September 25, 1997
Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty:
Time is right for ratification
President Clinton said while visiting the United Nations in New York this
week that he is now ready to seek Senate ratification of the nuclear
test-ban treaty that he signed last year. The long-delayed treaty, while
relatively modest, is an important step toward the desirable goal of freeing
the world of the nuclear-weapons tests that can have such detrimental
effects both environmentally and politically.
In his other major pronouncement at the United Nations, Clinton
essentially yielded to the wishes of North Carolina's Sen. Jesse Helms
and other conservative Republicans. Even though he well knows that the
United States ought to act honorably and fairly and pay the back dues it
owes the United Nations, Clinton officially voiced the position pushed
upon him by Helms and others: that the United States insists on linking
payment of the more than $1 billion it owes to the adoption of certain
In taking such a stance in defiance of new Secretary General Kofi Annan,
who was selected to please the United States, Clinton apparently bowed
to the political realities of the U.S. Congress.
Observers can only hope that Clinton was also reflecting political realities
and not just optimism in his decision to send the test-ban treaty to the
Senate. During the year since he signed the treaty, he has been lobbying
Congress to gain support. In an effort to calm those opponents of the
treaty who fear that a ban on testing will mean the United States won't be
able to keep its nuclear arsenal in working order, he has backed a
program of computer and laboratory testing.
No doubt there will be serious confrontation on this issue, as there was on
the chemical-weapons treaty that was finally ratified in April. One major
issue will be the continuing objections from India. India, which is believed
to have nuclear weapons, objects to the treaty on grounds that it doesn't
set a timetable for the nuclear powers to get rid of all nuclear weapons.
Pakistan has said it will follow India's lead, and a few other rogue states
such as North Korea, Iraq and Libya are refusing to sign the treaty.
Despite these holdouts, ratification by the U.S. Senate would be
significant. By joining other major nuclear powers in the testing ban, the
United States would make a serious political commitment to stop all
nuclear tests. A test ban is desirable not only because of the potential
environmental harm from nuclear explosions, but also because new
rounds of testing could lead to new competition and weapons escalation
among the nations of the world, something that no one should want.
The United States hasn't tested nuclear weapons since 1992. We have
the edge on other nations in the nuclear arms race anyway, as the only
nation to have used the weapons in war. We have tested them many
times, and we are the only superpower in the world today.
A test ban makes sense politically and strategically as well as morally, and
the Senate should not miss this promising opportunity to rid the world of
nuclear weapons tests.