February 14, 1997


As President Clinton has said, we are pursuing "the most ambitious agenda to dismantle and fight the spread of weapons of mass destruction since the atom was split."

Our prospects turn on two elements -- ratifications and resources. The stakes couldn't be higher.

Among the greatest dangers of the post-Cold War world are weapons of mass destruction -- nuclear, chemical, biological -- in rogue states or terrorists' hands. Among our best answers are strong global regimes that make such weapons harder to acquire.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, is a prominent -- and since 1995 a permanent -- example. It is the main reason why there are not twenty or more nuclear weapon states now, as was predicted in the '60s. Think how dangerous a world without the NPT.

In 1992, President Bush completed a similar regime for chemical weapons. But the U.S. Senate is now in its fourth year of reviewing that Chemical Weapons Convention, or CWC. Now, to be an original party, we must act by April 29.

We're getting rid of our chemical weapons anyway. Why should we keep them legal for Iran, Libya, or North Korea? Why deprive ourselves of another good tool to fight a danger no one doubts is real?

To put it bluntly, if, God forbid, terrorists should unleash poison gas in our subways, as happened in Tokyo, who will stand up and say, "I helped defeat a treaty to ban it."

Consider, too, that failure would cast doubt on other achievements to contain arms -- like last year's nuclear test ban, which still must be ratified. And what happens to our future agenda -- such as enforceable controls on biological weapons, or a global antipersonnel landmine ban -- if it appears the international results will only be drained of meaning back here?

Make no mistake: In the next 43 days the Senate will decide not only the fate of the chemical weapons treaty, but the strength of American leadership against the full array of proliferation dangers.

That will depend on resources, as well as ratifications.

ACDA is a small, expert agency charged with advocating, negotiating, implementing, and verifying arms control. We have about 250 people, plus detailees, and a continuous presence only in Washington, Geneva, Vienna and The Hague.

That means I'm as concerned about the State Department, AID and USIA's budget as about ACDA's own. For we are among the many who throw our voice abroad through others, especially State's embassies and missions.

Without that voice there would be no test ban, no permanent NPT. Without it there could be no demarches to head off inappropriate shipments to dangerous places, or countless other unheralded but tangible steps every day that make Americans safer.

Of course few speak against American leadership. On the contrary. But in practice, we are in danger of yielding to a perverse new isolationism that demands American leadership in the world even as it denies the capacity to lead.

If anyone doubts these cuts have gone too far, consider that last year we spent on international affairs just one-fifteenth of what we spent in 1947, during the Marshall Plan, as a percentage of the federal budget.

Hans Morgenthau, no Wilsonian idealist, declared that the quality of a nation's diplomacy is "the most important" component of its international power. You don't have to agree entirely to see grave danger in the notion that we can get by in world affairs with little more than a swagger.

The ability to speak with one voice has been a defining strength of American foreign policy in its finest hours. Now we must look to serious internationalist leaders of both parties to join -- even when our government is divided -- to fashion the kind of unified foreign policy that befits a great power in a perilous world.

Only then will we keep the tide of history running our way.