Chemical Weapons Moment of Truth

Article excerpt

There is a distinct possibility that the Republican-led Senate will cast some of the most important votes of the 105th Congress over the next two weeks.

Depending on the outcome, these votes may profoundly - and adversely - affect our nation's security, our businesses' competitiveness, the U.S. embargoes on Cuba and Iran and American constitutional rights. Irrespective of the outcome, however, they will be defining moments for the Republican Party.

The votes are expected to occur in connection with a Republican alternative to the increasingly controversial Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and on the resolution of ratification for the treaty itself. The most interesting aspect of this legislative drama arises from the fact that President Clinton is counting on a gaggle of primarily Bush administration officials to deliver the Republican senators needed to get the treaty ratified before April 29.

On the other side are the Reaganauts and some of the more robust members of the Bush administration, notably Cabinet officers Richard Cheney and Jack Kemp. Last week, this team argued powerfully against ratification of the CWC, and for an alternative offered by Sen. Jon Kyl on behalf of virtually the entire Senate Republican leadership. This alternative is known as the "Chemical and Biological Weapons Threat Reduction Act of 1997." It affords the Congress an opportunity to do something useful - through a unilateral and enforceable U.S. statute - to deal with the growing threat posed by such weapons at home and abroad, without embracing the false promise and immense costs of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The quality of the opposition to this treaty is unprecedented. For example, never before have four former defense secretaries testified against a signed arms control agreement as James Schlesinger, Donald Rumsfeld, Caspar Weinberger and (in written form) Dick Cheney did last week. These sober, internationally minded Republicans of the Reagan School were joined in their opposition to the CWC before the Foreign Relations Committee by four other, estimable Reagan officials: U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Director Fred Ikle and top Defense Department officials Richard Perle and Douglas Feith.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cheney's Bush administration colleagues - notably, James Baker, Brent Scowcroft and Colin Powell - have the unenviable task of legitimating the likes of John Holum, the current occupant of Mr. Ikle's post at ACDA and a longtime aide to George McGovern, who has taken in these pages to dismissing as "rubbish" the sorts of concerns expressed by such credible Republican witnesses.

Last Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott met with some 40 leading conservative activists representing a wide range of interests and millions of grass-roots constituents. They urged him to resist the Clinton-Bush gang's demands for hasty and favorable action on the Chemical Weapons Convention. …