Obama Administration to Begin Effort to Engage Senate on CTBT

In the most detailed and substantive address by a senior Barack Obama administration official to date, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen O. Tauscher spoke at the Arms Control Association's May 10 annual meeting on "The Case for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty."

She made it clear that the administration would soon engage with Republican and Democratic Senators on the CTBT and provide updated information on the key technical issues that gave some Senators reason for pause during the 1999 debate on the treaty.

Tauscher explained in detail why prompt U.S. approval is in the United States national security interests. She said:

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

"In our engagement with the Senate, we want to leave aside the politics and explain why the CTBT will enhance our national security. Our case for Treaty ratification consists of three primary arguments:

"One, the United States no longer needs to conduct nuclear explosive tests, plain and simple. Two, a CTBT that has entered into force will obligate other states not to test and provide a disincentive for states to conduct such tests. And three, we now have a greater ability to catch those who cheat."

Under Secretary Tauscher's prepared remarks are available online.

A video and full transcript of the event is available online.

Tauscher's address speech builds upon National Security Advisor Tom Donilon's March 29 reiteration of the administration's commitment to ratification and entry into force of the CTBT. He said: "We are committed to working with members of both parties in the Senate to ratify the CTBT, just as we did for New START. We have no illusions that this will be easy. But we intend to ... make our case to the Senate and the American people."

"So, When's the Vote?" Reporters at the event asked Tauscher and other speakers, including Sen. Robert Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.):

  • "In what timeframe do you think the Senate should act on the CTBT?"
  • "Do you think it should take this vote before the 2012 elections?"
  • "And what your assessment of how the votes are lining up?"

But given that the Senate hasn't engaged on the topic in over a decade and given that the hard work of making the case for the CTBT has really just begun, its just too early for clear answers to such questions.

Senator Casey said it well when he said:

"In my judgment, we should act before the 2012 elections. I don’t have a high degree of confidence that we will. I think that would obviously be preferable, but I don’t have great confidence that will happen.

In terms of the vote count, I’m not paid to do that. There are others who do that as part of their job. So, even if I were – even if I wanted to hazard a guess, it would be – the margin of error would have to be substantial.

So it’s hard to – it’s hard to predict. Obviously I don’t think you can – that any of us can overlay the votes on New START on this vote. It’s going to be a different debate in some ways, and frankly a more difficult debate, from my side of the debate.

It’s going to be, I think, a longer and more difficult challenge to get the treaty passed. But what’s why I think it’s important to start now, as best we can, to keep the treaty in the news, so to speak, to begin the outreach and engagement and education process."

Under Secretary Tauscher said:

"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. We will not repeat those mistakes. But we will make a more forceful case when we are certain the facts have been carefully examined and reviewed in a thoughtful process. We are committed to taking a bipartisan and fact-based approach with the Senate."

"For my Republican friends who voted against the treaty in 1999 and might feel bound by that vote, I have one message: Don’t be. The times have changed. Stockpile stewardship works. We have made significant advances in our ability to detect nuclear testing. As my good friend and fellow Californian, George Shultz, likes to say – those who opposed the treaty in 1999 can say they were right. But they would be more right to vote for the treaty today."

"So we have a lot of work to do to build the political will be need to ratify the CTBT," Tauscher said.

The Bottom line: making the case on the CTBT will take time but the process has finally begun.

The White House and treaty proponents must now follow through with a serious, sustained effort to highlight the case for the CTBT. For their part, all Senators have a responsibility to take another look at the treaty in light of the new evidence that has accumulated in the decade since the Senate's brief review of the subject in 1999 and not rush to a judgement based on old information or misconceptions.