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

Charles William Maynes is editor of Foreign Policy

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.

Helms' initial proposal to hive off the development function of AID and to create an independent foundation for development has been endorsed by a number of private groups over the years. There is less outside support for folding USIA into the State Department, but it is an agency seeking a mission: With the Cold War over, what is the propaganda war to be fought? Wouldn't straight reporting through the private media and a professionalized Voice of America more competitive with the BBC be a better way to sell this country?

Why, then, is the Administration so opposed to Helms' proposal? After all Secretary of State Warren Christopher himself at one point proposed something similar as part of the Administration's reinventing-government exercise; and several former secretaries of state have endorsed the general thrust of the Helms' approach. It is hard to avoid the impression that opposition rests primarily on a desire to guarantee high government jobs for the current leadership of ACDA, AID and USIA. All have friends in high places in the White House.

There are other considerations. J. Brian Atwood, the AID administrator, is making progress in changing AID's public image. Should his efforts be rewarded with unemployment? There is also concern that the State Department is even less capable than AID in managing public moneys for development or other purposes. U.S. aid might be shaped to reflect very short-term political considerations rather than longer-term developmental considerations.

Early in the term, the ACDA, under John Holum, was alone in resisting an Administration desire to resume nuclear testing. Its position finally prevailed, once Congress also voiced its opposition, and one benefit was the recent, permanent extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. There is concern that if ACDA were folded into the State Department, leadership would pass to individuals who are less committed to arms control.

Such concerns are legitimate, but it is also true that the GOP took control of Congress last year. Helms may be overreaching, but the Administration is underresponding. That election was won, in part, on the promise that the victors would reduce the size of government. Cutting and reorganization cannot take place solely in the domestic arena. The White House should find a way to open up negotiations with Helms, who has made some steps toward the Administration.

Many have overlooked the fact that Helms, right-wing tribune, has quietly reversed his position on Start II, which he now supports; that he has given the Administration a pass on the North Korean nuclear deal because, as his chief of staff notes, "I don't know what other options the President's got," and that he has assembled a new, more professional staff, dismissing 20 out of the 22-member ideological cohort that enabled him to terrorize one Administration after another over the past decade.

Part of a compromise might be to reward Atwood with leadership of a new development foundation and to appoint Holum the head of the new State Department Arms Control Bureau. But it makes little sense to shut down all U.S. diplomacy to oppose an idea that is not without merits.*

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