USIS Washington File

24 November 1999

Byliner: Secretary of State Albright on Arms Control Leadership

(Op-ed from November 22 Time magazine) (1580)

(This column by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright appeared in Time
Magazine November 22 and is in the public domain, no copyright

A Call for American Consensus
By Madeleine K. Albright

(Madeleine K. Albright is the U.S. Secretary of State.)

Why our arms-control leadership is too important to risk in partisan
political fights

The U.S. Senate's recent rejection of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test
Ban Treaty (CTBT) was a huge disappointment to many Americans. The
U.S.'s allies and friends responded to this vote with universal shock.
I have been besieged by calls from around the globe. All express
concern. Some commentators have used the vote to proclaim the death of
arms control. But the obituaries are premature.

The CTBT and the larger challenge of reducing the dangers posed by
nuclear weapons are far too important to abandon. So the
Administration is determined to continue fighting for the treaty.
Approval of the pact means the U.S. would be joining with other
nations to halt the development of more advanced nuclear arms and
prevent them from falling into the wrong hands.

Unfortunately, as the CTBT vote reflects, the Administration and
Congress have not yet agreed on a common post-cold war strategy for
responding to these dangers. But the world's leading nation cannot
remain divided on how to respond to the world's gravest threats. The
Administration and Congress have worked together in the past on such
key issues as the Chemical Weapons Convention and NATO enlargement. We
must put aside partisan distractions and work together now.

A common strategy must recognize the need for 1) a strong national
defense; 2) American leadership in nonproliferation; and 3) responding
to new threats without reviving old ones. And, of course, whatever
agreements we enter into--the CTBT included--must serve America's
overall national-security interests. The CTBT would do that by
impeding the development of advanced new arms by nuclear-weapons
states and constraining the nuclear capabilities of countries that do
not now have such weapons.

For example, in Asia the CTBT would make it harder for North Korea to
advance a nuclear-weapons program or for China to develop the
technology required to place multiple warheads atop a single mobile
missile. The congressional committee investigating potential Chinese
espionage concluded that it would be more difficult for Beijing to
exploit secrets it may have acquired from the U.S. if it can't conduct
nuclear tests.

Under the CTBT, America would gain the security benefits of outlawing
nuclear tests by others, while locking in a technological status quo
that is highly favorable to us. We have conducted more than 1,000
nuclear tests--hundreds more than anyone else. We do not need more
tests to protect our security. Would-be proliferators or modernizers,
however, must test if they are to develop the kind of advanced,
compact nuclear weapons that are most threatening.

During the abbreviated Senate consideration of CTBT, many Senators
raised concerns about verification and preservation of a safe,
reliable nuclear deterrent. We take these concerns seriously and are
prepared to explore a variety of ways to resolve them. We believe
that, with hard work, favorable action on CTBT will become possible.

A second challenge we must meet is posed by the combination of our
development of a limited National Missile Defense (NMD) system and our
deep stake in preserving the benefits of the Antiballistic Missile
Treaty of 1972, which bars such systems.

The ABM treaty has contributed much to strategic stability. It
reassures leaders in Washington and Moscow about each other's
intentions and gives them confidence to pursue mutual reductions in
nuclear arsenals. This sense of confidence remains essential to both

But the strategic environment has changed greatly since the treaty was
signed. Iraqi Scud attacks during the Gulf War showed the dangers of
theater-range missiles in hostile hands. And tests of longer-range
missiles by North Korea and Iran raise concerns that must be

While the U.S. military provides an overwhelming deterrent to any
rational adversary, we must also worry about how to deal with
potential threats from sources that are not rational. And it is
against these dangers that the Administration is developing and
testing a limited NMD system, with a decision on deployment possible
as early as next summer. This decision will be based on our overall
security interests and will take into account cost, threat,
technological feasibility and effects on arms control.

For deployment to occur under the treaty, certain changes would be
necessary. We have been discussing these with Congress, our allies and

To date, Russian leaders have strongly objected to any treaty
modifications and accused us of undermining the entire system of
international arms control simply by raising the subject.

This is an overreaction. The limited changes we are contemplating
would not undermine Russian security. In fact, because Russia and the
U.S. are vulnerable to the same threats, we are prepared to cooperate
with Moscow on missile defense.

In response, Russia must do more than just say nyet. It is in our
mutual interests to develop an arrangement that preserves the
essential aims of the ABM treaty, while protecting us from the new
dangers we both face.

Unfortunately, our consideration of NMD has aroused serious concerns
not only in Russia, but also in Western Europe, China and elsewhere.
As Secretary of State, I have repeatedly had to rebut fears expressed
by my counterparts that the U.S. is intent on going it alone,
disregarding the interests of former adversaries and current allies

These fears were fueled by the vote on CTBT, and especially by the
view some Senators expressed that efforts at nonproliferation are
useless and naive. According to this thinking, agreements such as the
CTBT will limit America's options but have no effect on rogue
states--who will promise anything but allow nothing to slow their
quest for nuclear arms.

It is plainly smart to anticipate that some countries will try to
cheat on their obligations. It is not smart to conclude--as some
do--that if we can't guarantee perfect compliance with the rules we
establish, we are better off not establishing rules at all.

Consider that during the first 25 years of the nuclear age, five
countries tested nuclear weapons. In the 29 years since, two, India
and Pakistan, have joined the list. Knowledge about how to build
nuclear arms has spread, but far fewer nations than we once predicted
are acting on that knowledge. Why?

The answer is that global standards do matter. Over the years, nations
have increasingly embraced the view that it is unnecessary and
dangerous to develop nuclear weapons.

This view has given birth to a framework of legally binding
agreements, including nearly universal participation in the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Of course, neither law nor world
opinion can compel nations to act against their own best interests.
But most countries find it in their interests to operate within the
law and be perceived as doing so.

Why else, for example, did South Africa, Brazil and Argentina abandon
their nuclear-weapons programs; or Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine
return nuclear weapons to Russia after gaining independence; or China
decide to sign the CTBT; or India and Pakistan agree, in principle, to
do the same?

North Korea joined the NPT and then evaded its obligations under it.
But why did North Korea even take on those obligations? And why should
we conclude that because that pact was violated, efforts at arms
control are fruitless? After all, North Korea's secret activities
first came to light as a result of inspections under that agreement.

Obviously, agreements do not erase the need for a powerful military
deterrent, but they do establish rules that increase the chance that
our deterrent will succeed in preventing war. They complicate efforts
by potential adversaries to develop and build nuclear weapons. They
provide for wide-ranging verification systems that complement our own
monitoring capabilities. And they make it more likely that others will
join us in a common response against those who break the rules.

Americans must resist the temptation to think the strength of our
armed forces means we no longer need help from others. It is simply
impossible to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction unless
countries work together.

Moreover, for almost six decades, American leaders have strived on a
bipartisan basis to achieve security for our nation within a broader
framework of security for all who desire to live in peace and respect
the rights of others. In this era of readily available and highly
destructive weaponry, this is the only true path to a secure future.
And the only way to ensure that the U.S. remains respected, not only
for our economic and military power, but also for the power of our
example and our ideals.

Restoring an American consensus on reducing the dangers posed by
nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles is among the most vital and
complex challenges our leaders face. It will be a central priority
during the remainder of this Administration and will surely preoccupy
the next.

It is my hope that historians will view the Senate vote on CTBT not as
marking the death of arms control but rather as a wake-up call--which
spurred responsible leaders from both parties to come together and
ensure the U.S.'s continued leadership in building a safer, stabler,
freer world.

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State.)