Message to the Senate on the Soviet-United States Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty
June 10, 1988
To the Senate of the United States:
I was gratified the United States Senate gave its advice and consent to the ratification of the Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Elimination of Their Intermediate- and Shorter-Range Missiles (INF Treaty). It was my honor to exchange instruments of ratification on June 1 in Moscow, and the Treaty has now entered into force.
During the past 4 months, the Senate has performed its constitutional duties with respect to the advice and consent to this Treaty in an exceptionally serious and diligent manner. On the Administration's part, we spared no effort to respond to the Senate's needs, and to do our best to ensure that the Senate had all the information it needed to carry out its constitutional responsibilities. Administration witnesses appeared in more than 70 formal hearings and many more informal briefings; we provided detailed written answers to over 1,300 questions for the record from the Committees and individual Senators; and we provided access to the negotiating record of the Treaty, comprising 31 bound volumes.
In short, I believe the Executive branch and the Senate took their responsibilities very seriously and made every effort to work together to fulfill them in the common interest of advancing the national security of the United States and our Allies and friends. The Treaty will bear witness to the sincerity and diligence of those in the Executive branch and the Senate who have taken part in this effort.
As noted in my statement issued on May 27, the date of final Senate action, one provision of the Resolution to Ratification adopted by the Senate causes me serious concern.
The Senate condition relating to the Treaty Clauses of the Constitution apparently seeks to alter the law of treaty interpretation. The accompanying report of the Committee on Foreign Relations accords primacy, second only to the Treaty text, to all Executive branch statements to the Senate above all other sources which international forums or even U.S. courts would consider in interpreting treaties. It subordinates fundamental and essential treaty interpretative sources such as the treaty parties' intent, the treaty negotiating record and the parties' subsequent practices.
Treaties are agreements between sovereign states and must be interpreted in accordance with accepted principles of international law and United States Supreme Court jurisprudence. As a practical matter, the Senate condition only can work against the interests of the United States by creating situations in which a treaty has one meaning under international law and another under domestic law. Unilateral restrictions on the United States should be avoided, especially in a treaty affecting vital national security interests. With respect to U.S. law, the President must respect the mutual understandings reached with the Senate during the advice and consent process. But Executive statements should be given binding weight only when they were authoritatively communicated to the Senate by the Executive and were part of the basis on which the Senate granted its advice and consent to ratification. This is in accordance with the legal standards applied by our courts in determining legislative intent. I commend the thoughtful statements made during the Senate debate by Senators Specter, Roth, Wilson, and others which amplify these concerns.
This Administration does not take the position that the Executive branch can disregard authoritative Executive statements to the Senate, and we have no intention of changing the interpretation of the INF Treaty which was presented to the Senate. On the contrary, this Administration has made it clear that it will consider all such authoritative statements as having been made in good faith. Nonetheless the principles of treaty interpretation recognized and repeatedly invoked by the courts may not be limited or changed by the Senate alone, and those principles will govern any future disputes over interpretation of this Treaty. As Senator Lugar pointed out during the debate, the Supreme Court may well have the final judgment, which would be binding on the President and Senate alike. Accordingly, I am compelled to state that I cannot accept the proposition that a condition in a resolution to ratification can alter the allocation of rights and duties under the Constitution; nor could I, consistent with my oath of office, accept any diminution claimed to be effected by such a condition in the constitutional powers and responsibilities of the Presidency.
I do not believe that any difference of views about the Senate condition will have any practical effect on the implementation of the Treaty. I believe the Executive branch and the Senate have a very good common understanding of the terms of the Treaty, and I believe that we will handle any question of interpretation that may arise in a spirit of mutual accommodation and respect. In this spirit I welcome the entry into force of the Treaty and express my hope that it will lead to even more important advances in arms reduction and the preservation of world peace and security.
The White House,
June 10, 1988.