Stimson and treaty ratification

Stimson Spotlight

Stimson and treaty ratification

As Secretary of State, Henry L. Stimson negotiated the 1930 London Naval Treaty, a multilateral agreement that attempted to align a growing competition among the United States, Japan, Great Britain and France in capital ship construction with a diminished U.S. political interest in competing. 

Fast forward to 1989.  Soon after Barry Blechman and I co-founded Stimson, President George H. W. Bush proposed an “open skies” treaty to promote cooperative aerial inspections from Vancouver east to Vladivostok.  The reaction to this proposal was lukewarm, at best.  Some viewed it as a dodge for “serious” arms control and reduction agreements, as the Bush administration had yet to engage with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on deep cuts in strategic forces.  Others viewed it as a trap-door leading to deep cuts.

Stimson championed cooperative aerial inspections before and after President Bush’s initiative.  With grant support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Senior Associate Amy Smithson and I convened a series of meetings and commissioned essays on why this initiative served U.S. national and regional security interests.  Our edited volume, Open Skies, Arms Control and Cooperative Security, was published in 1992, the same year the treaty was consummated.  The Open Skies Treaty has eased tensions along tense borders, established practical mechanisms for the United States to help friends and allies with limited or no access to advanced technical means of data gathering, and facilitated cooperative practices at a crucial time between the United States and the Russian Federation.  Over 1,000 cooperative Open Skies Treaty missions have now been flown.

The period between 1994 and 1996 was unusually active and meaningful for multilateral treaties.  President Bill Clinton, building on efforts by the Bush administration, completed negotiations on the Chemical Weapons Convention.  Senior Associate Amy Smithson worked closely with U.S. chemical industry representatives to alleviate their concerns and to garner their support for the treaty text.  Senior Associate John Parachini ably took the lead in coordinating other NGOs to address questions concerning treaty ratification.   

The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty contains a unique provision calling for states parties to gather during its twenty-fifth anniversary to consider whether to extend treaty provisions and, if so, for how long.  Senior Associate Joe Cirincione built a coalition of NGOs to help focus their efforts to secure the NPT’s indefinite extension, which occurred in 1995. 

Stimson was also very active in the negotiating endgame of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in Washington, Geneva, London, Paris, New Delhi and New York.  On one memorable trip, I accompanied Ambassador Herbert York to foreign capitals, trying to persuade diplomats not to attach a provision that would effectively delay the Treaty’s entry-into-force for a long period.  We were not persuasive.  The CTBT was concluded in 1996 with this albatross of a provision.  Even so, the Treaty has strengthened an international norm against nuclear testing.  Since 1998, only one country has tested nuclear devices – North Korea.  Senior Associate Joe Cirincione headed up another Stimson-led NGO coalition in support of the CTBT.  Stimson’s work on behalf of these treaties was enabled by grant support from Ploughshares, the W. Alton Jones, MacArthur and Compton Foundations.

It’s harder to negotiate a treaty to ban space weapons, both for reasons of definition and verification.  Stimson has instead championed a Code of Conduct for responsible space-faring nations.  I began to conceptualize the Code of Conduct in 2002 with grant support from the MacArthur Foundation and Ploughshares.  The Code seeks to foster cooperation and confidence-building measures in this global commons, while fostering practices to safeguard against space debris and anti-satellite weapons. 

Stimson produced several drafts of a Code of Conduct, first with the help of U.S. experts, and then with NGO colleagues from Japan, Canada, France, Russia and China.  The European Union subsequently produced several drafts of an international Code of Conduct, an effort that the United States, Japan, and other states have also endorsed.  Russia and China have agreed in principle to the value of a Code of Conduct for space, but have yet to endorse the EU’s text. Grant support from the New-Land Foundation permits Stimson to continue to promote the space Code of Conduct.

Stimson has also helped parent the Arms Trade Treaty.  Senior Associate Rachel Stohl has been deeply involved in the negotiation of this treaty, serving as a Consultant to the United Nations and to the two Conference Presidents during the negotiations.  She now leads the Treaty-Baseline Assessment Project which helps States prepare for its ratification and implementation.

Treaties have served as the foundation for multilateral efforts to control dangerous weapons.  New floors are now being built that employ less formal mechanisms.  Stimson’s programming has adapted accordingly, taking the lead in seeking means complimentary to treaties.  In doing so, we have followed the Center’s original motto of pursuing pragmatic steps toward ideal objectives.  Stimson’s work on the space Code of Conduct and our Managing Across Boundaries initiatives, led by Managing Director and Senior Associate Brian Finlay, are emblematic of creative Stimson initiatives to reduce dangers associated with deadly weapons and materials.   

Photo credit: The Official CTBTO Photostream via Wikimedia Commons