March 16, 1996


Thank you, Joan. I'm honored to address the Center for the Study of the Presidency's 27th Annual Student Symposium. The Center has been strengthening democracy at home and abroad ever since President Eisenhower inspired its founding. I feel a special kinship, because President Eisenhower also helped originate the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. Perhaps we could agree, as a general rule, that all institutions he inspired should be designated irreplaceable national treasures.

This morning I'd like to offer some observations on the President's role in international affairs -- drawing mainly, of course, on recent experiences in arms control and nonproliferation.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me first reveal that I've spent 18 out of the last 30 years working for the federal government -- with two-thirds of that in the Legislative Branch, not the Executive, where I now hold forth.

Moreover, I worked on Capitol Hill in the 1970s -- in the Vietnam era, when the Congress began to insist that the Executive could not be trusted on foreign policy, and needed to follow increasingly detailed Congressional instructions.

Not only was I there; I aided and abetted those efforts. You'll decide for yourselves how that influences what I have to say. Some might think it gives me more credibility in arguing now that the presidency needs greater deference. Others may say it only shows I suffer from a particularly virulent strain of the well-known syndrome, "where you stand depends on where you sit."

But in either case, I am here to argue that Congressional interventions and omissions are undercutting America's global leadership and standing.

Ironically, as we move to normalize relations with Vietnam, the institutional legacy from the Vietnam era seems ever more insistent. Coupled now with an especially exuberant brand of partisanship -- and new echoes of isolationism -- the conflict between the branches threatens to erode our national security.

Arms Control Leadership Makes Us More Secure

Note, first, that arms control is a national security mission. Arms control and defense are not opposites, but allies. Both make us safer -- defense by deterring or defeating threats; arms control by removing them more quietly.

At its peak, for example, the Soviet nuclear arsenal held over 11,000 warheads and bombs that could reach the United States -- each many times more powerful than the blasts that wiped out Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Today that former Soviet arsenal is shrinking dramatically. We know that because we are watching, both from space and with inspectors on site, verifying that missiles, launchers and bombers once aimed our way are being sliced apart.

Within that arsenal, Russia's heavy SS-18 missiles are the most devastating arms we have ever faced. An American weapon system designed to knock them out would, optimistically, cost many billions of dollars, and could do the job only with limited confidence -- and only in the midst of a nuclear war. But through treaties already negotiated those SS-18s are on their way to total extinction -- certainly, verifiably, and without a shot being fired.

This is underway because the Bush Administration was successful in negotiating two strategic arms reduction, or START, treaties. And it is also happening because President Clinton overcame a major obstacle to the implementation of those treaties -- the fact that after START I was negotiated, but before it could be carried out, the Soviet Union disappeared, and left behind not one but four independent states with nuclear weapons on their soil. At first it was far from obvious to Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus that it was in their interests to forego nuclear arsenals of their own.

In the end, however, no new nuclear weapons states emerged from the breakup of the Soviet Union -- and, in December of 1994, START I formally went into force. That, in turn, opened the way for ratification of START II, which will cut those nuclear arsenals to one-third of their peak levels. We are already considering further steps to reduce the nuclear danger.

For more than forty years we lived under a darkening and lengthening nuclear shadow. Arms control is guiding us back toward the light.

But the Soviet-American arms competition is being overtaken by a distinct challenge -- the risk that nuclear weapons will spread to more countries.

North Korea, for example, is an isolated, belligerent, heavily militarized nation. What would our security look like if North Korea had an arsenal of nuclear weapons?

North Korea is also starved for hard currency and has few scruples about where it sells weapons. Its versions of SCUD missiles have turned up in places like Syria and Iran. How secure we feel if North Korea had enough to sell nuclear materials or even weapons themselves to such countries -- or directly to terrorist groups?

Those prospects had to be considered not just possible but likely until late 1994, when the Agreed Framework froze and began to roll back North Korea's nuclear program. Under the Framework we have averted a North Korean material potential for making over a dozen nuclear weapons a year.

The coming years of implementing the Agreed Framework promise to be every bit as complicated as its negotiation -- which is to say, very complicated. But in this case, too, arms control and diplomacy are averting major, tangible dangers to our country, our forces, and our security interests.

The framework agreement resulted from sound policy and skilled diplomacy under President Clinton. But it was enabled a quarter-century earlier, when the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, went into force. Countries that join the NPT agree not to acquire nuclear weapons, and to put their civilian nuclear programs under international safeguards. North Korea joined in 1985.

In turn, it was the NPT that brought to North Korea the international inspectors who first confirmed signs of a possible nuclear weapons program there. And it was the NPT that allowed us to raise the prospect of global sanctions, through the UN Security Council, if North Korea failed to meet its obligations.

Even this single case confirms how much was at stake last year when all the NPT's member countries convened in New York, on the Treaty's 25th anniversary, to decide its future. The United States wanted to extend it indefinitely. Some other countries wanted a limited extension, which would have created doubts about the Treaty's viability in the long term, and so undermined its effectiveness even in the short term.

Going in, most commentators thought we would either have to compromise, or lose. But in the end -- completing an extraordinary diplomatic effort coordinated by ACDA and involving the President, the Vice President, the Secretaries of State, Energy and Defense, the senior leadership of all the national security agencies, and virtually all of our ambassadors around the world -- our view prevailed ... and not by the majority vote the treaty calls for, but without dissent.

It should be counted as a major triumph that we have secured now for all time the treaty that outlaws nuclear weapons in North Korea and 175 other countries, and empowers all of our efforts to fight the spread of nuclear weapons.

We are closing in on another vital instrument in the same cause -- a comprehensive ban on nuclear explosive testing, by anyone, anywhere, for any reason.

When he left office, President Eisenhower called the failure to achieve a comprehensive test ban his greatest disappointment. President Clinton has brought this goal within reach -- by supporting the test ban in principle, and also by making it negotiable in fact, through support of a truly comprehensive treaty, with no exceptions, treating all countries the same.

The United States has completed well over 1,000 tests -- hundreds more than any other country. The value to us of any tiny increment of knowledge from more tests is heavily outweighed by the value of preventing tests by others, including rogue states who could gain quantum leaps from even a few explosions. Freezing all countries in place on the nuclear weapons learning curve makes us more secure.

Undercutting Security

I've covered just a part of what President Clinton has described as "the most ambitious agenda to dismantle and fight the spread of weapons of mass destruction since the dawn of the nuclear age."

Now let me give a few examples of recent efforts in the Congress to undercut such efforts.

One way is to make it impossible to fulfill the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties, or START Treaties, I described a few minutes ago.

We are in the early stages of carrying out even the first START treaty, and START II is not yet in force. Both can easily be derailed. A determined effort is underway in the Congress to do just that, by requiring that the President build a nationwide defense against ballistic missiles.

That would force us to repudiate -- not just renegotiate, but unilaterally toss overboard -- President Nixon's 1972 agreement that prevents such defenses on both sides. This national missile defense plan thus would dislodge a foundation stone of strategic arms control, annulling the basic understanding on the relationship between offense and defense that has made deep cuts in offensive arms possible. Almost certainly, it would mean that implementation of START I would stop, and that START II could never begin.

Our best intelligence is that rogue states missiles able to reach the United States are years away. So insistence on rushing a national missile defense comes down to a plan to defend against threat that may appear someday -- at the price of leaving in place thousands of more accurate, more powerful missiles and warheads that can threaten us right now. Anyone should be able to see that's a bad bargain.

Another array of threats to arms control has grown out of a hostage-taking mentality on Capitol Hill.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has before it a treaty to completely outlaw chemical weapons -- agents of special cruelty, which kill and disable by searing, blistering, asphyxiating.

Chemical weapons are less implements of defense than instruments of terror. So in the mid-1980's the United States decided unilaterally to abolish its chemical weapons arsenal. The Reagan and Bush Administrations then took the lead in negotiating the Chemical Weapons Convention, to ban not only the use of chemical weapons, but their production, transfer, even possession.

The Convention was submitted to the Senate in 1993. There it sits, still. Ten hearings were held in 1994, and hundreds of additional questions were answered for the record. But in 1995, Senator Helms, who chairs the Committee, decided to hold up the Convention -- and the START II Treaty as well -- unless he got satisfaction on his unrelated plan to abolish several foreign affairs agencies ... including, incidentally, mine.

START II was finally broken free in January, and passed the Senate 87 to 4. But it was delayed long enough to leave doubts now about corresponding action in Russia -- which has a new legislature elected in December, which faces Presidential elections in June, and which has critics arguing that the Treaty tilts in favor of the United States. So for START II, we must hope delay does not prove fatal.

Meanwhile, we hope the Senate will act this spring, as promised, on the Chemical Weapons Convention. After the Gulf War fears for our troops, after last year's poison gas terror in Tokyo's subways -- and considering that terrorists have also struck here, though fortunately not yet with weapons this heinous -- I think the American people will neither understand nor excuse further delay in wielding a powerful new tool against chemical weapons.

Finally, our arms control and nonproliferation work is endangered by Congressionally-imposed incapacity.

President Clinton has made the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency the tip of the spear for arms control and nonproliferation efforts. Last year we faced a congressional attempt to break us off -- to eliminate the Agency completely, and require the President to accept a foreign policy structure he does not find most effective. We've survived that, so far.

But now we also face an effort to dull the spear -- by denying us the resources we need to do the work the President has assigned us. For several years ACDA's real budget has been declining, while our work has grown. For example, you have read just this week about a new arms control challenge flowing from the break-up of the Soviet Union and the dismantlement of its weapons -- the risk that nuclear materials will be smuggled or sold into the wrong hands. We are not, I assure you, running short of missions.

But for the current fiscal year, which is almost half over, we are doing that work without an appropriation. We're operating now under a continuing resolution that provides less than half what the President requested. Part of the impact can be postponed or eased in other ways. But we are still being forced to shortchange vital activities ranging from technical support for inspectors in Iraq to verification expertise on chemical weapons.

Also keep in mind that ACDA is a small agency of some 250 people. For our voice abroad we depend heavily on the State Department's embassies and missions. And funding for international efforts overall, including the State Department, in real terms is now just half of what it was twelve years ago. In case anyone still has the impression we're being lavish, consider that this year we are spending on international affairs just one-fifteenth of what we spent in 1947, during the Marshall Plan, as a percentage of the federal budget.

Yet some proposals in Congress would cut the existing levels by a third more over the next five years, which would effectively shatter our diplomatic structure -- and suggest we can get by in world affairs with little more than a swagger.


I've left out of this discussion most of the impact on the work of other agencies. I've also left out the endless flow of creative interventions usually characterized as "micromanagement" of foreign affairs -- matters often with severe international effects, but designed mainly for domestic consumption, such as mandating a State visit for the Dalai Lama, dictating family planning policy abroad, or denying funds for specific international negotiations.

We challenge each of these assaults individually, on the merits, as I've tried to do today. But we are also well advised to put them all together, to see if there is a trend. Doing so leads me to the conclusion that we are escalating an Executive-Legislative conflict that can have no good end.

I bring no grand solution to this. But I do suggest that we would all do well to consider some basic precepts:

First, the Constitution is right. The presidency is designed to conduct foreign policy. The Congress, with 535 separate voices, and no unified national perspective, is not.

Second, at the same time, the Executive must bear in mind that the Congress does have a significant role, and a right to be kept fully informed.

Third, the Republican majority in Congress might consider that someday there will be another Republican President -- and, indeed, another Democratic Congress. So in the end, neither party has an interest in setting new standards of harassment, for the other party to then aspire to exceed.

And fourth, the overriding reality is that we still live in a dangerous world -- one still bristling with the overarmament of the Cold War, and facing new dangers of proliferation, convulsive nationalism, terrorism, environmental degradation, drug trafficking, and many others that directly affect us. In such a world we cannot indulge the ideological pretext that national security is a one-legged stool -- treating every leg but the military as though it doesn't really matter. In such a world, to the extent we are paralyzed by internal brawling, the real victim is not the President, or even the presidency, but the national interest.

Now, as much as ever in our history, we need to civilize our policy arguments -- so that with all the means at our disposal, America can lead in a perilous world.