[The author is chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign
WASHINGTON, DC -- President Clinton wants, in his final months in
office, to strike a major arms control deal with Russia, including a
new ABM 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.
So, Mr. Clinton wants an agreement, a signing ceremony, a picture
shaking hands with the President Putin, 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.
If the price of that final curtain call is a resurrection of the
defunct U.S.-Soviet ABM Treaty that would prevent the United States
from protecting itself against missile attack, then that price is far
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.
Within three years of taking office, Mr. Clinton had completely gutted
the U.S. 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 (then,
heeding some of his advisors, refused to honor his legal commitment to
submit those agreements to the U.S. Senate, for fear that the Senate
would reject them). Mr. Clinton repeatedly blocked enactment missile
defense legislation approved by Congress, and only grudgingly signed a
missile defense law in 1999 -- 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 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.
But now, in the twilight of his presidency, Mr. Clinton now wants to
strike an ill-considered deal 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 that is going nowhere fast.
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.
Well I, for one, have a message for the 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.
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.
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
- a 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
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
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
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
[Mr. Helms is Chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign
Relations, which must approve any arms control agreements negotiated