The Clinton administration is mounting a campaign against the leadership of the U.S. Senate that has all the subtlety of a Mafia hit.
The immediate object of its intimidation is Sen. Trent Lott, whose knees are at risk of being broken (figuratively, we must hope) unless he bends to the president's will. To do so, however, the majority leader would, in turn, have to "take out" the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Jesse Helms - and with him, the Senate's rules concerning the consideration of treaties and that institution's way of doing business more generally.
The administration is resorting to such tactics for a very simple reason: Mr. Helms is in a position indefinitely to bottle up a highly controversial treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Incredible though it may seem, Secretary of State-designate Madeleine Albright declared last week that ratification of this Convention was the Clinton team's top, near-term foreign policy priority. Unfortunately for them - and happily for the national interest - Senate procedures permit Chairman Helms permanently to pocket veto this treaty by declining to bring it up for a vote in his committee.
I say happily for the national interest because, to his lasting credit, Mr. Helms, correctly concluded in the course of intensive Senate consideration of the Chemical Weapons Convention last fall that this treaty was fatally flawed. Since a sufficient number of senators agreed with him in September 1996 to defeat the CWC, the administration decided to withdraw it - hoping it would meet a different fate if presented later. Apparently, such is the Clinton team's contempt for members of the Senate (which is exceeded only by its disdain for their constitutional role in treaty-making) that it thinks legislators either have forgotten what is wrong with this Convention or can be euchred into agreeing to it, if only enough coercive pressure is brought to bear.
Thanks to Mr. Helms and thoughtful colleagues like Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, though, the Senate will be reminded of the overarching reason for opposing the Chemical Weapons Convention: It is likely to contribute to the proliferation of chemical weapons, not eliminate it.
After all, the Convention will not impose a global ban on chemical weapons, let alone rid them from the world, as its proponents often claim. In fact, it will not apply to every country that has chemical weapons. A number of the most dangerous rogue states - including North Korea, Syria and Iraq - have announced that they will not become parties to the CWC. Such nations tend cynically to see such "international norms" not as an impediment to pursuing prohibited activities but as an invitation to do so.
What is more, thanks to the inherent unverifiability of the Chemical Weapons Convention, even some of those who do join the regime will retain covert chemical stockpiles. The unalterable fact of life is that chemical weapons can be easily produced. By using facilities that are designed, for example, to manufacture fertilizers, pesticides or pharmaceuticals, they can be produced in considerable (even "militarily significant") quantities in relatively short periods. …