Historic Documents of 1997


Edited by: CQ Press

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    The tides of democratization and economic interdependence—two of the most important global trends of the 1990s—continued their seemingly unstoppable advance in 1997. Iran and South Korea, nations with long histories of authoritarian regimes, elected populist presidents. The new Korean president, Kim Dae-jung, had been one of the world's most durable opposition leaders for nearly three decades, having survived at least two government attempts to kill him. Iran's new president was a respected clergyman who appeared more willing than the nation's other Islamic leaders to improve relations with the West, particularly the United States.

    In Africa, Zaire's dictatorial leader fell from power in a popularly supported rebellion that demonstrated the inevitable weakness of authoritarian regimes. Great Britain, one of the world's oldest democracies, celebrated its heritage with an election that turned the Conservative Party out of power after eighteen years in favor of a Labour Party leader who copied many pages from President Bill Clinton's political play book.

    Of course there were exceptions to the trend. The fragile process of establishing democracy in war-torn Cambodia was blocked in July when one of two co-prime ministers ousted the other and then took only halting steps toward new elections. And there were no indications that the communist regime in China was getting ready to embrace democracy. Deng Xiaoping, China's paramount leader for more than fifteen years, died in February, leaving a legacy of astounding economic growth for his country but no progress toward an open political system. China's president, Jiang Zemin, traveled to Washington in October for a summit meeting with President Bill Clinton. Jiang made some headway in repairing relations between the two powers, which had been deeply troubled since Beijing's brutal crackdown on student pro-democracy demonstrators in 1989.

    Anyone who doubted the vital role of economics in international affairs received a rude awakening in the second half of the year, when a currency crisis that started in Thailand rippled across East Asia and eventually caused upheavals in financial markets worldwide. The crisis put an end—at least for the time being—to surging economic growth in a group of countries that had been known as "tigers," including Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and South Korea. Even Hong Kong, one of the world's economic powerhouses, felt the economic pain in October, just three months after it passed from British control to become once again a part of China.

    The sudden dip in Asia, especially Hong Kong, led on October 27 to the biggest one-day fall in a decade in the U.S. stock markets. The markets later recovered but the United States was one of many counties having to put up billions of dollars in emergency loans to bail the Asian nations out of trouble.

    An experiment in international cooperation with the potential for an enormous economic and environmental impact on the entire world got under way in Kyoto, Japan, in December. More than 150 nations signed a treaty intended to limit the emissions of "greenhouse gases," which many scientists said were gradually causing climate changes around the globe. If fully implemented—a prospect in great doubt at the end of the year—the treaty would force the United States and other industrialized nations to curtail their burning of coal and petroleum products. President Clinton and other proponents said the United States could live with the treaty's mandates, but opponents insisted the treaty would cause undue economic hardship and force Americans to reduce their standard of living.

    Other treaties played an important role on the international scene. The U.S. Senate in April approved ratification of a United Nations treaty banning the production and use of chemical weapons. Some conservatives had opposed the treaty, and delayed its ratification in 1996, because of concerns that it infringed on U.S. sovereignty.

    The Clinton administration stood aloof in December as 123 nations signed another treaty banning the production and use of antipersonnel land mines. Worldwide support for that treaty was built by nongovernmental organizations and the government of Canada. In refusing to sign it, Clinton bowed to the wishes of military leaders who hesitated to give up land mines in such places as the Korean peninsula, where nearly 40,000 U.S. troops were helping protect South Korea against the possibility of an attack by North Korea.

    Two high-level panels issued warnings that U.S. national security faced new dangers in the post-cold war era. One committee appointed by Clinton said key elements of the nation's infrastructure—highways, telecommunications systems, and industrial plants—were increasingly vulnerable to attack by terrorists or the malicious. That panel recommended dozens of steps to strengthen security, especially of increasingly important computer networks. Another Defense Department panel, mandated by Congress, warned that the nation's military was ill-prepared to meet the challenges of terrorism and blackmail from rogue nations capable of deploying nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons against the United States. That panel urged an immediate review of Pentagon priorities to place more emphasis on nonconventional security threats.

    Such reexaminations of national security issues came as yet another closing chapter was written in the history of the cold war. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in July formally extended membership to three nations that had been part of the Soviet bloc: Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic. This move eastward made NATO a next-door neighbor of Russia, a development that caused considerable consternation in Moscow, especially among ultranationalists who feared domination by the West.

    Partly to placate the Russians, the world's most exclusive and powerful club—the leading industrialized nations known as the G-7— officially embraced Russia as the eighth member during a summit meeting in Denver. Russian membership in that economic fraternity consisted more of symbolism than substance. Despite its vast potential, Russia remained a second- or even third-rate economic power that had little influence over the weighty matters pondered at the annual economic summits.

    President Clinton had good news to offer his fellow summiteers in June: the U.S. economy continued its strong pattern of growth with low inflation and unemployment. His aides at that point were negotiating with congressional leaders on the details of an agreement for a balanced federal budget by 2002. A final agreement came in August, resolving, at least for the moment, what had been one of the most contentious issues in U.S. national affairs.

    The temporarily mellow political atmosphere in Washington did not extend to other issues. For most of the year the capital was convulsed with allegations surrounding the Democratic Party's desperate rush to collect campaign dollars for the 1996 election. Two congressional committees, the Justice Department, and a sizable army of news reporters investigated alleged wrongdoing by the Democrats—with some attention given to the even more successful fund-raising efforts of the Republicans. Numerous lapses of judgment came to light, especially on the part of the Clinton White House, but little evidence emerged that any public official broke the nation's loosely written campaign finance laws.

    Attorney General Janet Reno refused to ask for appointment of an independent counsel to investigate allegations that Clinton and Vice President Al Gore may have acted unethically or even illegally. To the fury of Republicans, Reno said "thousands of hours" of work by Justice Department investigators had uncovered no illegal actions by the president or vice president.

    All the political noise generated about campaign finance produced a predictable result on Capitol Hill: Legislation to reform the system under which politicians raised many for federal campaigns went nowhere. The House refused to consider the matter, and a brief debate on a reform bill in the Senate was quashed by the Republican leadership.

    Clinton's efforts to defer another political hot potato at least until after he left office came to naught, when the Supreme Court ruled that a sitting president could be sued for damages arising out of his personal conduct. That ruling cleared the way for the sexual harassment suit against the president brought by Paula Jones, who said the president forced unwanted sexual attentions upon her when he was governor of Arkansas and she was a state employee. The case subsequently was dismissed.

    In another important decision, the Supreme Court left squarely in the political arena the question of whether doctors should be legally able to help the terminally ill commit suicide. In rulings upholding two state laws that barred physician-assisted suicide, the Court said individuals did not have a general constitutional right to such assistance but suggested this issue was one that the people should deal with through their elected representatives. In another decision that angered many members of Congress, the Court overturned a federal law aimed at strengthening freedom for religious practices. After the Court ruled that Congress, in enacting the law, had unconstitutionally encroached on the traditional rights of the states and the role of the judiciary, several members began to search for a way to accomplish the same goal without running afoul of the Constitution.

    The U.S. government at several points during the year attempted to address citizens' concerns about its other failures. The army in September acknowledged that female soldiers had not always been treated with the greatest respect; in fact, an official army panel said, drill sergeants and others had used their positions of authority to intimidate women and demand sexual favors from them. Among the panel's recommendations was placing greater emphasis on traditional army values such as personal honor and integrity.

    Yet another investigation, by the National Cancer Institute, confirmed that U.S. above-ground atomic tests in the late 1940s and early 1950s may have heightened the risk of thyroid cancer among thousands of Americans. The study, in the works for fourteen years, made no definitive statements, however, on how many people may have developed cancer because of the tests.

    The nation's premier tax collection agency, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), formally apologized to several taxpayers who told a Senate committee the agency had unjustly persecuted them. Congressional hearings on alleged abuses by the IRS gave Republicans a popular issue to use against the Clinton administration and the tax system in general.

    Revelations about the IRS bolstered the cynicism abut government that was increasingly evident among Americans in the late 1990s. A commission appointed by the president and congressional leaders said in March that the government was fostering that cynicism by keeping too many secrets too long. The panel said government agencies should sharply reduce the number of documents stamped "secret" and should be more systematic in declassifying documents once any justified need for secrecy had passed.

    The government also acknowledged that key elements of the FBI's crime laboratory had not always adhered to the highest standards of scientific investigation. Some analysts at the laboratory had drawn unwarranted conclusions from evidence before them, used questionable techniques, and presented flawed testimony in dozens of cases, according to an internal Justice Department investigation.

    Those revelations about the FBI came into play during the nation's most important criminal trial of the year. Defense lawyers representing Timothy McVeigh—accused of planting the bomb that destroyed the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 and injuring hundreds—argued that the FBI's evaluation of evidence from the bombing scene could not be trusted. That argument, along with others presented by the defense, failed to sway the jury, which convicted McVeigh of conspiracy and murder and sentenced him to death. Another jury in December convicted McVeigh's codefendant, Terry Nichols, of the lesser charges of conspiracy and manslaughter. Nichols escaped the death penalty when the jury was unable to reach agreement on a sentence.

    Another long legal saga came to an end in February when a jury in a civil trial in Los Angeles found former football star O.J. Simpson responsible for the 1994 death of his former wife Nicole Simpson and a friend. Simpson was ordered to pay $33.5 million in damages to the families of the victims. Another jury in 1995 had acquitted Simpson of criminal charges in the case.

    The event of 1997 that most people were likely to remember, however, was the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in a car accident in Paris at the end of August. Diana's life—from her marriage to Prince Charles, the heir to the British thrown, to the birth of her sons, to the tawdry accusations of infidelity and instability that preceded her divorce, to her liaison with playboy Dodi Fayed—seemed to hold endless fascination for the British public and much of the rest of the world. Her death brought forth an outpouring of public grief nearly unparalleled in modern history.

    These are only some of the topics of national and international interest chosen by the editors for Historic Documents of 1997. This edition marks the twenty-sixth volume of a Congressional Quarterly project that began with Historic Documents of 1972. The purpose of the series is to give students, librarians, journalists, scholars, and others convenient access to documents on a wide range of topics that set forth some of the most important issues of the year. In our judgment, the official statements, news conferences, speeches, special studies, and court decisions presented here will be of lasting interest.

    Each document is preceded by an introduction that provides context and background material and, when relevant, an account of continuing developments during the year. We believe these introductions will become increasingly useful as memories of current times fade.

    JohnFelton and MartyGottron

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