Clinton Administration's antipathy toward anti-missile protection
for the American people apparently runs so deep that it soon may
reject the most significant national missile defense (NMD)
legislation put forth in recent years. In the face of overwhelming
public and congressional support for this legislation, however,
President Bill Clinton and his national security advisers are
attempting to distort its meaning and nullify it by presidential
decree rather than employ the veto, which is the proper way for a
President to block legislation he opposes.
NMD: Closer to
By a 97-3 margin, the Senate recently approved S. 257, the
National Missile Defense Act sponsored by Senators Thad Cochran
(R-MS) and Daniel Inouye (D-HI). Shortly afterward, the House
passed H.R. 4, sponsored by Representatives Curt Weldon (R-PA) and
John Spratt (D-SC), by a vote of 317-105, which establishes in law
the policy to deploy a NMD. The Senate version stipulates that
deployment should be "as soon as is technologically possible."
Senate also enacted two amendments to S. 257 that do not alter this
policy of NMD deployment. The first stipulates that funding for the
NMD system will be "subject to the annual authorization of
appropriations and the annual appropriation of funds" by Congress.
The second states, "It is the policy of the United States to seek
continued negotiated reductions in Russian nuclear forces."
White House had threatened to veto the Senate bill because it calls
for deployment as soon as technologically feasible. But after the
amendments were added, it became clear that the majority of
Senators of both parties would vote in favor of S. 257. The veto
threat collapsed, and the bill passed by a stunning margin.
House-Senate conferees now must meet to
reconcile the language of the two bills. The final bill reported by
the conferees should make clear that it is the intent of Congress
to deploy a NMD as soon as technologically feasible. This would
affirm the primacy of the rule of law and the need to protect the
country from the world's most threatening weapons.
White House Obfuscation.
Despite the overwhelming show of sentiment in Congress
for deploying a NMD, the Clinton Administration continues to oppose
the legislation. On March 19, the White House sent a confusing
cable to U.S. embassies informing diplomats that the two amendments
added to the Senate bill meant "no deployment decision has been
made" even if the Senate version became the primary source of the
bill--which is the likely outcome of the House-Senate conference.
Supporters of the legislation were dismayed at the Administration's
cable. In a press release on March 26, House Majority Leader Dick
Armey (R-TX) stated:
Once again, the President's agility with
language is making it difficult to do the nation's business. Under
the plain meaning of [S. 257], the United States would commit to
deploy a national missile defense.... Now we learn that the
Administration is telling foreign governments that those words do
not mean what they obviously mean. Earlier this week I was prepared
to encourage my House colleagues to skip a conference and accept
the Senate missile defense language. If the President is prepared
to interpret the Senate language to mean whatever he wants it to
mean, that's clearly no longer an option. We'll need a House-Senate
conference to search for words that might have a fixed meaning for
the President. Whether such words exist is, sadly, an open
question. If the President objects to deploying a missile defense,
he should express that view in a veto message, not in secret
S. 257 and H.R. 4 are clear, simple, and straightforward bills
that would establish a policy to deploy a missile defense for the
United States, a policy that does not now exist. The March 19 State
Department cable reveals the Clinton Administration's commitment to
maintaining its policy of vulnerability to ballistic missiles. The
Administration is attempting to use the addition of the two
amendments to S. 257 to justify de facto nullification of an NMD
bill. But House-Senate conferees should consider what the
amendments say before accepting the Administration's view that they
invalidate the policy to deploy a NMD.
first amendment merely restates an obvious, existing fact of
law--that NMD funding is subject to the annual authorization and
appropriation process by Congress. With only a few exceptions, all
discretionary programs are funded through this process. Moreover,
no program in the Department of Defense receives all its
funding when the deployment decision is made. To suggest that this
amendment would change how a NMD is funded under S. 257, or that it
somehow would change the intent of Congress to deploy a NMD, is
absurd on its face. S. 257 would make the policy decision to deploy
a NMD, and the amendment reiterates that funding would be applied
through the regular congressional process to effect that decision.
The inclusion of this amendment makes no difference as a matter of
law and does not alter the clear meaning of the bill.
second amendment, offered by Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and
Olympia Snowe (R-ME), establishes a policy goal to seek continued
negotiated reductions in Russia's nuclear forces. Adopted as an
entirely separate section of S. 257, it is in no way included as a
prerequisite to or condition of NMD deployment. The principal
sponsor of S. 257, Senator Cochran, accepted the amendment because
there clearly was no linkage between the two policies. A reduction
in the number of Russia's nuclear arms is a goal sought by NMD
supporters as well as arms control devotees. Anti-missile
protection and nuclear arms reductions are wholly compatible.
Indeed, NMD deployment actually may hasten reductions in nuclear
arsenals everywhere by making these weapons less useful.
Conferees on S. 257 and H.R. 4 should not allow the Clinton
Administration's use of semantic legerdemain to nullify, in effect,
Congress's clear intent to deploy a national missile defense. If
the conferees succumb to such White House disinformation efforts,
the momentum toward deploying a NMD will be derailed.
Moreover, allowing President Clinton to
invalidate an act of Congress outside the proper constitutional
process would set a dangerous precedent. The true intent of both
houses was demonstrated by the large majorities in favor of both
bills. If the President truly opposes this bill, he should veto it
outright and not try to go around Congress and the constitutional
process by employing deceptive spin.
Thomas Moore is the former Director of The
Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis International Studies Center at The