The executive and legislative branches of the United States government have arrived at a historic crossroads: more than at any time since the advent of nuclear weapons, the future of arms control will depend to a large extent on whether the President and Congress can reach consensus on the requirements of national security. Neither can go it alone.

Unfortunately the legacy of 1986, when congressional initiatives on arms control were condemned by the Administration, hangs thickly in the halls of Capitol Hill. Following the summit at Reykjavik, members of Congress watched with concern as President Reagan faced his last chance to achieve meaningful agreements with the Soviet Union. There simply is not much time left for the Reagan Administration to create and implement a bipartisan arms control policy which commands the respect of the American people as well as that of the Kremlin. Yet the opportunity for such a policy exists: in February General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev offered to delink the issue of European-based intermediate nuclear forces (INF) from a space and strategic agreement, and the President wisely moved to submit a draft INF treaty at the Geneva negotiations.

The task of forging a common policy will be made no easier by those who continue to believe that Congress has no role in the fateful business of arms control. Every year Congress is confronted, even by some of its own members, with the argument that the president requires total flexibility to negotiate with the Soviets and to gain agreements compatible with U.S. national security. The argument typically stresses that the Constitution empowers the president, and only the president, to conduct the nation’s foreign affairs and, hence, to administer the arms control agenda. An interventionist Congress is criticized as stripping the president of his negotiating leverage and endangering the national security if it mandates restrictions on the administration’s weapons procurement programs, or if it calls for negotiations on specific issues, such as nuclear testing. In short, Congress runs the risk of being accused of waging an unconstitutional grab for power.

Protecting the separation of powers while at the same time building a bipartisan consensus on arms control is no mean feat. But both objectives were realized in the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, it has been only during the last seven years, beginning with the withdrawal of the second Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II) Treaty from Senate consideration in early 1980, that the consensus forged between the executive and legislative branches and between Republicans and Democrats has unraveled. Traditional congressional support of and collaboration with the executive branch on arms control initiatives was a meeting of the minds, not an admission that the president’s arms control agenda was his constitutional prerogative, or that Congress had no business asking tough questions, challenging funding requests for weapons programs, and mandating the strictest requirements of compliance with treaty law. In 1981, when the Reagan Administration entered office, disdainful of past arms control efforts, and launched an ideological attack against the "evil empire," the stage was set for a dangerous breakdown in a consensus that for some 25 years had been the guardian of a democratic commitment to American security and to world peace.

The argument, then, that Congress must defer to the president on all arms control issues must be rejected. Especially in light of the spectacle at the Reykjavik summit, where the President’s astonishing perception of national security diverged widely from congressional mandates, the 100th Congress would be evading its constitutional responsibility if it were to leave the security of the country strictly in the hands of the executive branch. The modernization of America’s intercontinental ballistic missile force, the funding for and direction of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), the testing of antisatellite weapons, the numerical limits on U.S. strategic weapons, the testing of nuclear warheads and the production of chemical weapons—all are the business of Congress to debate, modify and approve or disapprove. And, finally, the compliance of the United States and the Soviet Union with treaty obligations is also the business of Congress.


The president’s responsibility to conduct the nation’s foreign policy and to make treaties has never been one devoid of checks and balances, or one executed in a vacuum. Congress may encourage, though not dictate, the commencement of negotiations with foreign powers. Congress determines the amount of resources that the U.S. government is prepared to dedicate to the building and limiting of nuclear arms. That determination inevitably influences the negotiating process. One need only review the last 20 years to recognize the critical role Congress has played in the development of weapons systems which are at the heart of the U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms negotiations. For example, congressional votes have been decisive in determining the fate of the Safeguard antiballistic missile system, multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs), the B-l bomber, the cruise missile, the MX missile, the Midgetman missile, binary chemical weapons and SDI. Congress also passes final judgment on arms control agreements. Whether an agreement is submitted as a treaty, requiring the approval of two thirds of the Senate, or as a congressional-executive agreement, requiring the approval of the majority in both the Senate and the House, the fact remains that there is a critical legislative role that must be honored in the making of arms control agreements.

The executive branch, of course, asserts that Congress should not interfere with presidential decisions on arms control issues. Citing constitutional injunctions that the president shall conduct foreign policy, make treaties and serve as commander in chief of the armed forces, some conclude that the only business of Congress is to approve presidential edicts on the arms control agenda. Under this approach, the 99th Congress was expected simply to sanction the Administration’s abandonment of the numerical sub-limits set by the SALT II treaty, its unilateral revision of the interpretation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ARM) Treaty of 1972, its determination to build the flawed Bigeye chemical bomb, its continuance of nuclear weapons testing and its ambitious plans to deploy SDI.

Clearly, this "King George" approach is not what the Founding Fathers envisaged; nor is it embodied in the Constitution. The Supreme Court has long held that certain provisions of the Constitution confer broad power on Congress to prescribe the limits of military procurement and to impose appropriate conditions on defense policy. Article I of the Constitution empowers Congress to acquire or to limit arms for the nation. No arms, including strategic arms, can be purchased, tested, serviced, maintained, manned or otherwise paid for except pursuant to legislation. Congress has the constitutional responsibility to "provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States," to "raise and support Armies," to "provide and maintain a Navy" and to "make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces." Justice Robert H.Jackson declared in Youngstown Co. v. Sawyer (1952) that the Article I powers give Congress "primary responsibility for supplying the armed forces." "Congress alone," he wrote, "controls the raising of revenues and their appropriation and may determine in what manner and by what means they shall be spent for military and naval procurement." The annual defense authorization and appropriations bills are ample evidence of congressional performance of these constitutional duties.

In my view, during 1986 Congress faced up to its constitutional responsibility. Several arms control initiatives were passed by the House of Representatives in August 1986, and each of these provisions which eventually emerged from the conference talks with the Senate in October conformed to a fundamental principle in the arms control process. Those initiatives and principles will assume an even larger role in the 100th Congress.


The principles which typically have guided Congress in considering arms control issues are four in number. First, any proposed international agreement or proposed weapons system must enhance the national security of the United States. Administration views on what constitutes the "national security" carry much influence on Capitol Hill, but because no administration is infallible its decisions do not, and should not, go unquestioned. Every member of Congress will want to examine any bilateral accord with the Soviet Union on its merits; few would blindly accept or reject an agreement. Nor are many members mesmerized by the sense of security so often promised with each new weapons program, e.g., increased numbers of missile warheads or exotic technologies such as SDI.

In the name of national security, administrations, particularly the current one, have been known to take extraordinary liberty with democratic processes to implement whatever policies they deem to be in the best interest of the nation. But what is argued as being in the national interest cannot be accepted at face value, especially in light of recent revelations of the private agenda of rogue masterminds of intrigue sitting in the White House basement. Indeed, although far removed from the nuclear arms talks, the covert sale of military arms to Iran and the apparent illegal diversion of funds from those sales are the latest evidence of the means by which the executive branch is capable of promoting an arrogant, ill-conceived notion of national security. It was precisely to avoid this kind of abuse of power that checks and balances were written into the Constitution.

In the field of arms control, nothing better exemplified the dilemma which often confronts Congress than the Reagan-Gorbachev talks at Reykjavik (October 11-12, 1986). These discussions almost achieved significant reductions in nuclear strategic systems, only to be squandered with surreal visions of a disarmed world. President Reagan’s surprising proposal to eliminate all American and Soviet strategic ballistic missiles within ten years was apparently based on, among other presumptions, the argument that the United States then would be adequately defended by space-based strategic defenses. In my view this approach unwittingly endangers the national security of the United States. It is inconceivable that the United States could adopt as a policy objective the elimination of America’s entire ballistic missile arsenal based almost entirely on the unproven hypothesis that SDI will be cost-effective, will function effectively and will be deployable within the next ten years. As former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara told the House Subcommittee on Arms Control, International Security and Science in January, "Until there are inventions that have not yet been imagined, a defense robust and cheap enough to replace deterrence will remain a pipe dream." This is only one example of why Congress has no choice but to try to hold the Administration accountable to one standard of national security.

The second principle which guides congressional examination of arms control issues is the historic mandate of arms control itself—to prevent an uncontrolled nuclear arms race. Congress has never taken the position that production of certain new weapons systems is inherently undesirable or that modernization is not in many instances essential. But it is determined that an arms buildup that achieves no stabilizing purpose be avoided. An administration must prove its case each time it seeks budget authorizations from Congress. This is what the Constitution wisely requires.

For six years Congress has supported the Administration’s modernization and buildup of American nuclear and conventional forces. The United States has insisted on strategic parity, even when this quest for parity has required a buildup to match Soviet efforts. Congress, however, has consistently conditioned its restrictions on the Administration’s more ambitious and questionable arms building programs with the requirement that such programs remain within defined limits of testing and production as agreed with the Soviet Union. If Moscow violates those standards of compliance, then Congress has seen to it that the executive may follow suit. But efforts to achieve overall superiority over the Soviets in nuclear weaponry have been opposed by a bipartisan congressional majority. Through the power of the purse, Congress is constitutionally empowered to limit or encourage the research, development, testing and production of nuclear arms. It will continue to use that power, in particular whenever the executive seeks to convert "modernization" into "superiority."

The third principle of arms control—mutual deterrence—has been challenged by the President’s vision of a space-based strategic defense, one which would be "shared" with the Soviet Union. It is sometimes forgotten that we have been at this juncture before. The Nixon Administration determined in the early 1970s that it would not attempt to shield the United States with a land-based, antiballistic missile defense system. The rationale, first advanced by Secretary McNamara, was that an endless competition would erupt between ABM defensive systems and new and proliferating offensive weapons developed to outsmart and overwhelm such defenses. What the ABM systems promised—strategic defenses—would spawn the very threat—offensive weapons—which ABM systems were designed to make obsolete. Thus the United States and the Soviet Union in 1972 agreed to persist with the unsettling but rational policy of mutual deterrence, which promised to dissuade either side from launching a nuclear attack by maintaining a threat of mutual annihilation. It is this strategy which first encouraged each side to place limits on the buildup of their respective nuclear arsenals and, during the Carter and Reagan Administrations, to propose radical reductions in both the number of launchers and the number of warheads.

This rejection of a shift to a defensive strategy was, and remains, embodied in the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Reagan Administration has proposed to reverse this course by articulating a new interpretation of the ABM treaty which opens the door to testing in outer space, and thus to SDI. Congress has neither abandoned the treaty obligations of the United States nor thrown overboard the doctrine of mutual deterrence. Congress has a duty to insist that the case for a major shift in strategic nuclear strategy be convincingly made by the Administration and that it obtain bipartisan support (neither of which has occurred).

That support will not be forthcoming if the Administration continues to insist on its reinterpretation of the ABM treaty as a vehicle by which to dismantle the doctrine of mutual deterrence. The Administration’s tactics in this respect encroach on the Senate’s constitutional responsibility to approve only one text of a treaty as the law of the land. The executive branch has no constitutional power to unilaterally reinterpret treaties.

Congress also would have to be convinced that such a fundamental reversal of the nuclear equation will not be implemented under circumstances which would allow the Soviets to overwhelm America’s defenses. Interestingly enough, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger expressed this very concern to President Reagan in a letter dated November 13, 1985: "Even a probable [Soviet] territorial defense would require us to increase the number of our offensive forces and their ability to penetrate Soviet defenses to assure that our operational plans could be executed."

Finally, the fourth principle which influences congressional thinking about arms control concerns the technological reliability of weapons systems. It would be quixotic to approve funding for production of weapons systems which are unproven or are likely to be defective or to be based in a manner that invites their own destruction. When the Department of Defense persists in seeking funding for weapons systems which do not meet commonsense criteria for technological reliability, then it is incumbent upon Congress to scrutinize and sometimes to restrict or otherwise regulate the development of such weapons. Not only is that Congress’ constitutional duty, it makes for a more reliable national defense. This is amply demonstrated in the binary chemical weapons production program, the wisdom of which Congress has not finally accepted, and which it therefore has not fully approved. Congress is determined to avoid boondoggles like the Divisional Air Defense gun (DIVAD), an antiaircraft weapon system which, after expenditure of $ 1 billion on actual deployments, never worked properly.


"The House defense bill is a reckless assault upon the national defense of the United States." President Reagan leveled this charge on August 15, 1986, shortly after the House approved five "arms control" amendments to the Defense Department authorization bill for fiscal year 1987. The Administration’s rhetoric sought to portray these amendments as dangerous impairments to the national defense, but I believe they reflected genuine congressional concern about national security, the avoidance of an arms race, the doctrine of mutual deterrence and the technological reliability of the country’s weapons systems.

The first of these amendments prohibited funds for conducting nuclear tests above a very low level—one kiloton—unless the president certified to Congress that the Soviet Union had tested above one kiloton, tested outside any designated area, or rejected reciprocal in-country monitoring arrangements. This was the first congressional effort to require the cessation of nuclear weapons testing. Previous measures had been nonbinding legislation calling on the Administration to negotiate a ban on nuclear tests. Although the Senate did not adopt the House amendment in August, the issue had been placed squarely before the Administration and would become a key component of the conference bill which emerged in October.

This nuclear testing amendment reflected frustration over the Administration’s apparent indifference to negotiating any further restrictions on nuclear weapons testing. Before 1981, every president since Eisenhower advocated and worked toward an end to the escalation of the arms race through a mutual, verifiable and comprehensive test ban. What President Reagan’s predecessors recognized was a simple truth—that the arms race depends for its lifeblood upon the testing of more sophisticated nuclear weaponry. A mutual agreement to halt such testing could assist in preventing the introduction of new, destabilizing weapons. As long as the Soviets are not leapfrogging the United States with technologically superior nuclear weapons, only zealots in quest of an unattainable strategic superiority see any point in creating dazzling new weapons of mass destruction.

On this issue, the Reagan Administration stood logic on its head and sent out confusing signals. First, the Administration argued that a mutual test ban was unverifiable. When it became clear that nuclear weapons testing could, in fact, be monitored, the Administration’s rationale quickly shifted. It claimed that testing was needed to ensure the safety and reliability of America’s existing nuclear warheads. As Congressman Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) noted during the debate on the amendment, "This is a hollow excuse, for the vast majority of reliability checks are mechanical and we have never conducted more than one or two explosive tests a year." In the end the Administration frankly admitted its real rationale: that the United States must test in order to "modernize" its nuclear weapons arsenal.

The nuclear testing amendment was a logical extension of House Joint Resolution 3, which passed both houses of Congress in 1986 and was incorporated in the 1987 defense authorization bill. This legislation urged Mr. Reagan to request the ratification of two nuclear testing limitation treaties that had been signed in the 1970s, but which were never submitted for ratification, and urged the President to propose to the Soviet Union the resumption of negotiations on a comprehensive test ban treaty. Since the Soviets were, at the time, observing a unilateral moratorium on nuclear weapons testing, the nuclear testing amendment passed by the House was an attempt to call the Soviets’ bluff and test the Administration’s resolve to enter into serious negotiations.

If the Administration had been serious about seeking a test ban, then its opposition to the nuclear testing amendment defies explanation. The amendment provided numerous safeguards for the United States. First, it permitted testing if the Soviets violated the testing ban with an explosion above one kiloton. This provision would encourage continuance of the Soviet moratorium on testing, an objective that is manifestly in the interest of national security. Second, the amendment assisted verification efforts by requiring that tests occur only within designated areas of Soviet or U.S. territory. If any Soviet tests occurred outside the designated areas of the Soviet Union, then the Administration would be free to resume testing. Third, as a further assist to verification, the amendment required that the Soviet Union accept and implement reciprocal in-country monitoring arrangements for 1987. If the Soviets refused, then the Administration again could ignore the amendment and resume testing.

Following House passage of the nuclear testing amendment in August, the prospects for Senate adoption of identical language during the hard-fought conference deliberations were diminished when Mr. Reagan suddenly announced that he would travel to Reykjavik for talks with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. Considering his opposition to all of the arms control amendments, President Reagan pulled off a political coup. After taunting Democratic members of Congress with the prospect of being perceived as the spoilers of a superpower "pre-summit," the President’s supporters succeeded in transforming binding language into nonbinding provisions in two amendments and modifying the terms of two others. Congressmen came under unprecedented pressure not to "tie the President’s hands" for the forthcoming talks at Reykjavik. The Administration argued, for example, that nuclear testing was going to be a major topic of discussion there. In conference between the House and the Senate, House members agreed to withdraw the nuclear testing amendment, provided that the nonbinding language of House Joint Resolution 3 was strengthened with a last-minute agreement by the President to submit to the Senate "as a first order of business for the 100th Congress" the unratified Threshold Test Ban Treaty of 1974 and the unratified Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty of 1976.

Unfortunately, there appears to have been no discernible understanding at Reykjavik on how to proceed toward talks on nuclear testing. In fact, it appears that the two principals, Mr. Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev, hardly discussed nuclear testing. Many in the House feel that they were taken advantage of when they agreed to withdraw the nuclear testing amendment from the conference bill in expectation that achieving a nuclear test ban would be the top priority at Reykjavik. It is no wonder that the Administration’s credibility on this issue was severely damaged.

Now Congress is confronted with obstructionist tactics by the Administration in connection with both the unratified test ban treaties and with pursuing talks with the Soviet Union on further limiting nuclear weapons testing. During the 100th Congress efforts will continue to steer the Administration back to a policy which encourages both the White House and the Kremlin to achieve a total cessation of nuclear testing.


The second arms control amendment of 1986 limited funding for the SDI program to $3.1 billion during fiscal year 1987. This was substantially less than the Administration’s original request of $5.4 billion. Earlier, the Senate had approved a $3.95-billion SDI program, partly on the basis that SDI should be programmed for the defense of American missile bases and not as an "umbrella" defense of the population.

SDI has been the subject of constant and controversial debate in Congress since its public unveiling in 1983. Although majorities have always been mustered to support SDI research, there has never been and there continues to be no majority support for development, testing or deployment of SDI components or systems. The debate over SDI funding has responded to the well-known fact that the Soviet Union is engaged in similar research for its strategic defense. It would be foolish if the United States did not match Soviet research with its own vigorous program. But there is a quantum conceptual and strategic leap from the research of a strategic defense and the actual development, testing and deployment of its components and systems.

Proponents of SDI continue to argue the point which the Reagan "revolution" was supposed to have disabused us from believing—that merely by throwing money at a government program miracles would occur. The research on SDI did not merit an expenditure of $5.4 billion in fiscal year 1987. The dministration failed to offer convincing evidence that the additional $2 billion it requested was anything more than an attempt to promote dubious "research" projects before their time. The fact that little effort was needed in either chamber to reach a compromise SDI budget of $3.5 billion reflects a belief shared by most members of Congress that the Administration’s request was much too high for a responsible research program. In any event, the funding approved by Congress represented more than a 20-percent increase over 1986 spending on SDI, while the entire federal budget increased by less than three percent in 1987. Thus in percentage terms, the increase in SDI funding in 1987 was seven times greater than the overall increase in all federal spending. The approved budget also reflected congressional interest in assuring that SDI work be conducted within the confines of the traditional interpretation of the ABM treaty.

Since the 1986 budgetary battle on SDI, three developments have given rise to new concerns on Capitol Hill. First, the American delegation at Reykjavik appears to have insisted on the Administration’s revisionist interpretation of the ABM treaty. This interpretation would permit the development and testing of a space-based antiballistic missile defense system. Such a unilateral interpretation is a radical reversal of the last 13 years, during which the U.S. government had supported the traditional interpretation which prohibits the development and testing of a space-based ABM system. The Administration has attempted to have it both ways on the ABM treaty. The revisionist interpretation is touted by some U.S. officials as the correct legal reading of the treaty text and negotiating record. But in response to the overwhelming dissent of members of Congress, former negotiators of the treaty and legal scholars, the Administration has held since October 1985 that the operative policy of the U.S. government will be to conduct SDI research in accordance with the traditional interpretation. All testing programs under SDI have been officially described as meeting the requirements of the traditional interpretation.

The utility of the revisionist interpretation is that it purports to allow the Administration to break out of the ABM treaty when it decides to step beyond the research of SDI to the development and testing of SDI components and systems. By reinterpreting the treaty, the Administration has replaced the original script, clearly approved by the Senate in 1972, with one that suits the President’s vision of strategic defense. At Reykjavik, the United States was willing to agree not to withdraw from the ABM treaty for ten years, but on the apparent condition that during that period the development and testing of SDI components and systems be permitted. The American delegation thus would have codified the revisionist interpretation in a new agreement with the Soviets. This fundamental shift in American strategic defense policy occurred without any prior consultation with Congress, which had explicitly reminded the Administration of its support for the traditional interpretation. Until Congress is prepared to launch a development and testing program of SDI components and systems (at an estimated cost of scores of billions of dollars), it will have to maintain a vigilant watch over the ABM treaty to ensure that no administration either violates or rewrites its provisions.

The second development which has concerned many in Congress is how the American delegation at Reykjavik transformed the rationale of SDI. Congress has funded SDI as a research program to determine whether an advanced strategic defense system is scientifically and technologically possible, whether it is deployable, and whether it will do the job of protecting the United States from a ballistic missile attack by the Soviet Union.

In Iceland, that logic was turned upside down. In the talks at Reykjavik’s Hofdi House, SDI suddenly was transformed from a research program into a deployable system, albeit one which does not yet exist. The American delegation negotiated as if SDI were a certainty. The elimination of America’s most important deterrent, its ballistic missile arsenal, was almost bartered away for a presumption that SDI not only could be deployed, but that it would work. Moreover, the Administration argued for the deployment of SDI even after the supposed elimination of all ballistic missiles, the very threat SDI is intended to confront. U.S. officials argued that the country would still need SDI as an "insurance policy" to protect against Soviet cheating and against the stray missile that a madman might hurl at us. Evidently, no one thought to mention that land-based strategic defenses, at substantially cheaper cost, might do a better job, or that verification of Soviet compliance should continue to be of the highest priority.

SDI is a hypothesis on a piece of paper. To bargain away America’s deterrent shield today for the hypothesis that SDI will be cost-effective, functional and deployable sometime in the near future, not to mention within ten years, would be the height of folly. If ever there were a case made for congressional oversight of the arms control agenda, the Administration created it at Reykjavik.

The third development related to SDI is the Pentagon’s recent efforts to persuade President Reagan, and ultimately Congress, to approve early deployment of a partial space-based strategic defense. This raises so many concerns that the future of SDI now, more than ever, requires the utmost congressional scrutiny. It was only last October that the American delegation at Reykjavik proposed delaying deployment of SDI for at least ten years. The Pentagon now has undermined the Administration’s diplomatic position with its new effort to deploy SDI rapidly so that, in the words of Attorney General Edwin Meese, SDI cannot be "tampered with by future administrations."

In my view, the Pentagon’s rush to judgment on SDI is a politically motivated scheme only superficially based on the national interest. The proposal would cause the United States to unilaterally abrogate the ABM treaty. Premature deployment of SDI would cost the U.S. taxpayer untold billions of dollars during the critical years when the budgetary constraints on Congress will be most severe. More important, there is abundant evidence that premature deployment of SDI will not achieve its strategic objective and would only stimulate Soviet efforts to overwhelm the leaky "umbrella" being proposed by the Administration. Be it arms control or deficit spending, the buck stops at the president’s desk and on Capitol Hill.


The third House arms control amendment of August 1986 sought to limit the deployment of launchers for ICBMs, of SLBMs carrying MIRVs, and of heavy bombers equipped for air-launched cruise missiles, to the deployment levels permitted under the unratified SALT II treaty (1,320). The House approved the amendment, which prohibited the obligation or expenditure of funds for deployments beyond this limit unless the president certified to Congress that the Soviet Union had deployed strategic forces in excess of the SALT II limitations.

This amendment was a particularly critical one. Earlier in the summer of 1986, the House had approved, by a strong bipartisan vote of 256 to 145, nonbinding legislation calling on the President to continue adherence to the sub-limits of the SALT II treaty. This legislation was unavoidable in light of Mr. Reagan’s declaration of May 27 that beginning in the autumn of 1986 the United States would no longer adhere to the SALT II limitations. The House amendment, which passed in August, was intended to convey to the White House the message that to abandon the SALT II limitations was not in the national interest. Congressman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) aptly noted on the House floor, "If the United States needs a higher aggregate of nuclear weapons over the coming months and years, it will only be because the Administration has created that need by allowing the Soviets to build more weapons of their own. This doesn’t make strategic sense."

And yet the SALT II amendment was attacked by Administration supporters as unconstitutional, as an effort by the House unilaterally to engraph a treaty into statute law without going through the ratification process embodied in the Constitution. The House majority was chastised for trying to micromanage the strategic arms negotiations in Geneva. The Administration asserted that Soviet violations of other SALT II provisions (such as the alleged modification of the Soviet SS-13 ballistic missile to create a prohibited "new" ICBM, as well as the encryption of telemetry on missile test flights by the Soviets) justified American violation of the SALT II provisions, and that any such decision was the President’s alone to make.

An unratified treaty may express a present or past presidential policy, and the president may have sole power to negotiate, renegotiate or abandon it. If a congressional mandate happens to coincide with a former presidential policy expressed in the unratified treaty, then that is certainly not unconstitutional and it has nothing to do with the president’s treaty-making power. The House determined a benchmark for weapons production, and in this case it conformed with the sub-limits set forth in the SALT II treaty.

Critics of such congressional "interference" sometimes point to Section 33 of the Arms Control and Disarmament Act, which prohibits any action "under this or any other law that will obligate the United States to disarm or to reduce or to limit the Armed Forces or armaments of the United States, except pursuant to the treaty-making power of the President under the Constitution or unless authorized by further affirmative legislation by the Congress of the United States." The House amendment in question did not create any international obligation to limit "armaments." The limits it mandated were to be authorized by further legislation, namely the amendment itself.

The Administration and its allies in the Senate killed the SALT II amendment during conference deliberations in October. Again their major argument was that the amendment would tie the President’s hands during the hastily called Reykjavik talks. Nonbinding language was adopted instead, expressing "the sense of the Congress that it is in the national security interests of the United States to continue voluntary compliance with the central numerical sub-limits of the SALT II treaty as long as the Soviet Union complies with such sub-limits." But even this was to no avail. Compliance issues pertaining to the SALT II treaty apparently were not discussed at Reykjavik, and by late November the 131st heavy bomber had been equipped with cruise missiles and was operational, thereby clearly exceeding the SALT II sub-limits.

The 100th Congress will return to this issue. In an age threatened by nuclear annihilation, an arms control agreement that constrains nuclear arms (such as the SALT II treaty) is better than no agreement at all.


The one arms control amendment that survived the October conference intact was the long-standing ban on antisatellite weapons (ASAT). The House prohibited the secretary of defense from carrying out a test of ASAT against an object in space until the president certified to Congress that the Soviet Union has tested a dedicated ASAT against an object in space. The one-year prohibition expires on October 1, 1987. This is the fourth consecutive year Congress has banned ASAT testing and, consequently, production and deployment.

Continuing the ASAT weapons ban reaffirmed congressional belief that an agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union on banning ASATs would represent a major step toward averting a costly and destabilizing arms race in space. Since enactment of the first ASAT ban in 1983, the Soviet Union has not tested any ASAT weapon. Congressman Lawrence Coughlin (R-Pa.) explained that "the Soviets have a crude and unreliable [ASAT] system, which has failed in 11 of the 20 tests conducted with it to date, including all six tests of a more ‘advanced’ heat-seeking version. The United States, on the other hand, has an ASAT that is relatively more advanced but only partially tested."

The logic behind this amendment is compelling. The United States relies on a vast array of satellites for communication, intelligence-gathering and early warning of a Soviet attack. In fact, for military purposes alone the United States is far more dependent on satellite technology than the Soviet Union. In the event of SDI deployment, space-based technology would become the all too critical link in U.S. strategic defense. Breaking the mutual moratorium on ASAT testing would invite the Soviets once again to test ASATs which could knock out U.S. satellites and accelerate development of their ASAT technology. A continuation of the ban on ASAT testing remains a top priority of Congress in its 100th session.


The final arms control amendment prohibited spending funds for procurement of binary chemical munitions, including the Bigeye bomb, or for the establishment of a production base for such munitions. The House amendment also prohibited the United States from removing its unitary chemical munitions stored in Western Europe unless they are replaced with binary chemical munitions stationed on the soil of at least one European member nation of NATO, a responsibility which no NATO member in Europe has yet agreed to shoulder.

The current U.S. stockpile of chemical weapons in Western Europe is an integral part of NATO’s deterrent against Soviet use of chemical weapons in Europe. The Administration’s plan to withdraw these weapons from Europe and base new ones solely in the United States, thousands of miles from the European battlefields where they would be needed, amounts to unilateral dismantling of NATO’s chemical deterrent. The chemical weapons amendment assured that the United States would not waste money on a program costing some $3 billion in the next few years. The General Accounting Office has continued to uncover testing failures, technical and structural deficiencies, and structural flaws within the binary weapons program which clearly demonstrate that the Bigeye binary bomb is not even ready for operation tests, let alone production.

During conference deliberations in October 1986, the strict prohibitions of the House-approved amendment were loosened. First, the conference agreed to prohibit funding for the Bigeye bomb production program and Bigeye components during fiscal year 1987 and to prohibit final assembly of the Bigeye bomb through fiscal year 1988. Second, the conference provision authorized funding for the production of the 155-mm chemical artillery shell but prohibited final assembly through fiscal year 1987. Third, the conference declined to authorize the $15.4 million of fiscal year 1987 funds requested for Bigeye production facilities, and it limited the fiscal year 1986 funding to $90 million, subject to a certification by President Reagan that the production of the Bigeye is in the national interest and that all design, planning and environmental requirements for such facilities have been met.

While not as conclusive as many members of Congress would have liked, the House-Senate conference position reaffirmed congressional opposition to funding a weapons system that does not work, is not proven safe for NATO troops, needlessly adds billions of dollars to the deficit, unilaterally eliminates the present chemical deterrent in Western Europe, and undermines efforts of the superpowers to negotiate an arms control agreement that bans chemical weapons.


Each of these arms control amendments of 1986 will be pursued again during the 100th Congress. Despite the obvious need to work toward a consensus with Congress on the nation’s arms control policy, the Administration once again has thrown down the gauntlet. It was understandable that President Reagan, in his State of the Union message this year, would call on Congress to support his negotiating stance with the Soviets. But then he warned: "Enacting the Soviet negotiating position into American law would not be the way to win a good agreement. So I must tell this Congress I will veto any effort that undercuts our national security and our negotiating leverage." By likening legislative mandates to the Soviet negotiating position, the President distorted reality. There is considerable concern in Congress about whether some of the Administration’s surreal proposals for complete nuclear disarmament and premature deployment of SDI would damage U.S. national security and undercut the leverage American negotiators will need in future talks with the Soviets.

What, after all, is the Reagan Administration’s arms control policy? That is the question which for more than six years has mystified Congress. The bureaucratic infighting which has marked the Administration’s policymaking has never been resolved. Members of Congress have had to try to make sense out of an unending barrage of conflicting, contradictory and ambiguous signals from the executive branch (not to mention from the Soviets). When positions change hourly, depending on who is speaking for the Administration, the nation’s security suffers. In comparison, Congress has maintained a fairly consistent approach to arms control and the national defense. The arms control amendments demonstrate congressional support for long-standing arms control objectives. Congressional approval of unprecedented defense budgets during the Reagan Administration speaks for itself.

Threatening to veto arms control legislation which has broad-based, bipartisan support in Congress is not a constructive strategy for the President to pursue. The Administration will need to speak with one consistent and well-informed voice. There must be a renewed commitment by Administration officials to strive for achievable objectives in their negotiations with the Soviets, rather than belabor surreal proposals which many believe mask the intentions of those who see no future in arms control. As with any policy, the way to win congressional approval is to consult fully with Congress and to pay heed to the concerns raised by those men and women who also represent the interests of the American people. The Reagan Administration’s partisan approach to the national defense and to arms control, which was acutely reflected during the 1986 election campaign, may have needlessly alienated members of Congress without whose support the Reagan era will continue its precipitous fall from grace.

The 100th Congress thus faces its most difficult session on arms control. Arms control cannot be premised on defense systems which are flawed or nonexistent. The American people deserve better. They deserve a comprehensive, bipartisan policy supported by the Administration and by Congress.

That bipartisan policy is within reach. In my view, Congress would support: (1) deep cuts in strategic offensive weapons of the magnitude (30-50 percent) discussed at Reykjavik and previously at Geneva; (2) a negotiated end to nuclear weapons testing; (3) an efficient level of research on SDI without committing the nation to premature deployment; (4) mutual adherence to the long-standing interpretation of the ABM treaty; (5) mutual compliance with the SALT II treaty limitations; and (6) prevention of a destabilizing race of antisatellite weapons and of lethal chemical weapons.

If consensus within the Administration and between the President and Congress could be reached on these issues, then a unified American government would confront the Soviets with a formidable arms control policy.

Reciprocal measures by the Soviets are essential. That is why Congress safeguards arms control legislation with conditions that permit the lifting of legislated restrictions on nuclear weapons in the event the Soviets violate the constraints being observed by the United States.

To see the majority votes in the House last year on arms control legislation as political assaults on the Administration is simply wrong. They were a sincere, bipartisan effort to preserve and enhance the national defense. The arms control amendments reflected the fact that Congress has a constitutional duty to ensure that the funds it appropriates for the defense of the nation ultimately will provide the best security money can buy.

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  • Dante B. Fascell (D-Fla.) is Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives.
  • More By Dante B. Fascell