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THE NATION : The Big Chill at State as Helms Battles the White House

October 01, 1995|Charles William Maynes | Charles William Maynes is editor of Foreign Policy

WASHINGTON — Is Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) now the No. 1 enemy of U.S. foreign policy, perhaps the only one the Administration has left now that the Soviet Union has disappeared? One would think so, to hear the reaction of the foreign-policy Establishment to Helms' proposal to merge the Agency for International Development, the U.S. Information Service, and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency into the State Department. Helms claims the consolidation would save $3 billion over four years.

Led by the vice president's office, the Administration has vowed to veto any bill containing Helms' proposal. In response, Helms has brought the entire foreign-policy process to a halt. He has frozen 400 State Department promotions, blocked Senate consideration of dozens of treaties (including the critical Start II and the chemical-weapons treaty), had refused to consider the nomination of most of the more than 30 candidates to ambassadorial posts and insisted he will play "hard ball" until the President calls him to cut a deal.

The Administration argues that the Helms' proposals violate the separation of powers. Certainly, no Congress would tolerate an Administration dictating to it how its committee structure should be organized. In similar fashion, should the Congress dictate to the President how he organizes his team?

A logical position, of course, but one that ignores much recent history. What Helms is attempting is not unprecedented. Nor it is necessarily wrong.

On at least four occasions in recent years, Congress, over the objections of the Administration in power, has imposed a new structure on the executive branch in the field of foreign policy. In the late 1950s, liberal icon Hubert H. Humphrey, then head of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Disarmament, called for a new organization to deal with arms-control matters, while fellow Sen. John F. Kennedy introduced a bill to create such a body. They criticized the turnover of personnel in the nation's arms-control endeavors under the Eisenhower Administration and advocated a separate agency responsible to the President, with authority for negotiations to remain with the secretary of state. That was the origin of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, which Helms now proposes to fold back into the State Department.

In the 1970s, U.S. foreign policy under Henry A. Kissinger paid little attention to human rights. In his Senate confirmation hearings in 1973, Kissinger stated that it was "dangerous" for the United States "to make domestic policy of countries around the world a direct objective of American foreign policy." Congress disagreed and took steps to force the Nixon and Ford Administrations to begin to institutionalize human rights as part of U.S. foreign policy. Former Rep. Donald Fraser, then chairman of the Subcommittee on International Organizations and Movements, began a withering set of hearings to increase pressure on the Administration to shift its position. By February, 1974, Deputy Secretary of State Robert S. Ingersoll argued with Kissinger, "if the department did not place itself ahead of the curve on this issue, Congress would take the matter out of the department's hands." Institutionalization began soon after.

Other examples of Congress forcing the institutional hand of the State Department include the Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science, which Sen. Claiborne Pell forced the department to create, and the Bureau of South Asian Affairs, which Rep. Stephen J. Solarz compelled the department to accept.

Though the Helms' proposals are more sweeping than any thus far forced on a reluctant Administration, efforts by Congress to impose institutional changes in the field of foreign policy are not unprecedented. Indeed, until this recent standoff, the contestants in the struggle have involved a Democratic Congress determined to force its reorganization proposals on a resistant GOP Administration. Now the tables are turned.

What if we examined the Helms' proposals on their merits? Here the call is closer than the Administration's position suggests. A blue-ribbon commission, headed by Richard Holbrooke, contended before Clinton's inauguration that ACDA should be folded into State. Endorsing this recommendation were such future U.S. officials as U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright, U.S. Ambassador to London William J. Crowe Jr., U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Stuart E. Eizenstat, White House Adviser Morton H. Halperin, Assistant Secretary of State Winston Lord, Undersecretary of State for Economic Affairs Joan E. Spero and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Peter Tarnoff.

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