Disarmament Disarmed? Saving the A.C.D.A

By Raskin, Marcus G. | The Nation, September 27, 1993 | Go to article overview

Disarmament Disarmed? Saving the A.C.D.A


Raskin, Marcus G., The Nation


The Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, created by Congress and President Kennedy to propose alternatives to war and the arms race, has been fighting for its bureaucratic life since the end of the cold war. Last December a State Department report claimed the A.C.D.A. was no longer necessary and should be merged into the State Department. State and Defense officials had long chafed at the independent access a strong A.C.D.A. director could have to the President. Although they feared the possibility of dissenting views on arms and strategic questions their real concern was bureaucratic power. States report met with very little support from Capitol Hill. Although some Senate Republicans favored the reorganization, a number of Congressional voices have recognized that the agency could play an important role in the protection and extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is scheduled for review and extension in 1995.

In June a seeming bureaucratic cease-fire occurred when Secretary of State Warren Christopher conceded that there should be an "independent voice on arms control and disarmament." But Christopher's decision may have been made with his fingers crossed. The agency's eight top positions stand vacant; only two of sixteen policy-making positions have been filled.

Despite constraints, the agency has recorded some modest achievements. It spearheaded important arms control agreements, notably the nonproliferation and chemical weapons treaties. It challenged the Defense Department and the C.I.A.'s policy of looking the other way when Pakistan developed an atomic bomb. When President Clinton said the United States might resume nuclear testing, the agency announced its opposition.

Nevertheless, the A.C.D.A. has disappointed those of us who had a hand in its creation in 1961. Back then, even the most hawkish political leaders believed that humanity faced endless wars and even nuclear holocaust unless serious political, economic and social alternatives were offered by an agency able to argue for them both within and outside the government.

At the A.C.D.A.'s inception, staff members believed that finding technical solutions for the control of particular weapons systems should be part of a comprehensive effort to end the war system itself, with the A.C.D.A. as the organizational centerpiece of such an effort. However, arms control specialists in the government successfully argued that managed competition was the best that could be hoped for in a world that could not or would not kick the weapons habit. The arms race accelerated, the war system spread and governments remained fettered to the idea that only more and better weapons could bring peace. The United States led the way, becoming the world's leading arms maker and supplier.

And so the A.C.D.A.'s original goals of general and complete disarmament disappeared from the radar screen and instead we settled for very cautious arms control agreements. Now the A.C.D.A.'s staunch supporters in Congress, apparently unaware of the law creating the agency, seek to save it but with a much reduced mandate. Representatives Tom Lantos and Howard Berman have introduced a bill under which the A.C.D.A. would be preserved to concentrate on "arms control and non-proliferation" but not general disarmament. Representative Ron Dellums and other agency defenders, in a letter to President Clinton urging the agency's preservation, voiced similar sentiments. Senators Claiborne Pell and Paul Simon have offered a bill to amend the original A.C.D. …

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Disarmament Disarmed? Saving the A.C.D.A
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