The Cable

Senate has no plans to invoke War Powers Act over Libya

In just over a week, 60 days will have passed since the war in Libya began. But Congress has no plans to exercise its rights under the War Powers Act to either approve or stop the administration's use of U.S. military forces to fight the army of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi.

The War Powers Resolution of 1973 allows the president to commit U.S. forces for 60 days without the explicit authorization of Congress, with another 30 days allowed for the withdrawal of those forces.

"The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to a declaration of war, a specific statutory authorization, or a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces," the law states.

But the administration won't be immediately pressed to follow the law if nobody in Congress intends to enforce it. Both leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told The Cable on Tuesday that there are no plans for Senate action on the war in Libya -- before or after the deadline.

"I'm not hearing from my colleagues that they feel the War Powers situation is currently in play because we're deferring to NATO," committee chairman Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) told The Cable. Kerry had been working on a resolution with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) but the text was never finalized.

Kerry said there's nothing on the schedule either in his committee, where a resolution based on the War Powers Act would have to originate, or on the Senate floor. "I'm certainly prepared to listen and be responsive," if senators want to debate the war, he said.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), the committee's ranking Republican, told The Cable he also doesn't see any action on the horizon, but he called on the Senate to start conducting oversight of the war and demanding more details from the Obama administration.

"I'm one who believes that there does need to accountability, if not a declaration of war under the War Powers Act, at least some specific resolution that would give authority," Lugar said. "But even absent that, some definition from the president of what our plan is, what our metrics would be, and by this time what the costs have been, quite apart from the estimate of what they will be."

Asked if the president is legally required to begin ending U.S. military involvement when the 60-day window closes, Lugar said it's a possibility.

"That is certainly one strong interpretation of this. I'll examine that when we come to it," he said. "The War Powers Act has been argued through several administrations as to whether the president feels bound by it or not."

Overall, he and many others in the Senate lament that the budget debate and other issues have pushed the Libya discussion to the back burner.

"There has never has been the correct focus on Libya with regard to congressional hearings or congressional debate," Lugar said.

The Cable

Push for nuclear test ban treaty ratification starting soon

The Obama administration is ready to start the legislative push to seek ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the next major step in the president's drive toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher, who is a key official in the Obama administration's missile defense policy and the successful drive to ratify New START, announced on Tuesday that the administration will begin the CTBT ratification effort in earnest in the coming weeks. She acknowledged that the ratification drive will face opposition in the Senate, but argued the treaty would benefit U.S. national security.

"I know that the conventional wisdom is that the ratification of New START has delayed or pushed aside consideration of the CTBT. I take the opposite view," Tauscher said in a speech at the Arms Control Association's conference being held at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "The New START debate, in many ways, opened the door for the CTBT.... When the Senate voted for the treaty, it inherently affirmed that our stockpile is safe, secure, and effective, and can be kept so without nuclear testing."

The treaty was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1996, but has not yet entered into force. It has been ratified by 153 countries, but not the United States or nuclear powers such as China, India, Israel, or Pakistan. In 1999, the Senate declined to ratify the CTBT in an embarrassing vote for President Bill Clinton.

Tauscher said that in the aftermath of the New START debate, which was the first arms control treaty debate since the 1999 vote, the Senate was now primed and ready to consider another international nuclear treaty. She promised that debate would start soon.

"[W]e are in a stronger position to make the case for the CTBT on its merits. To maintain and enhance that momentum, the administration is preparing to engage the Senate and the public on an education campaign that we expect will lead to ratification of the CTBT," Tauscher said.

Tauscher explained that the administration will make three arguments in favor of ratifying the CTBT. The administration will argue the United States no longer needs to conduct nuclear explosive tests, that if CTBT enters into force it will provide a disincentive for other states to conduct nuclear tests, and that the international community now has a greater ability to catch those who cheat.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Bob Casey (D-PA) also spoke at the Carnegie conference and are set to play key roles in the coming drive to ratify CTBT.

But there is well entrenched opposition to CTBT ratification among Republican senators. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who led the successful opposition to ratification in 1999 and also took the lead for the GOP during the negotiations on New START, may also lead opposition to the CTBT.

"All of those reasons [from 1999] still pertain, and then some," Kyl told The Cable in October 2009, the last time the administration promised it would quickly move forward on CTBT.

"I will lead the charge against it and I will do everything in my power to see that it is defeated," he told Congressional Quarterly at the time.

A senior GOP Senate aide spelled out Republicans' objections and their argument going forward.

"The Republicans will say that the risks are you can't verify the agreement, countries will be cheating, and at the end of the day, we may need to test to make sure our systems are viable," he said.

Tauscher responded preemptively to GOP criticisms in her Tuesday remarks, saying that international monitoring systems have improved verification mechanisms significantly since 1999. She also said that ratifying CTBT would help the United States increase international pressure on Iran and North Korea to halt their nuclear advances.

But the administration is preparing for a hard slog on Capitol Hill.

"We recognize that a Senate debate over ratification will be spirited, vigorous, and likely contentious. The debate in 1999, unfortunately, was too short and too politicized. The treaty was brought to the floor without the benefit of extensive committee hearings or significant input from administration officials and outside experts," Tauscher said. "We will not repeat those mistakes."

UPDATE: A State Department official writes in to clarify that while the process of educating senators about CTBT will start in the coming weeks, the actual ratification debate and vote in the senate is not likely until after the 2012 election. "It is highly unlikely that the senate will take this up in this Congress and we are proceeding with that expectation," the official said.

DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images