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The Arms Control Association is an "exceptional organization that effectively addresses pressing national and international challenges with an impact that is disproportionate to its small size." 

– John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
January 19, 2011
Clinton Urges Senate to Act on CTB; Helms Calls Treaty 'Low Priority'
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By Craig Cerniello

In late January, the Clinton administration launched its campaign to achieve swift Senate approval of the Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB) Treaty. During his January 27 State of the Union address, President Clinton urged the Senate to give its advice and consent to ratification this year and announced that four former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had endorsed the treaty. In February, several key administration officials—including Secretary of Defense William Cohen, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Secretary of Energy Federico Peña—also voiced their strong support for the test ban.

However, achieving Senate approval of the CTB Treaty in 1998 may prove difficult. In a January 21 letter to Clinton, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC) announced that the committee will only consider the treaty after it has voted on the ABM "demarcation" and "multilateralization" agreements as well as the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. This condition could seriously delay Senate action because the administration has stated that it does not intend to submit the ABM agreements (along with the START II extension protocol) to the Senate for its advice and consent to ratification until after Russia has approved START II—a move that may not come for some time. Moreover, the Clinton administration has no plans to submit the Kyoto Protocol to the Senate in the forseeable future, pending further participation by key developing countries in addressing the issue of climate change.

CTB Gains Momentum

In his State of the Union address, Clinton explained how the CTB Treaty would strengthen U.S. and international security. "By ending nuclear testing, we can help to prevent the development of new and more dangerous weapons, and make it more difficult for non-nuclear states to build them," he said. Clinton continued: "I am pleased to announce that four former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—Generals John Shalikashvili, Colin Powell and David Jones, and Admiral William Crowe—have endorsed this treaty, and I ask the Senate to approve it this year."

In their January 27 statement, the four former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff conditioned their support for the CTB Treaty on the "six safeguards" established by Clinton in August 1995 and reiterated in his September 1997 transmittal letter to the Senate. Under these safeguards, the United States will conduct the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program (SSMP) to ensure the safety and reliability of its nuclear arsenal; maintain modern nuclear laboratory facilities and programs in theoretical and exploratory nuclear technology; maintain the basic capability to resume nuclear testing, if necessary; continue a comprehensive research and development program to improve its treaty monitoring capabilities and operations; continue developing intelligence gathering and analytical capabilities and operations on worldwide nuclear arsenals and programs; and retain the option of withdrawing from the CTB under the "supreme national interests" clause in the event that a nuclear weapon-type critical to the U.S. nuclear deterrent could no longer be certified as safe and reliable.

In a February 2 White House briefing, Robert Bell, senior director for defense policy and arms control at the National Security Council, gave seven reasons why the CTB Treaty enhances U.S. security. First, the CTB allows the United States to maintain a safe and reliable nuclear deterrent. "The point of the treaty is to ban the bang, not to ban the bomb," Bell said. Second, the treaty constrains "vertical proliferation"—the development of more advanced nuclear weapons by the declared nuclear-weapon states. Third, the test ban constrains "horizontal proliferation"—the spread of nuclear weapons to states that do not currently possess them. Fourth, Bell argued that the CTB strengthens the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime and that it would not have been possible to achieve the treaty's indefinite extension in 1995 without negotiating the CTB. Fifth, the CTB improves the ability of the United States to "detect and deter nuclear explosive testing." Sixth, U.S. ratification will encourage other countries to ratify. Finally, Bell said ratification by the United States and others will constrain non-signatories from conducting nuclear tests by "establishing an international norm against testing."

On February 3, President Clinton visited Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, where he witnessed a nuclear test simulation by the "Blue Mountain" supercomputer and received a briefing on the status of the SSMP by the directors of the three nuclear weapons laboratories (John Browne at Los Alamos, Bruce Tarter at Lawrence Livermore and Paul Robinson at Sandia). Clinton said the laboratory directors "confirmed that we can meet the challenge of maintaining a nuclear deterrent under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty through the Stockpile Stewardship Program." He also noted that the treaty is supported by General Henry Shelton, current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Eugene Habiger, current commander in chief of U.S. Strategic Command.

Clinton's endorsement of the CTB Treaty has been echoed by senior administration officials. Cohen urged the Senate to approve the treaty during his February 3 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, while Albright noted the national security benefits of the test ban in her February 10 statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Two days later, Peña gave a strong pitch for the CTB at the National Press Club and announced that Clinton was forwarding to Congress the second annual certification from the secretaries of defense and energy that the U.S. nuclear stockpile remains safe and reliable.

 

Helms Letter

In his January 21 letter to Clinton, Helms stated that the CTB Treaty is "very low" on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's list of priorities. Helms said "The treaty has no chance of entering into force for a decade or more. Article 14 of the [CTB Treaty] explicitly prevents the treaty's entry into force until it has been ratified by 44 specific nations. One of those 44 nations is North Korea, which is unlikely to ever ratify the treaty. Another of the 44 nations—India—has sought to block the [CTB Treaty] at every step." (Emphasis in original.)

In this context, Helms explicitly stated that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will not take up the CTB Treaty until after it has considered and voted on three agreements related to the ABM Treaty (the First Agreed Statement, Second Agreed Statement and Memorandum of Understanding on Succession) as well as the Kyoto Protocol to the UN Convention on Climate Change. The First and Second Agreed Statements attempt to establish a "demarcation" line between permitted theater missile defense systems and restricted ABM systems, while the Memorandum of Understanding on Succession expands the number of states that are parties to the ABM Treaty from two to five by including Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine (see ACT, September 1997).

President Clinton restated his strong support for the test ban in his February 10 response to Helms. "Rather than waiting to see if others ratify the CTBT, I believe America must lead in bringing the CTBT into force. And with regard to India and Pakistan, I think it is important that when I travel to the subcontinent later this year I do so with U.S. ratification in hand," Clinton said.