Holding U.S. Security Hostage

Article excerpt

Prompt Senate approval of START II--the treaty that would reduce the Russian strategic threat to the United States from some 8,000 to 3,500 nuclear warheads--is becoming increasingly doubtful despite overwhelming bipartisan congressional support. Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), asserting his power as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is holding this important treaty, as well as the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), hostage to passage of unrelated legislation. Failure to complete Senate action promptly could delay for years the entry into force of these agreements with great disadvantage to U.S. security.

By refusing to schedule any meetings, Helms has stopped all action before his committee in an effort to force the administration to accept his plan to integrate into the State Department three independent agencies, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), the Agency for International Development and the U.S. Information Agency. Senate approval of START II, which Helms has not opposed, could be obtained with little or no opposition as soon as a formal committee markup of the resolution of approval can be scheduled. But until Helms relents, the United States cannot demonstrate to Russia and the world its support for reductions in strategic nuclear forces.

The multilateral CWC, which will ban development, production and stockpiling of chemical warfare agents as well as their use, may require a final hearing to resolve some questions. But, under the able leadership of Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), the necessary resolution of approval should be easily obtained. Because many countries are awaiting U.S. ratification, Senate inaction prevents the early entry into force of this agreement, which universally bans possession and use of the "poor man's nuclear weapon."

Senator Helms is reportedly willing to reduce the ransom to only two of the three threatened agencies with the choice left to the administration. The White House has properly declined to bargain with hostage-takers and vowed not to yield on this issue. However, the longer this standoff lasts, the less any action will occur in time to influence favorable Russian action on either treaty.

The prospects for START II ratification in the Russian Parliament are much more precarious than in the U.S. Senate, notwithstanding Helms' maneuvering. A narrow window of opportunity for action appears to exist for the next month or two before the Russian adjourns to prepare for mid-December elections. …