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Key Issues Ethics Issues Bipartisan Foreign Policy at a Time of Crisis

Bipartisan Foreign Policy at a Time of Crisis
Speech by Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 1, 1998

Thank you for asking me to speak to you at this time of serious political turmoil in the United States.

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The President has admitted to serious moral indiscretions. The House of Representatives is considering impeachment proceedings. The Senate waits to see whether it will have to sit in judgment of the President's actions. The public is divided about what punishment should be meted out to a President who has engaged in such despicable and indefensible actions.

Clearly this is a difficult time for the nation domestically. It is also a perilous time for the nation internationally.

Throughout our history, Americans have understood that no matter what is happening in this country's internal political life, it is in our national interest to present a strong, united front to the world.

That's true now more than ever. The good news is we are the world's only remaining superpower. The bad news is, we are the world's only remaining superpower.

Unless we lead, no one will. The dangers we face are many:

Financial crises in Russia and Asia;

Humanitarian disaster in Kosovo;

Weapons of mass destruction in Iraq;

Nuclear weapons in North Korea, India, and Pakistan;

Missile programs in North Korea and Iran;

Fragile peace in the Middle East;

And continuing threats from international terrorism.

The risks of not acting are obvious. There is real potential for foreign policy paralysis.

In my view American foreign policy, which has already fallen victim to the antics of the Republicans in the House of Representatives, has been further harmed by this growing domestic crisis.

In the face of major world problems, we cannot be distracted from our task of maintaining America's security, leadership, and credibility abroad.

As I see it, the problem breaks down into two areas. In some key instances Congress is not doing its job. The need for IMF funding, payment of our UN arrearages, and sanctions flexibility regarding India and Pakistan are just three examples. I will mention others later in my remarks.

In other areas, the President is limited in doing his job by the uncertainty of Congressional support. As President he has the power to act, but he has to ask himself in this political climate whether he will be cut adrift by a Congress that will not back him up.

And foreign leaders, knowing of the President's difficulties, wonder whether the President can deliver on his commitments.

The two most immediate cases in point are Iraq and Kosovo.

In Kosovo, the Serbian special police and Yugoslav Army continue a terrorist policy that has destroyed more than two hundred villages, driven more than 300,000 ethnic Albanians from their homes, with an estimated 50,000 forced into the forests and mountains. With the onset of winter only weeks away, a humanitarian catastrophe looms. The stability of the entire southern Balkans hangs in the balance.

I believe the United States and its NATO allies should give President Milosevic a date certain to cease military operations. If he fails to do so, then NATO should undertake an air campaign, whose preparations were agreed upon by the Alliance in Portugal last week.

But for the President to be able to act he needs to have the support of the Congress. If that support is not asked for - or given - because of the growing chasm created by the impeachment debate, United States leadership will be forfeited, and the Balkan tragedy will continue.

A similar potential for paralysis exists in the face of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Iraq's decision in August to block further UN inspections, and the resignation of UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, have forced both the Administration and Congress to focus on the need for a clear Iraq policy.

Do we rely on the immediate, unilateral use of force to back UN inspections? Or do we rely instead on sanctions and deterrence to contain Iraq?

These are tough choices, but, again, I worry that our ability to make the decisions required to exercise U.S. leadership is being diminished because of the uncertainty of Congressional support for Presidential action.

It is vital that the Administration work with Congress in making that decision, and that Congress deliver bipartisan support once a difficult decision is made.

No matter how we feel about the actions of President Clinton, and the debate over impeachment proceedings in the House, Bill Clinton is still President of the United States.

As President he has constitutional responsibilities to conduct our foreign policy and protect our national security.

Congress shares that constitutional responsibility. It is critical that we rise above our partisan differences, and work with the President to address these problems together.

There are also areas where Congress alone must act, and has not. We have two weeks left in this Congress. To date we have failed to address several critical issues.

In almost every case the Senate has acted in a strong bipartisan manner.

In the House a small group of highly partisan Members have been holding hostage important foreign policy initiatives - taking actions I am confident the large majority of the American people do not support.

I am not exaggerating when I say that the ability of our country to lead requires that we face up to the issues I am about to mention and act before we adjourn.

Embassy funding

First among these issues is consideration of the $1.8 billion emergency embassy security funding legislation to rebuild the destroyed embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and meet urgent security needs of other diplomatic facilities around the world.

The embassy bombings in East Africa were tragic reminders of the long-term war against terrorism.

An example of rank partisanship surfaced when President Clinton acted decisively and retaliated against Bin Laden and the other terrorists who killed so many innocent people. Rather than get the facts, the specter was immediately raised as to whether the President's action was like that in the Wag the Dog movie .

We need to pass this emergency legislation before we adjourn. I am confident we will, but with this group I am never certain. The House may try to tie it to other unrelated domestic legislation to give them partisan advantage on some unrelated issue.

IMF Funding

A second critical issue is funding for the International Monetary Fund.

America's own economic security depends on the ability to provide strong international leadership at this critical time for the international economy.

Other nations understand our system and understand that our leadership can only come from the President acting with the full support of Congress.

The Asian financial crisis has sent shock waves as far as Russia and Latin America. It is the only serious storm cloud on the horizon for the American economy. It requires decisive action.

The President requested $3.5 billion for IMF emergency reserves in February of 1997 and the additional $14.5 billion to replenish the United States share of our quota in February of 1998.

It is shameful that the House of Representatives has prevented Congress as a whole from acting in support of the President's request to replenish the IMF.

To protect our economy and to keep the crisis from spreading, Congress must act now in the next few days on these emergency reserves and to replenish our share of the IMF's resources, which have reached dangerously low levels.

It is clear there has been plenty of time to act.

Why didn't the House act? Now the response is the IMF needs to be reformed. We all agree to that and the Senate bill has significant reforms. That is not the issue.

The House is using the IMF as a domestic bargaining chip.

Time may have run out on the IMF's ability to help in the current Russian crises, but an immediate funding of the IMF is critical to addressing this economic crisis as it spreads to Latin America and our own economy.

Now is not the time for the United States to walk away from its commitment to the IMF and our country's leadership in addressing this international economic crises.


Chemical weapons, among the world's oldest weapons of mass destruction, are truly horrific - as we learned when Iraq's Saddam Hussein gassed whole villages of his own people. Partly in response to Saddam Hussein, the world moved to adopt the Chemical Weapons Convention which outlaws chemical weapons and allows unprecedented on-site inspections to verify compliance with that treaty.

After a vigorous debate in the Senate, which I was proud to lead, there was a strong bipartisan vote of 74 to 26 to ratify the treaty. On May 23, 1997, the Senate unanimously passed bi-partisan legislation necessary to implement the treaty.

But the Chemical Weapons Convention is in limbo, and the United States, a leader in its creation, stands today in violation. Why?

Because House Republicans failed to act on the Senate's implementation legislation for six months, finally choosing to attach it to unrelated legislation to sanction Russia for allowing missile technology to be transferred to Iran.

This was done knowing the President would veto the Russian sanctions legislation. The President did veto the bill, and was correct in doing so, to preserve his flexibility in negotiating a wide range of issues with the Russians at a time of economic and political upheaval in Russia.

That was an unwise and unnecessary political confrontation with the President, which also put implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention at great risk.

The House could pass the CWC implementation bill whenever the Speaker wants. If it does not do so in the next two weeks, we will continue to be in violation of the treaty and be unable to demand compliance by others.

It is time people like yourselves called on the House of Representatives to step forward and put the national interest above petty partisan political considerations.

Let me reiterate, for the first time in my 25 years in the Senate an extreme action by a minority of the majority Republican party in the House is dealing with serious foreign policy issues as if they were fighting over Congressional reapportionment.

Foreign policy in the past has never been used as a bargaining chip for highly charged domestic social issues. This is an outrageous way to behave and must come to an end. Our security depends on it.


In the wake of the India and Pakistan nuclear tests, the President was forced by existing sanctions law to impose sweeping economic penalties against these countries, even though this made resolution of the crisis more difficult.

The Senate quickly moved to repeal part of the sanctions law to make exceptions for food and other humanitarian supplies. The Senate Sanctions Task Force, which I co-chair with Senator McConnell, also recommended changes in the existing sanctions regime to give the President flexibility in negotiating a deescalation of the nuclear tensions between India and Pakistan.

The Senate adopted these changes as an amendment to the Agricultural Appropriations bill. We need to complete action on this legislation before we adjourn.

We were all encouraged by the positive statements of the prime ministers of India and Pakistan indicating their willingness to negotiate eventual accession to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

We also want them to pull back from the nuclear brink and agree not to deploy nuclear weapons on missiles or aircraft.

In order for the United States to be able to influence that outcome, this President and future Presidents need flexibility on sanctions.

This is not a game, and right wing Republicans should understand that. They should debate and act upon these changes in the sanctions laws and not let this legislation get caught up in the search for the favorite hostage of the day.

I am truly fearful we may have reduced our ability to impact others' behavior on the Sub-Continent because of our failure to act quickly and decisively.

UN Arrears/State Department Reorganization

At the very moment when Republicans in the House are criticizing the President for failure to keep together coalitions in support of actions in Iraq or Kosovo, they deny him the ability to meet our fair share of United States commitments at the United Nations.

Chairman Helms and I worked hard to craft a bipartisan plan to pay $926 million in our arrears if the United Nations agreed to make reforms. Those plans are contained in the State Department Conference Report that has yet to be sent to the President.

Unfortunately, our payment to the UN has been held hostage to an unrelated, controversial provision that would prohibit giving population planning funds to foreign organizations that use their own funds to lobby their governments on abortion.

Holding the payment of UN arrearages, reform of the UN, restructuring and funding of our foreign policy agencies all hostage to this "Mexico City" provision has been highly irresponsible in my view.

The House is also holding any funding for the IMF hostage to this same Mexico City legislation.

The President has made it clear he will veto any bill with the Mexico City language.

However, the House Republicans insisted on keeping this totally unrelated language in the Conference Report.

This has resulted in an end game of chicken, with a terrible legislative collision ahead of us.

In my view the Mexico City language should be stripped from both the State Conference Report and the IMF bill, with a commitment to debate and vote on it up or down early next year.

The UN legislation had reflected bipartisan support for U.S. leadership and credibility abroad and is essential to strengthening diplomatic readiness.

We need to restore our bipartisan commitment before we adjourn. Our failure to act will clearly diminish our country's leadership abroad.


Finally, two years after the signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, I regret that the Senate has not been able to act on this important treaty this year.

Chairman Helms and I disagree on the importance of this treaty and he has indicated a need to address other treaties first.

Nevertheless, I felt we had an obligation to hold hearings and act on a treaty of such importance. Had I been Chairman of the Committee we would have acted. We need to next year.

How ironic it is, just a week after India and Pakistan have pledged to negotiate ratification of this treaty by next September, that the United States Senate has not moved to take similar action.

I hope my message has been clear: If we don't act on these foreign policy matters, the potential for paralysis is real, and the consequences disastrous.

It is time for strong bipartisan action.

Our time is running out.

You will have questions for me, but I have several questions for you.

Why, given the importance of the issues I have just discussed is there such a deafening silence?

Where are the editorials demanding action?

Where are members of the foreign policy community, many of whom are represented in this room, demanding action?

Where are members of the business community and others, who will be adversely affected by a failure of the United States to exercise leadership either at the IMF, the UN, or elsewhere in the world?

The issue we must be thinking about in the days before we adjourn is leadership: leadership at a time of crisis at home and difficulties abroad. If the United States doesn't lead no one will. But can we lead?

You know where I stand. If you agree, my colleagues in the Congress need to know where you and the American people stand.

John F. Kennedy once remarked that 'our domestic policy can defeat us, but our foreign policy can kill us'.

He was right, of course. And in the coming days, Congress and the President have the responsibility to step up to the plate and address our unfinished foreign policy business -- or risk allowing these neglected issues to jeopardize our national security interests. Thank you.