Text: Helms Statement on U.S.-Russia Arms Agreements

Senator vows to block any accord negotiated by President Clinton
27 April 2000
Washington File

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms said April 26 that he will work to block approval of any arms agreement that President Clinton might negotiate with Russia before he leaves office.

In a statement on the Senate floor, Helms said that "For the remainder of this year, the Foreign Relations Committee will continue its routine work -- we will consider tax treaties, extradition treaties, and other already negotiated treaties. But we will not consider any new, last minute arms control measures that this administration negotiates in its final, closing months in office."

President Clinton will meet June 4-5 in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In a recent statement welcoming the Russian State Duma's approval of START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) II, Clinton said, "Now, we and Russia can and must seize this opportunity to intensify our discussions on both START III and the ABM Treaty, so we can take further concrete steps this year to strengthen the security of the United States, Russia and indeed the whole world." For further information on the Clinton administration's arms control policy, see "".

Following is the text of Senator Helms' statement:

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Mr. President, the news media are buzzing with speculation that President Clinton will attempt, in his final months in office, to strike a major arms control deal with Russia -- including a new ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty that would limit the United States' ability to defend itself against ballistic missile attack.

White House officials have openly stated their concern that Mr. Clinton faces the prospect of leaving office without a major arms control agreement to his credit -- the first president in memory to do so. (And for this President -- a man uniquely absorbed with his "legacy" -- that perhaps would be, to him, a personal tragedy.)

So, Mr. Clinton wants an agreement, a signing ceremony, a final photo-op. He wants a picture shaking hands with the Russian President, broad smiles on their faces, large ornately bound treaties under their arms, as the cameras click for perhaps the last time -- a final curtain call of sorts.

I must observe, Mr. President, that if the price of that final curtain call is a resurrection of the U.S.-Soviet ABM Treaty that would prevent the United States from protecting itself against missile attack, then that price is far too high.

With all due respect, I do not intend to allow this President to establish his "legacy" by binding the next generation of Americans to a future without a viable national missile defense.

For nearly eight years, while North Korea and Iran raced forward with their nuclear programs, and while China stole the most advanced nuclear secrets of the United States, and while Iraq escaped international inspections, President Clinton did everything in his power to stand in the way of deploying a national missile defense. Want some facts? Let's state some for the record:

-- In 1993, just months after taking office, President Clinton ordered that all proposals for missile defense interceptor projects be returned unopened to the contractors who had submitted them;

-- In December of that same year (1993), he withdrew the Bush administration's proposals for fundamentally altering the ABM Treaty to permit deployment of national missile defenses (at a time when Russia was inclined to strike a deal);

-- By 1996, three years after taking office, Mr. Clinton had completely gutted the national missile defense program, slashing the national missile defense budget by more than 80 percent;

-- In 1997, he signed two agreements to revive and expand the U.S.-Soviet ABM Treaty, including one that would expand ABM restrictions to prevent not just national missile defense for the American people, but to constrain theater missile defenses to protect our troops in the field as well;

-- Then, for the next three years, the President, heeding some of his advisors, refused to submit those agreements to the U.S. Senate (despite making a legally binding commitment to do so) for fear that the Senate would reject them in order to clear the way for rapid deployment of missile defenses. To this day, he still has not fulfilled his legal requirement to submit those treaties for the Senate's advice and consent;

-- In December 1995, Mr. Clinton vetoed legislation that would have required the deployment of a national missile defense with an initial operational capability by 2001;

-- Three years later, in 1998, he again killed missile defense legislation -- the American Missile Protection Act (which called for to the deployment of national missile defense as soon as its technology was ready), by threatening a veto and rallying Democratic senators to filibuster the legislation;

-- Only in 1999 did he at long last sign missile defense legislation into law -- but only after it passed both houses of Congress by a veto-proof majority, and only after the independent "Rumsfeld Commission" had issued a stinging, bipartisan report declaring that the Clinton administration had dramatically underestimated the ballistic missile threat to the United States.

But while Mr. Clinton was doing all this -- costing America almost eight years in a race against time to deploy missile defenses -- our adversaries were forging ahead with their missile systems.

While Mr. Clinton was dragging his feet, foreign ballistic missile threats to the U.S. grew in terms of both range and sophistication. Today, several third world nations possess, or are developing, ballistic missiles capable of delivering chemical, biological, or nuclear warheads against U.S. cities.

According to the Rumsfeld Commission, both North Korea and Iran are within five years of possessing viable ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) capable of striking the continental United States -- and North Korea may already (today) have the capacity to strike Alaska and Hawaii. And just last month, Communist China explicitly threatened to use nuclear weapons against U.S. cities should the U.S. take any action to defend democratic Taiwan in the event that Beijing launched an invasion.

So Mr. Clinton is in search of a legacy? He already has one. The Clinton legacy is our nation's continued, inexcusable vulnerability to ballistic missile attack. The Clinton legacy is eight years of negligence. The Clinton legacy is eight years of lost time.

But, in the twilight of his presidency, Mr. Clinton now wants to strike an ill-considered deal with Russia to purchase Russian consent to an inadequate U.S. missile defense -- one single site in Alaska, to be deployed, but not until 2005 -- in exchange for a new, revitalized ABM Treaty that would permanently ban any truly national missile defense.

The President is attempting to lock the United States into a system that cannot defend the American people against even the limited threats we face today. And the President is trying to resurrect the U.S.-Soviet ABM Treaty to make impossible any future enhancements to national missile defense.

The agreement Mr. Clinton proposes would not permit spaced-based sensors; it would not permit sufficient numbers of ground based radars; and it would not permit additional defenses based on alternate missile interceptor systems -- such as Naval sea-based interceptors. All of these, and more, are necessary to achieve a fully effective defense against the full range of possible threats.

Mr. Clinton's proposal is not a plan to defend the United States; it is a plan to leave the United States defenseless. It is, in fact, a plan to salvage the antiquated and invalid U.S.-Soviet ABM Treaty. It is a plan, Mr. President, that is going nowhere fast in protecting the American people.

After dragging his feet on missile defense for nearly eight years, Mr. Clinton now fervently hopes that he will be permitted, in his final months in office, to tie the hands of the next president. He believes he will be allowed to constrain the next administration from pursuing a real national missile defense?

Well I, for one, have a message for the President: Not on my watch, Mr. President. Not on my watch!

Let's be clear, to avoid any misunderstandings: Any modified ABM treaty negotiated by this administration will be dead-on-arrival at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

This administration's failed security policies have burdened this nation long enough.

In a few months, the American people will go to the polls to elect a new President, a President that must have a clean break from the failed policies of this administration. He must have the freedom and flexibility to establish his own security policies.

And to the length of my cable-tow, Mr. President, it is my intent to do everything in my power to ensure that nothing is done in the next few months, by this administration, to tie the hands of the next administration in pursuing a new national security policy, based not on scraps of parchment, but rather on concrete defenses; a policy designed to protect the American people from ballistic missile attack; a policy designed to ensure that no hostile regime -- from Tehran to Pyongyang to Beijing -- is capable of threatening the United States of America with nuclear blackmail.

The decision on missile defense will be for the next president to make.

It is clear that the United States is no longer legally bound by the U.S.-Soviet ABM Treaty. Isn't it self-evident that the U.S.-Soviet ABM Treaty expired when the Soviet Union -- our treaty partner -- ceased to exist? Legally speaking, I see no impediment whatsoever to the United States proceeding with any national missile defense system we choose to deploy.

That said, for political and diplomatic reasons, the next president may decide that it is in the U.S. interest to sit down with the Russians and offer them a chance to negotiate an agreement on this matter. (Personally, I do not think that a new ABM Treaty can be negotiated with Russia that would permit the kind of defenses America needs.)

As Henry Kissinger said in testimony before the Foreign Relations Committee last year:

"Is it possible to negotiate a modification of the ABM Treaty? Since the basic concept of the ABM Treaty is so contrary to the concept of an effective missile defense, I find it very difficult to imagine this. But I would be open to argument, provided that we do not use the treaty as a constraint on pushing forward on the most effective development of a national and theater missile defense."

Like Dr. Kissinger, I am open to the remote possibility that a new administration -- unencumbered by this president's desperate desire for a "legacy" and this administration's infatuation with the U.S.-Soviet ABM treaty -- could enter into successful negotiations with the Russians.

The Republican nominee for president, Governor Bush of Texas, has declared that, on taking office, he would give the Russians an opportunity to negotiate a revised ABM Treaty, one that will permit the defenses that America needs. But, Mr. Bush made clear that, if the Russians refuse, he will go forward nonetheless and deploy a national missile defense.

Mr. Bush believes in the need for missile defense, and he will negotiate from a position of strength.

By contrast, President Clinton clearly has no interest whatsoever in missile defense. His agenda is not to defend America from ballistic missile attack, but to race against the clock to get an arms control agreement -- any agreement -- that will prevent him from going down in history as the first president in memory not to do so.

It is obvious, therefore, that any negotiations he enters into in his final months will be from a position of desperation and weakness.

For this administration -- after opposing missile defense for eight years -- to attempt at the 11th hour to try to negotiate a revised ABM Treaty is too little, too late. This administration has long had its chance to adopt a new security approach to meet the new threats and challenges of the post-Cold War era. The administration chose not to do so.

Now, this administration's time for grand treaty initiatives is at an end. For the remainder of this year, the Foreign Relations Committee will continue its routine work -- we will consider tax treaties, extradition treaties, and other already negotiated treaties. But we will not consider any new, last minute arms control measures that this administration negotiates in its final, closing months in office. And, as chairman of this committee, I should make it clear that the Foreign Relations Committee will not consider the next administration bound by any treaties this administration may try to negotiate in the coming months.

The Russian government should not be under any illusion whatsoever that any commitments made by this lame-duck administration, will be binding on the next administration. America has waited eight years for a commitment to build and deploy a national missile defense. We can wait a few more months for a president committed to doing it and doing it right -- to protect the American people."