Why 48 Treaties Languish in Senate Congress Flexes Foreign-Policy Muscle, Stalls Pacts on Weapons, Women's Rights, Ocean

Article excerpt

In recent years the US Senate has become increasingly involved in an area of foreign policy that's usually a president's preserve - foreign treaties.

The Chemical Weapons Convention is only the latest international agreement forced to sit down and wait for Senate ratification. Fully 48 treaties that were negotiated and signed by the White House are now stalled in the Senate, according to numbers compiled by Congressional Quarterly. Some treaties have been twiddling their metaphorical thumbs for years.

Though it doesn't happen often, "it's not unprecedented at all" for senators to conduct their own foreign policy by scuttling administration-backed treaties, says Robert Beisner, an American University diplomatic historian. More commonly, "if there are things about a pact that key senators don't like, they try to get changes by holding it up," says Dr. Beisner. Like so much in US politics, the struggle over treaties reflects the constant competition between the White House and Congress for power and prestige. Under the Constitution, the president has primary US treaty-making authority. But the Senate gets to give advice and consent and ratify the finished product by a two-thirds vote. The most famous of the handful of pacts rejected this century was the 1920 Treaty of Versailles, which would have brought the US into the League of Nations. Other defeated treaties include a seaway pact with Canada and a 1934 compact on adherence to the World Court. Will the same fate now befall the Chemical Weapons Convention? Years in the negotiating, it's a big multilateral pact that aims at a worldwide ban on production and possession of poison gas stocks. But key GOP legislators - particularly Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - have vowed to block it, saying it's loophole-ridden and would lull Americans into a false sense of security about the problem of chemical terrorism. …


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