February 14, 1997


You've seen in the President's State of the Union message, and in repeated public statements and efforts by Secretary Albright, Secretary Cohen, and others, that one of the Administration's most urgent and immediate foreign policy priorities is something known as the Chemical Weapons Convention.

First a brief definition. The Chemical Weapons Convention, or CWC, would prohibit not only the use of chemical weapons, but their production, stockpiling, even possession. It prohibits assistance to anyone else's CW programs. It restricts trade in chemicals important to industry and agriculture with countries that don't join. It has the strongest verification regime of any arms control agreement thus far, including both routine and challenge on-site inspections. Violations can be answered by collective action among treaty members, or resort to the UN Security Council.

To date 161 countries have signed, and 68 have ratified, including all our major allies. It also includes a number of countries with clandestine programs. China has ratified but says it won't deposit until the United States does. Russia also probably won't join until we do.

We have entered the fourth year of the Chemical Weapons Convention's review in the Senate. Last year, after a cumulative total of 13 hearings and hundreds of answers for the record, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee favorably reported the treaty to the Senate floor. Then it had to be pulled before a floor vote in September because September was too close to November and, as Senator Lugar said at the time, "the whole process was politicized in a way that would be harmful to our foreign policy."

So our ratification drive has begun anew in the 105th Congress. Now, however, postponement is no longer an option. In late October the 65th ratification set in motion an irrevocable six-month timetable for entry into force -- with or without the United States. To be an original party -- and thus guide rigorous implementation of the treaty -- we must ratify within the next 43 days.

It's a challenge to move anything through the Senate quickly. And in this case there are persistent efforts to hold up the CWC until other, unrelated issues -- like State Department reorganization, UN reform, or the handling of distinct agreements -- are resolved. We are trying to work with Majority Leader Lott and others to address specific concerns about the CWC, perhaps through adjustments to the resolution of ratification. At the same time we cannot accept the premise that the CWC should be treated as a favor to President Clinton -- to be traded for -- when it is, in fact, a security instrument for the American people.

My own strong conviction is that the vulnerability of this treaty will continue to decline as public awareness of the issue rises. So I am especially grateful for the chance to discuss it with you briefly here today.

Consider some of the arguments for ratification.

I would also point out that President Clinton has taken the initiative to keep the treaty bipartisan. He could have pressed the CWC to a vote in 1996, creating a political club for campaign challengers to wield against those voting "no." Given the climate of these times, one can envision TV commercials tagging them as "friends of poison gas." Instead the President withdrew the treaty, removing it entirely from the political context, and giving us all a chance to come back and do better. I hope the same spirit will prevail on Capitol Hill.

The CWC is among President Clinton's top priorities, not only for its own considerable merits, but because failure to ratify would be a grave, self-inflicted wound for this country.

Just consider that the United States is the leader -- the indispensable country -- in enforcing strong export controls, in building global coalitions, in fashioning international regimes against weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, the United States led in negotiating the CWC. We led in the test ban. We're leading now in strengthening safeguards against nuclear weapons, taking into account what we learned from Saddam Hussein's clandestine program. We're leading an effort to strengthen the global ban on biological weapons.

With the end of the Cold War, all those dangers have grown. No one disputes that. Technology is more widely available. The Cold War disciplines are gone.

There could not be a worse time to weaken America's hand. I can't imagine a worse time to tell the world, we're less interested in fighting proliferation than in fighting among ourselves.

I say this on behalf of people who deal with these problems routinely -- not as an intellectual exercise, not as an ideological or political outing, but in the trenches, where shipments are made or stopped, where other countries listen or turn a deaf ear, where negotiations succeed or fail. When we make our case for another country to stop a dangerous export, I don't want to hear, "Why should we listen to you? You pushed the world to negotiate the CWC and then turned your backs on it."

From that practical perspective, I say, we need this treaty. It is a simple reality that if you want results on proliferation, you'll get less if this treaty fails -- both because we won't have the tools in the CWC, and because our leadership and effectiveness will be depleted across the board.

Those are the stakes. It seems to me the choice is clear. I welcome your questions.