US tussle over chemical weapons reaches climax
One of the country’s most respected commentators on Russia, the EU and the US, Mary Dejevsky has worked as a foreign correspondent all over the world, including Washington, Paris and Moscow. She is now the chief editorial writer and a columnist at The Independent and regularly appears on radio and television. She is an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Buckingham.
Tuesday 22 April 1997
The Bill to ratify the international convention on chemical weapons, which would outlaw the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of poison gas and other chemical weapons, was submitted for consideration more than four years ago. But it has had to surmount strong objections from arms control sceptics even to come to debate.
If the necessary two-thirds majority for ratification is achieved at the vote on Thursday, the United States will have just got in under the wire.
The treaty has already been ratified by more than 65 states and comes into force next week with or without the US.
If the vote goes against ratification, the US will find itself in the unlikely company of such countries as Iraq, Libya and Iran, which have refused to sign. This is an outcome deplored by President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and defense secretary William Cohen, all of whom have spent weeks lobbying energetically for ratification.
But the outcome is by no means certain. Although the convention has support from Democrats and Republicans and was signed by a Republican president, George Bush, five years ago in Geneva, there is a hard core of Republicans, led by the chairman of the Senate's influential foreign affairs committee, Jesse Helms, that has been adamantly opposed.
They say the treaty would not halt the development or use of chemical weapons, because key countries are not signatories. They say compliance cannot be verified, and that US chemical manufacturers would be subject to "unconstitutional" searches by international inspectors.
Their principal objection, however, is the obligation on signatories to share information about how to protect themselves from chemical weapons. They say this would jeopardise US national security.
Interviewed on television at the weekend, Ms Albright defended ratification, saying: "People will wonder what is wrong with us" if the US fails to ratify a treaty that has "made in the USA written all over it". "Can you imagine," she asked, "what it would be like for us to be on the same side as Libya and Iraq?"
Supporters of the treaty argue that verification provisions are the tightest ever of any arms control treaty. They see the objections as deriving less from the chemical weapons convention as framed, than from what they see as a visceral scepticism of arms control itself in a section of the Republican party.
As recently as two weeks ago, Mr Helms and his allies were holding out for several dozen amendments which would have effectively emasculated the treaty. Now, after a charm offensive by Ms Albright, which included a visit to Mr Helms's home state of North Carolina, and another to Houston, Texas, where she appeared on a platform with George Bush, Mr Helms has lifted some of his objections.
Mr Helms has also wrung a separate concession. Last week, Mr Clinton announced that two independent agencies - the arms control and disarmament agency and the US information agency (which has responsibility for the Voice of America radio station) - would be brought into the State Department. Mr Helms has urged such a reform to increase congressional control of their activities and reduce bureaucracy.
Despite the last-minute horse-trading, there remain on the table five amendments. Each could scupper the treaty.
sportLiverpool 5 Norwich City 1: Uruguayan striker has now scored 11 league goals against the club
arts + entsOlivier-nominated actor and singer is set to star in Lloyd Webber's musical about the Profumo affair
filmWith more than 70 per cent of early films lost, archivists are scouring the world to preserve the precious examples that remain
sportThe coach of Chalfont St Peter's under-10s football team was relieved of his duties after he sent an email to parents that said: 'I am only interested in winning'
techA piece of new hi-tech kit aims to get us scribbling again
indybestMake getting out of the wrong side of bed on cold winter mornings a thing of the past with our selection of night-time covers
life + styleClarissa Baldwin is the brains behind the slogan 'A Dog is for Life not just for Christmas'
North Korea: Kim Jong Un 'sacks powerful uncle and has his aides executed'
What made Charles Saatchi grab my throat, by Nigella Lawson - as she accuses him of threatening to 'destroy' her with drug claims
Is this the scariest advert ever? Japanese tyre commercial comes with its own disclaimer and health warning
Food poverty in UK has reached level of 'public health emergency', warn experts
Tom Daley's 'boyfriend' revealed to be screenwriter Dustin Lance Black
- 1 The hardwired difference between male and female brains could explain why men are 'better at map reading'
- 2 Is this the scariest advert ever? Japanese tyre commercial comes with its own disclaimer and health warning
- 3 UK chef creates world's most expensive ready meal - a fish pie costing £314
- 4 Food poverty in UK has reached level of 'public health emergency', warn experts
- 5 I’m sure Kate Moss doesn't care about posing for Playboy. But I do
£50000 - £70000 per annum + London: Harrington Starr: Senior Automation QA Eng...
£35000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits : Harrington Starr: SQL 2008 R2/2012 Deve...
£38000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Creative Audit Se...
£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer (TSQL, P...