WASHINGTON -- Is the Bush administration going to "unsign" the Kyoto global warming treaty just as it unsigned the International Criminal Court (ICC) treaty? "We can do that," replied one senior official, "but we won't do it." The principal reason: quiet but decisive influence by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Advocates of scrapping the pact initialed at Kyoto in 1997 until recently were on course to make it the latest of Bill Clinton's diplomatic agreements to be stripped of its U.S. signatures. Dick Cheney, perhaps the most active, powerful vice president ever, was behind the effort. That was before the intervention of Dr. Rice, who is matching her higher profile predecessors in backstage power. In the international treaty question, she reflects the views of European allies, the State Department bureaucracy and the American foreign policy establishment.
George W. Bush is in the middle, buffeted by opposing pressures. He ended up wavering on adherence to the ICC in a way that satisfied nobody on an issue about prestige and ideology. In contrast, the Kyoto treaty involves the future health of the American economy -- making it all the more peculiar that the Bush administration is so sensitive to foreign pressures.
President Bush's conviction that the one-sided Kyoto pact threatens prosperity here is not in doubt. While Kyoto will not be ratified while he is in the White House, there is no statute of limitations for diplomatic treaties. Accordingly, a future Democratic president -- elected in 2004 or later -- could push it through the Senate.
To prevent that, the U.S. would disavow Kyoto -- unsign the treaty -- prior to the United Nations global warming conference in Johannesburg beginning Aug. 26. The plan, under Cheney's patronage, was to unsign Kyoto before the Johannesburg meeting and then submit it to the U.N. (as was done with the ICC). Bush disconnected from the Rome treaty establishing the ICC just before it went into effect.
Now that Rice has scuttled Kyoto unsigning plans, the global warming treaty at long last may go into effect at Johannesburg without U.S. approval. If Secretary of State Colin Powell insists on attending the conference, however, that could be interpreted as tacit American support.
The Bush administration's ambiguity in disposing of Clinton-era treaties was reflected in the attempt to guarantee that U.S. peacekeepers are protected from international prosecution for alleged war crimes. Under Secretary of State John Bolton managed the procedure of detaching the U.S. from the Rome treaty and going to the U.N. Nothing done by Bush has so thrilled his occasionally disappointed conservative base, and it is considered by many conservatives in itself to have made his presidency a success.
While the U.S. desire to grant immunity for its peacekeeping troops generated little antagonism at home, it ignited a firestorm abroad. U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson called Bush's step "a very dangerous signal," and NATO members publicly parted company from Washington.
Once again, according to administration sources, Rice protested, and the administration backed down. After a bitter battle at the U.N., the U.S. agreed to an exemption from ICC jurisdiction for one year (during which bilateral agreements for non-prosecution are being sought). That vitiated a major conservative victory.
Yet another unsigning dispute may attempt to get rid of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which failed to win ratification from the Republican-controlled Senate in 1999. Unless unsigned, it remains a loaded weapon that can be taken up by the Senate at any time.
If Condoleezza Rice again weighs in, the nuclear test ban treaty may yet become the law of the land. How and why is this generally low-profile foreign policy expert playing such a role?
Rice, in some ways, is no less influential than Colin Powell or Donald Rumsfeld. She spends much more time -- alone or in a group -- with the president than either the secretary of state or secretary of defense.
A hard-liner on the war against terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian question, Rice is considered susceptible to criticism from European foreign ministries and the Council on Foreign Relations. That's why the Clinton administration's treaties, especially Kyoto, are likely to hang around the Senate indefinitely in wait of the next Democratic president.