Commander in Chief appeals to Senate: U.S. must join treaty we helped to shape
Statement by President Clinton:
Less than two weeks from today, the Chemical Weapons Convention goes into effect, with or without the United States. The bottom line is this: Will the United States join a treaty we helped to shape, or will we go from leading the fight against poison gas to joining the company of pariah nations this treaty seeks to isolate?
With this treaty, other nations will follow the lead we set years ago by giving up chemical weapons. Our troops will be less likely to face poison gas on the battlefield. Rogue states and terrorists will have a harder time acquiring or making chemical weapons, and we’ll have new tools to prevent and punish them if they try.
But if we fail to ratify, other countries could back out as well. We won’t be able to enforce the treaty’s rules or use its tools, and our companies will face trade sanctions aimed at countries that refuse to join.
As the Senate prepares to vote next week I’m encouraged by the great progress we have made, but mindful of its hurdles we still must overcome in order to gain approval of the CWC. I welcome yesterday’s unanimous agreement by the Senate to bring the treaty to a vote, and I thank Majority Leader Lott, Senator Daschle, Senator Helms and Senator Biden, and all the members of the Senate from both parties for their efforts. By going the extra mile we’ve reached agreement on 28 conditions that will be included in the treaty’s resolution of ratification -- for example, maintaining strong defenses against chemical attacks; toughening enforcement; allowing the use of riot control agents like tear gas in a wide range of military and law enforcement situations; and requiring search warrants for any involuntary inspections of an American business.
These agreed-upon conditions resolve virtually all of the issues that have been raised about this treaty. But there are still a handful of issues on which we fundamentally disagree. They will be voted on by the full Senate as it takes up the treaty next week. We should all understand what’s at stake. A vote for any of these killer amendments will prevent our participation in the treaty.
Let me quickly address four of them. The first would prohibit the United States from joining the treaty until Russia
does. That is precisely backwards. The best way to secure Russian ratification is to ratify the treaty ourselves. Failure to do so will only give hard-liners in Russia an excuse to hold out and hold on to their chemical weapons.
A second killer condition would prohibit us from becoming a party until rogue states like Iraq and Libya join. The result is we’d be weaker, not stronger, in our fight to prevent these rogue states from developing chemical weapons because we would lose the ability to use and enforce the treaty’s tough trade restrictions and inspection tools. No country, especially an outlaw state, should have a veto over our national security.
A third killer condition would impose an unrealistically high standard of verification. There is no such thing as perfect verifiability in a treaty, but this treaty’s tough monitoring, reporting, and on-site inspection requirements will enable us to detect militarily significant cheating. Our soldiers on the battlefield will be safer. That, clearly, is an advance over no treaty at all.
Finally, the opponents would force us to reopen negotiations on the Chemical Weapons Convention to try to fix two concerns that have already been resolved. First, they claim that a treaty expressly devoted to eliminating chemical weapons somehow would force its parties to facilitate the spread of chemical weapons. This interpretation is totally at odds with the plain language of the treaty. I have committed to the Senate that neither the United States nor our allies share this interpretation, and that we will reaffirm that fact annually.
The opponents also misread the treaty to require that we share our most advanced chemical defensive technology with countries like Iran and Cuba, should they join the Chemical Weapons Convention. I have committed to the Senate that in the event such countries are threatened by chemical attack we would limit our assistance to providing nothing more than emergency medical supplies.
America took the lead in negotiating the Chemical Weapons Convention, first the Reagan administration, then the Bush administration. Every Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the past 20 years supports it, as do the overwhelming majority of our veterans, the chemical industry and arms control experts. Now we must lead in bringing this bipartisan treaty to life and enforcing its rules. America should stand with those who want to destroy chemical weapons, not with those who would defy the international community. I urge every member of the Senate to support the Convention when it comes to a vote next week.