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Send Senate CTB Treaty Now
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Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

President Clinton should move quickly to send the Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB) Treaty to the Senate for its advice and consent to ratification. Although Senate debate on the treaty, which the United States signed almost a year ago, threatens to be long and heated, any further delay will not improve the prospects for the treaty's approval and will raise serious questions internationally as to the U.S. commitment to the treaty.

When the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was extended indefinitely in 1995, the nuclear-weapon states agreed to complete the CTB Treaty in 1996. Largely through Clinton's policy initiatives, agreement on a text was reached on schedule, and the treaty has now been signed by 144 countries, including the five nuclear-weapon states.

In the eyes of the world, the next step depends on the willingness of the nuclear-weapon states to ratify the treaty, and Russia and China will certainly wait for the United States to act. Failure by the administration to start the CTB Treaty ratification process would be widely viewed as a repudiation of the political commitment it gave to obtain consensus support for the indefinite extension of the NPT. Extended delay would severely undercut the U.S. leadership role in efforts to strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime. Paradoxically, the United States and not India, which has stood virtually alone in refusing to sign the CTB, would then be seen as the barrier to achieving the long-sought goal of ending nuclear testing.

Despite the international imperative to act promptly on CTB ratification, some administration officials and outside observers have counseled delay on the grounds that the necessary 67 votes for approval cannot be mustered in the present Senate. It is far too early, however, to forecast the vote on this issue, and the composition of the Senate is unlikely to be more favorably disposed on this issue after the next election. The debate on the CTB will not really be joined until senators are faced with the prospect of an actual vote. Then, undecided senators will have to face the fact that public opinion, editorial commentary and knowledgeable experts overwhelmingly support the treaty. Treaty opponents cannot look for support from the military, which has outgrown its earlier infatuation with nuclear weapons. Moreover, the weapons laboratories, which have historically been outspoken opponents of a test ban, will not plead the need for continued testing, having accepted a new role as managers of a well-funded stewardship program designed to assure the long-term reliability and safety of existing weapons without nuclear testing.

In the debate, the oft-repeated arguments against a CTB Treaty will have lost much of their force and will be easily rebutted. The reliability and safety of the existing U.S. nuclear arsenal is assured by a gold-plated stewardship program. The U.S. deterrent is overwhelming and secure and will not depend on the development of new nuclear warheads, which would require testing. With provisions for on-site inspections of suspicious events, the treaty's international monitoring system, buttressed by independent U.S. technical intelligence assets, will be capable of verifying whether any significant nuclear testing has occurred anywhere in the world.

When all is said and done, individual senators will have to decide whether they want to be identified as advocates of a resumption of nuclear testing that would seriously set back nuclear nonproliferation efforts when it is most unlikely there will ever be a need for another U.S. nuclear test. As a harbinger of this decision process, Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), who originally opposed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), supported the convention when the final vote was taken. While it is true that the CWC was President Bush's treaty and the Republican Party in recent years has opposed the CTB, it is also true that the CTB, which was first championed by President Eisenhower in 1958, will be a much higher profile issue than the CWC and the political penalty for holding it hostage or killing it will be far greater.

Senate approval of the CTB Treaty will be a hard fight that can, and will, be won. In fact, obtaining Senate approval should be much easier than negotiating the detailed treaty in the Conference on Disarmament with 60 participating states, some of which, in addition to India, did not really want the ban. But to win, the president must submit the treaty as soon as possible and no later than early September if there are to be Senate hearings this year leading to a vote in 1998. If the president should be persuaded to wait for a more propitious moment, he runs a serious risk that Senate action on the CTB will not be completed during his term in office, with far-reaching adverse implications on the prospects for progress on his nuclear non-proliferation agenda.