Cold Warriors Target Arms Control

By Isaacs, John | Arms Control Today, September 1995 | Go to article overview

Cold Warriors Target Arms Control

Isaacs, John, Arms Control Today

While disagreements over the conflict in Bosnia have strained U.S. relations with Western Europe and Russia, these divisions will pale in comparison to the tensions that will arise if recent congressional arms control decisions become law. If the Republicans who dominate Congress are successful, a series of arms control agreements painstakingly negotiated by Republican and Democratic presidents could be consigned to the ash heap. This list includes the START I and START II nuclear reduction agreements, the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and the ongoing negotiations to achieve a comprehensive test ban (CTB) by 1996. U.S. leadership in the post-Cold War era will be undermined as the international community, already skeptical about this country's direction, will question the ability of the executive branch to surmount isolationist impulses.

Early Assault on Arms Control

In February, the House of Representatives launched the first attacks against the arms control consensus achieved since the last years of Ronald Reagan's presidency. Republicans brought to the House floor House Resolution (H.R.) 7, the national security portion of the "Contract With America." The language of this contract, touted by Republicans as an agenda for reshaping America, included a pledge to deploy both a national missile defense as well as theater missile defense systems "as soon as practical."

In a major surprise, this renewed drive for Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), or a variant of it designed to create a ballistic missile defense (BMD), stalled even while other elements of the contract went flying through the House. On February 15, the House voted 218-212 for an amendment offered by John Spratt (D-SC) that eliminated the commitment to deploy BMD. In a shrewd maneuver, Spratt forced the House to choose between military "readiness" and BMD--and readiness won out. The victory was important but only symbolic; even if the original language prevailed, the Senate never bothered to consider this portion of the contract.

In May, sobered by the previous defeat and aware of bipartisan skepticism about national missile defense, the House National Security Committee (previously named the Armed Services Committee) took a more cautious route when considering the annual defense authorization bill. The Republican-dominated committee pumped up funding for BMD, authorizing $3.5 billion, an increase of $628 million. National missile defense funding was more than doubled from the Clinton administration's original request of $371 million to $821 million.

The committee also added $135 million to Brilliant Eyes, a space-based sensor that could replace ground-based radars, which is funded separately from the BMD program.

In terms of policy, however, the committee refrained from endorsing outright a commitment to deploy a defensive system that would violate the ABM Treaty. It adopted non-binding language, stating that "It is the policy of the United States to deploy at the earliest practical date" both theater missile defenses and national missile defenses. Nevertheless, the defensive system outlined in the bill would be limited to 100 ground-based interceptors at a single site, "or a greater number of interceptors at a number of sites, as determined necessary by the Secretary [of Defense]." There was no timetable for deployment.

Republicans argued that they were not out to destroy the ABM Treaty. Curt Weldon (R-PA), who chairs the House National Security Subcommittee on Research and Development, emphasized on the House floor that he had no intention to attack the treaty frontally. On Tune 14, he stated during the floor debate on the authorization bill: "Our side, the conservative side, wanted to offer an amendment to take on the ABM Treaty in this bill and I said, 'If you do, I will come to the floor and I will lead the fight against it.' And that amendment was not offered."

In July, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Livingston (R-LA) was briefly tempted to go directly at the treaty when his committee considered the annual defense appropriations bill. …

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