"I want to tell you that your fact sheet on the [Missile Technology Control Regime] is very well done and useful for me when I have to speak on MTCR issues."

– Amb. Thomas Hajnoczi
Chair, MTCR
May 19, 2021
Issue Briefs

In Memoriam: ACDA (1961-1997)


Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

As part of the price for Senate approval of the Chemical Weapons Convention, President Clinton announced plans to abolish the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and fold its functions into the State Department. Although it has received little public attention, ACDA's demise as an independent voice for arms control will impair national security by narrowing arms control options for presidential decisionmaking.

A subdued Clinton administration quietly claimed the abolition was a planned component of the program to "reinvent government." But the State Department, which had sought the elimination of ACDA from the beginning of the administration, proclaimed that its new acquisition will eliminate one of the vestiges of the Cold War, and allow arms control to be handled as an arm of foreign policy.

ACDA was created as an independent agency by President Kennedy 36 years ago, not to serve as an instrument in the Cold War but to provide future presidents with a source of arms control policy options as an alternative to the ongoing arms race. Kennedy and his advisors rejected the State Department as the location for the new organization because it would be dominated by a foreign service bureaucracy preoccupied with relations with client states. Similarly, the Defense Department was rejected because of its preoccupation with seeking security by building rather than limiting arms.

While ACDA's success has always been dependent on presidential interest in arms control, the new agency proved its worth as a component of the national security establishment in a succession of administrations. During the Johnson administration, ACDA's persistent efforts to negotiate the nuclear NonProliferation Treaty (NPT) despite State Department opposition gave Johnson the opportunity to go forward with the treaty over objections by major allies. During the Nixon administration, a strong ACDA team working with Henry Kissinger negotiated the ABM Treaty and the SALT I agreement despite a less than enthusiastic Defense Department and an apathetic State Department. During the Carter administration, ACDA played the lead role in the president's ambitious arms control agenda, including the negotiation of the SALT II agreement.

The second half of ACDA's short life was less propitious. During the Reagan years, ACDA's leaders were as often opponents as advocates of arms control. When President Bush and Secretary of State Baker had to deal with the collapse of the Soviet Union, they demonstrated that a few senior State Department officials working with the president could quickly accomplish major steps by bypassing the bureaucracy, including ACDA. But the arms control agenda and implementation of past accomplishments has become too complex to be handled routinely in this topdown manner. During the first Clinton term, ACDA demonstrated its value by delivering a consensus agreement to the indefinite extension of the NPT and spearheading the successful completion of the Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB) Treaty. The administration, however, treated ACDA shabbily by delaying appointments and permitting its frequent exclusion from interagency activities.

As the victim of an unfriendly takeover, ACDA will be in a poor position to bargain with the vastly larger institution that will absorb it. Nevertheless, an effort is being made to give arms control some measure of titular independence by allowing the responsible undersecretary to have access to the president through the secretary of state. If Congress approves, this may work with the present incumbents. However, such an unnatural bureaucratic arrangement cannot long endure. With its budget; personnel; and its legal, public and congressional relations in the hands of the State Department, the arms control function and its experienced practitioners will not fare well in the face of declining budgets, and the department's many other pressing responsibilities as well as concern for furthering the careers of foreign service officers.

In the coming year, the administration will be faced with many critical arms control policy issues, including Russian ratification of START II, negotiation of START III, defense of the ABM Treaty and Senate approval of the CTB Treaty. It remains to be seen how these difficult issues will be handled within a State Department consumed with the crusade to expand NATO and faced with extraordinarily difficult congressional relations.

In merging ACDA into the State Department, President Clinton has taken a major step without serious congressional or public debate. Thus, he must take responsibility to assure that ACDA's demise does not deprive him and his successors of independent arms control and national security recommendations which the State Department might judge to be in conflict with some tactical foreign policy objective. If the process fails to meet presidential needs, his successors will have to resurrect ACDA.

Helsinki: A Pyrrhic Victory?

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

At the Helsinki summit, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin, despite deep differences over NATO expansion, agreed on arms control proposals intended to obtain the Russian Duma's ratification of START II. Despite the appearance of progress, however, it is unlikely that a nationalistic Duma and a conservative U.S. Senate will accept these measures.

Under START II Russia would have had to undertake an expensive buildup of new, single warhead strategic missiles to maintain nuclear parity with the United States. The Duma's concern about parity reflects not only the desire to maintain Russia's image as a nuclear superpower but also to counter any U.S. plans to deploy a nationwide ballistic missile defense system. These concerns have been severely exacerbated by the decision to expand NATO eastward, which is seen across the Russian political spectrum as an exclusionary and aggressive move directed against Russia.

The Helsinki solution is to initiate, as soon as START II enters into force, negotiations of a new START III agreement limiting both sides to 2,000 2,500 deployed strategic nuclear warheads by the end of 2007. At this level, which reduces permitted deployments by 1,000 warheads below START II levels, Russia would no longer be faced with a strategic buildup it can ill afford. In addition, since START III may take some time to negotiate, the date for the final elimination of missile systems under START II would be extended for five years. Russia would not have to eliminate all 150 of its 10 warhead MIRVed SS 18s, now scheduled for destruction by the beginning of 2003, until the end of 2007. Thus, Russia would not have to address the problem of new strategic missile forces during the next decade while reductions are carried out. Moreover, Russia would be in a stronger position if it decided U.S. ballistic missile defense plans or future NATO expansion endangered its security.

Responding to the Duma's fear that the United States might seek to deploy a national missile defense system, Clinton reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the ABM Treaty. And, in a major policy shift, Yeltsin accepted the U.S. position on theater missile defenses (TMDs) which, except for space based kill vehicles, would allow any system designated as such provided only that it is not tested against targets traveling more than 5 kilometers per second (equivalent to a missile with a 3,500 kilometer range). Apparently, Yeltsin was persuaded that, if the Duma was given assurances on the sanctity of the ABM Treaty, coupled with the extension of the timing of the destruction of strategic offensive forces, it should be willing to accept a more permissive approach to the definition of TMD systems, which in turn would help persuade the Republican majority in the Senate to abandon efforts to repudiate the ABM Treaty.

On the central issue of NATO expansion, the presidents could only agree to disagree. Clinton rejected the notion of a formal charter between NATO and Russia, and Yeltsin was only able to get the promise of political commitments from the individual NATO leaders to as yet unspecified assurances. In the circumstances, Yeltsin saved the summit by separating the NATO impasse from arms control. But Russians were united in their indignation at the failure to respond to their concerns on this issue. The prospect of an expanding NATO, whose membership might include the Baltic states and even Ukraine, with the right to station Western forces and nuclear weapons on their territories, was looked upon as an egregious violation of understandings reached at the time of the unification of Germany and a serious threat to Russian security.

In these circumstances, it seems most unlikely that the Duma will move quickly to ratify the amended START II despite its favorable modifications from the Duma's perspective, or to agree to the new permissive definition of TMD systems, despite Clinton's reaffirmation of the ABM Treaty. Prospects for the package appear equally unpromising in the U.S. Senate. Republican leaders have already denounced the Helsinki TMD demarcation accord as unacceptable because it would not allow space based interceptor systems. The five year delay in eliminating the Russian SS 18 force, the principal accomplishment of START II, will also not receive an enthusiastic reception.

If Clinton and Yeltsin can persuade their legislatures to support this package in the face of NATO expansion, the Helsinki summit will be remembered as a remarkable victory against considerable odds. But if reluctant legislatures in both countries fail to act, as seems quite likely, Helsinki will be seen as a Pyrrhic victory, where the successful rejection of Russian efforts to hold back NATO expansion created a new adversarial relationship between Russia and the West and set back arms control for many years.

"Your Move, Mr. President"

Please contact ACA for a copy of this story.


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CWC: Election Year Casualty

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CTB: Too Soon to Declare Victory

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Kilometers Apart on Missile Defense

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