Defending the INF Weapons Treaty from the Nuke-mongers: We Did It Before; We Can Do It Again!

February 5th, 2019 - by admin

David Cortright / The Nation & Russell Feingold / Think @ NBC News – 2019-02-05 01:00:21

The Peace Movement Won the INF Treaty.
Now We Must Fight to Preserve It

David Cortright / The Nation

In the 1980s, millions of antinuclear activists
took to the streets, forcing Western governments
to respond to our demands. We can do the same now.

(November 14, 2019) — The White House proposal to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) has been widely criticized, for good reason. Former military officials and diplomats have described the agreement as a “bedrock” of arms control. The 1987 treaty eliminated thousands of deadly medium-range missiles in Europe and helped to end the Cold War.

The Trump administration alleges that the agreement is flawed and that Moscow is cheating, but if there is a problem, the answer is to try to fix the treaty rather than walk away from it. Scrapping the agreement would undermine international security, the former officials warn, and could prompt a new arms race in Europe.

Progressives have also blasted the proposal. Win Without War director Stephen Miles said that abandoning the agreement could increase the risk of nuclear war and called upon Congress to deny funding for any weapons that violate the treaty.

The INF agreement occupies a special place in peace history. The treaty was a response to and result of the massive nuclear-disarmament movements that swept across Europe and the United States in the 1980s. In some respects the peace movement owns this agreement, and we must do what we can to ensure it is not taken away.

Let’s review the history. Beginning in 1979, as the Soviet Union deployed SS-20 missiles in Eastern Europe and NATO prepared to deploy new cruise and Pershing missiles in the West, millions of people took to the streets to demand an end to an accelerating arms race that put Europe in the nuclear crosshairs. In 1981 and again in 1983, massive protest marches occurred all across Western Europe — the largest rallies in postwar European history.

In the United States, the nuclear-freeze movement spread like a populist prairie fire. Hundreds of cities and towns and nine states conducted public referendums calling for a halt to US and Soviet nuclear-weapons development. In June 1982 close to a million people converged on New York’s Central Park for the Rally to Freeze and Reverse the Arms Race, the largest peace rally in American history.

The many citizen actions that took place on both sides of the Atlantic during those years put pressure on political leaders to respond. With European officials calling for negotiations, the Reagan administration agreed to open talks with the Soviet Union in the fall of 1981, much sooner than hard-liners had planned.

Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger told a meeting of Catholic bishops that the administration would not negotiate seriously with the Soviet Union until after the United States had “rearmed,” a process he estimated would take eight years.

Yet, within months of taking office, the United States was at the bargaining table, driven in part by the political demands of the disarmament movement. Weinberger acknowledged in his memoir that antinuclear demonstrations generated pressure on NATO ministers to begin negotiations.

Public protests also shaped the content of the negotiations. At the opening session of the talks, the United States and its NATO allies proposed the so-called zero option: the elimination of all intermediate-range weapons, on both sides. No SS-20s or cruise and Pershing missiles. The idea of the zero solution originated in the demands of the antinuclear movement.

A State Department official told scholar-activist Mary Kaldor, “We got the idea from your banners. You know, the ones that say ‘No Cruise, No Pershing, No SS-20s.'” A senior White House counselor said the zero solution was “our response to the antinuclear people.” Weinberger also attributed the proposal to “a number of antinuclear groups” and political leaders in Europe.

Many in Washington opposed the zero option and believed that cruise and Pershing missiles in Europe were necessary regardless of what the Soviet Union did. Secretary of State Alexander Haig told a National Security Council meeting in 1981, “We wouldn’t want a zero option even if we could have it.” Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon later wrote that agreeing to the zero option would undermine security and lead to the breakup of NATO.

Reluctant US officials nonetheless accepted the proposal because it was politically popular and provided a way of responding to and attempting to coopt the demands for disarmament. They presented the zero solution in the cynical expectation that the ossified leadership of the Soviet Union would reject the offer, which they did. The aging bosses of the Kremlin clung tenaciously to their missiles and refused to consider their elimination, thereby directly undercutting the peace movement.

NATO leaders felt satisfied that they had outmaneuvered the transnational movement in the streets. They had offered the zero option but the Soviets had refused, so they were now free to proceed with cruise and Pershing deployments. The nuclear hawks had won the day, it seemed.

The people in the streets refused to go away, however. Demonstrations and protests continued, despite the disappointment of not having stopped the missile deployments. Many organizers became policy advocates and worked on electoral and legislative campaigns. In the United States, activists worked with SANE, the Council for a Livable World, and other groups to pressure members of Congress for arms reduction, which generated political pressure on the White House for more flexibility at the bargaining table. The nuclear-freeze movement kept up a steady drumbeat for arms reduction.

Then, in 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power and launched his revolutionary program of perestroika at home and support for nuclear disarmament and peace in the world. During his 1986 summit with Reagan at Reykjavík, Iceland, Gorbachev signaled acceptance of the zero option, and Soviet and US negotiators promptly worked out the details. Moscow was finally saying yes to Washington’s offer. The zero option became reality.

Soon afterward, I came to Germany to speak at a Green Party conference. I thought the party activists would be pleased by the treaty, but many delegates were confused and uncertain. They had lost the fight to stop the deployments in 1983 and did not recognize the broader impact of their activism in shaping the terms of the negotiations and creating pressure for peace.

That’s a common experience in social movements. We often don’t see the effects of our work in the political processes that unfold in response to our action. Change usually does not occur as we expect, and there are setbacks along the way. But persistent pressure can have an impact, and is often decisive in setting the terms of political debate and generating pressure for change.

It’s important to remember this history, and the significance of the INF treaty as an achievement for peace. It’s also important to generate renewed political pressure now to preserve the agreement and keep alive this vital legacy of the citizens’ movement for nuclear sanity.

David Cortright teaches peace studies at the University of Notre Dame and is the author of Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas (Cambridge).

Donald Trump Can Unilaterally Withdraw from Treaties
Only because Congress Has Abdicated Responsibility

Russell Feingold / Think @ NBC News

The constitution provided for the separation
of powers to save us from autocrats.
But the legislative branch undermined that

(May 7, 2018) — During this administration, everyone has to be alert and watching for potential misuses or abuses of power. Unfortunately, due to decades of executive aggrandizement and congressional acquiescence — coupled with judicial timidity — the ability to unilaterally withdraw the United States from every last treaty the Senate has ever ratified has been left solely in the hands of President Donald Trump.

So one of these mornings, Trump could well get up very early, issue a series of angry tweets and then proceed to issue an order withdrawing the United States from the United Nations. And, though it took a 1945 vote in the Senate to allow President Harry Truman to ratify the UN Charter, the current weight of legal opinion holds that President Donald Trump has the power to withdraw the US from this or any treaty without similar consultation with the legislative branch of government.

(And, if this reminds you of what has happened to our constitution’s exclusive grant to Congress of the power to declare war, you would be right.)

During the 20th and early 21st centuries, the view that the power to withdraw from ratified treaties rests solely within the executive branch has gradually become considered settled by too many scholars, though it seemingly contravenes the founders’ own understanding of the Constitution.

No treaty can be ratified without a two-thirds vote in the Senate. And once ratified, a treaty becomes part of the “supreme law of the land” — which should logically mean that it could only be undone by Congress and the President, or at least by a vote of the Senate.

There were few comments by the founders on the issue of withdrawal, but arguably the clearest comes via Thomas Jefferson. He wrote in his manual of parliamentary practice, which he composed while presiding over the Senate: “Treaties being declared, equally with the laws of the United States, to be the supreme law of the land, it is understood that an act of the legislature alone can declare them infringed and rescinded.”

Unfortunately, that is not what is “understood” today. When President George W. Bush unilaterally withdrew the US from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, only a few members of Congress protested; Congress as a whole failed to insist on a vote. Several members of the House then sued to force a vote (an effort I was prevented from joining by the Senate Ethics Committee).

That lawsuit was rejected by the courts, because Congress had failed adequately to assert its powers and because the judge ruled “issues concerning treaties are largely political questions best left to the political branches of the government, not the courts, for resolution.”

That failure to act to assert our constitutional prerogative now hands an erratic and often vengeful president the power to undo crucial international agreements.

Considering Trump’s recent outbursts at the UN, where he threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea, and his pique over opposition to his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (UN Ambassador Nikki Haley wrote a letter to dozens of UN member nations stating that, “The president will be watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on those countries who voted against us”), it’s easy to imagine a scenario that could prompt him to yank us from the organization.

And it’s not just withdrawal from the UN that should concern us: the NATO Treaty (which established organization), and the New START Treaty (in which the US and Russia agreed to reduce our nuclear arsenals) — just to mention two — are crucial to various aspects of the post-war American foreign policy that has helped ensure our national security and prosperity.

There have been relatively few treaties considered by Congress in recent decades, in part because executive agreements and regular legislation have become a more popular way to establish various forms of relations with other countries. And many others were negotiated by various administrations but never ratified by the Senate, largely because of the high bar for approval:
The SALT II agreement (another nuclear disarmament treaty with the then-Soviet Union),
The Law of the Sea Convention (which was intended to govern the use of the world’s oceans),
The UN’s Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination against Women,
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and
The Kyoto Protocol (which sets greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets to mitigate climate change) have all been sidelined by partisanship.

Should any of those, or any future, treaties make it through the Senate gauntlet, it doesn’t seem possible that the founders’ intent was that any subsequent president could remove us from them whenever he or she felt like it.

A Trump pull-out from the UN may not remove us from all of our obligations and opportunities within the organization, but it would surely be detrimental to our influence within it and our standing internationally. Congress must be ready to vote in opposition to any such unilateral withdrawal and, if need be, refer the question to the Supreme Court.

Hopefully, if that happens, the justices will not shirk their responsibility to uphold the constitution. The rule of law and international stability demand nothing less.

Russell Feingold is the Martin R. Flug visiting professor in the practice of law at Yale Law School. He served as a US senator from Wisconsin from 1993 to 2011, and a Wisconsin state senator from 1983 to 1993. From 2013 to 2015, he served as the United States special envoy to the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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