternatives" to landmines could be fielded by that time.

Helms called on the State Department to re-examine the adaptation agreement to the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty—a 1999 update to a 1990 agreement that sets ceilings on conventional force deployments in Europe. He also wants the department to reassess an "additional safeguards" protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which was signed in June 1998. Neither agreement has yet been submitted to the Senate.

In his letter, Helms argued that the U.S.-Russian agreements on plutonium disposition and early warning, which were signed by the Clinton administration, "must be submitted to the Senate if the U.S. is to pursue implementation." However, striking a different tone, he noted that Senate approval of the agreements is "likely" if "significant technical issues" are resolved. (See ACT, January/February 2001 and July/August 2000.)