CWC: Election Year Casualty?

By Keeny, Spurgeon M., Jr. | Arms Control Today, September 1996 | Go to article overview

CWC: Election Year Casualty?


Keeny, Spurgeon M., Jr., Arms Control Today


Global security suffered a major setback when the Senate failed to act on the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which would ban the development, production, transfer and stockpiling of chemical weapons as well as their use. Unfortunately, the outcome was in large part due to the last moment intervention of Republican presidential candidate Robert Dole in support of threatened "poison pill" amendments to the resolution of ratification that would have effectively precluded U.S. participation in the convention. Unless this ill-considered barrier to U.S. ratification is promptly eliminated so that the Senate can take positive action early in the next session, the CWC will enter into force without U.S. participation. This delay will jeopardize the CWC's effectiveness and seriously erode U.S. credibility as a leader in non-proliferation efforts.

When the CWC was finally about to be brought up for advice and consent on September 12, it appeared ready for prompt bipartisan approval. The convention, which was negotiated under President Bush and signed by him as one of his final acts in early 1993, built upon President Nixon's successful effort to obtain Senate approval of the Geneva Protocol of 1925, which outlawed the use of chemical weapons. Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), the floor manager of the resolution of approval, could look for support to eminent members of the Bush administration, including former Secretary of State James Baker and former National Security Adviser General Brent Scowcroft. The Clinton administration, including Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General John Shalikashvili, was united in support of the convention.

Senators Jesse Helms (R-NC) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ), with assistance from a few extreme right-wing columnists, led a small but vociferous chorus that denounced the treaty as useless, unverifiable and in violation of the constitutional right against unwarranted search. These criticisms were effectively countered by government witnesses and the Chemical Manufacturers Association that had helped draft the convention.

Unable to prevail in the substantive debate, the opposition resorted to guile by threatening two amendments that sounded plausible but would, in fact, have prevented U.S. adherence to the convention. These unpublished amendments reportedly would have required the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) to certify that the entire convention could be verified with "high confidence" and prevented deposit of the U.S. instrument of ratification until Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Syria joined. …

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