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Making the Case

The president could enlist many high-ranking Republicans, such as key GOP senators past and present; former Bush administration officials, such as National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, Secretaries of State James Baker and Lawrence Eagleburger; and even President Bush. But such top Republicans won’t carry the administration’s water unless the president, vice-president, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and Secretary of Defense William Cohen personally go to bat for the treaty.

Clinton will also have to rely heavily on top Pentagon officials and military brass to make the case for ratification. Skeptical Senators will need to receive intelligence briefings that reassure them about the ability to monitor the treaty and that stress how much worse the problem of chemical weapons proliferation would be without the CWC. Important friends and allies such as Israel could be enlisted to help make the case with selected senators that the best way to deal with stragglers and nonsignatories is to get the CWC up and running.

Another key advocate of the CWC is the Chemical Manufacturers Association, which was active in last fall’s ratification debate and was sorely disappointed with the administration’s eleventh-hour effort. The association is again ready to remind Republican senators that failure to ratify CWC could mean the loss of thousands of domestic jobs, since the treaty imposes penalties on trade in chemicals used to make weapons with countries that have not ratified. If the United States refuses to join the convention, production would therefore shift to countries that are members in good standing.

A second key to success is to shape the terms of debate early and often. The president must speak to the nation forcefully and consistently about his administration’s goals in reducing and eliminating weapons of mass destruction. Successful presidents clarify the stakes involved in a Senate’s vote; Clinton needs to explain the damage that would result to nonproliferation and anti-terrorist efforts if the Senate blocks ratification.

Finally, Clinton must make every effort to come to an accommodation with the Senate Majority Leader. He must seek to assuage Lott’s concerns without accepting crippling Senate conditions to ratification. Clinton could make sure that Lott is deeply involved in efforts to ensure effective compliance, while agreeing to send periodic reports to the Senate explaining how compliance concerns are being addressed. Rather than insisting upon the participation of all troublesome states, the Senate might be persuaded to condition U.S. ratification on the explicit right to demand withdrawal if a majority of senators believe that the treaty’s value is outweighed by the nonparticipation of key countries. It is better to accept the treaty with such an escape hatch than to reject it outright.

Trent Lott has a difficult decision to make, and the outcome of his deliberations will do much to shape the attitude of the Republican party toward international affairs. Lott has the power to kill treaties. But at the end of the day, he must choose whether to align the Republicans with irreconcilables like Jesse Helms or to reinforce a long history of Republican presidents and secretaries of state who have planted the flag of American leadership abroad. If Lott sides with Helms’s brand of isolationism, he is likely to damage U.S. national security as well as his party’s political prospects.

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