Las Vegas Review-Journal |
(Las Vegas, NV)
September 23, 1997
Testing ban goes to Senate
BYLINE: John F. Harris
UNITED NATIONS One year after he came here to sign a global treaty banning
nuclear weapons testing, President Clinton on Monday told the General Assembly
that he is ready to send the treaty to the Senate for ratification, beginning
what senior administration officials said could be a hard-fought, months-long
debate with arms control skeptics.
Clinton last year signed the treaty with a flourish, boasting that his
administration brought to fruition an idea that had eluded arms control
negotiators for nearly four decades. But other priorities, including the need to
lobby the Senate to approve a chemical weapons treaty, delayed action on the
test ban treaty.
At his annual appearance, Clinton told the 52nd session of the General Assembly
that 'our common goal' should be for the testing ban to enter 'into force as
soon as possible.' The United States and the four other major nuclear powers
Russia, China, Britain and France have pledged to abide by terms of the
treaty, although seismic readings recorded last month have raised questions
about whether Russia conducted a secret test.
Anti-nuclear activists in Las Vegas welcomed the president's action, but said it
doesn't go far enough. While full-scale tests have been on hold since 1992 and
Clinton intends to ban them forever, the United States has since engaged in a
program of conducting small, subcritical nuclear experiments. Those experiments,
the activists say, violate the spirit of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Rick Nielsen, executive director of Citizen Alert, a statewide environmental
group, claims information from the experiments can be used to design new weapons
under the guise of the Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship Program. The 10-year,
$40-billion program relies on the experiments combined with computer
simulations and a high-tech superlaser facility being built in at the Lawrence
Livermore National Laboratory in California to assess how nuclear materials age
in the stockpile.
'There's a danger in using the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty as a stamp of
approval for the Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship Program,' Nielsen said.
His warning was echoed by Reinard Knutsen, a spokesman for the Shundahai
Network, an international anti-nuclear group with an office in Las Vegas.
'We are glad the president is supporting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
but he needs to do what he says. Right now the United States is involved in
programs to develop more advanced and more dangerous weapons,' Knutsen said.
Department of Energy officials have countered the activists' claims, saying
the experiments, as their name implies, are designed to stop short of erupting
into a criticality, or nuclear chain reaction. The experiments actually bolster
the treaty, they say, by ensuring the U.S. stockpile is safe and reliable.
The second such experiment of the year, Holog, was conducted last week
beneath Yucca Flat at the Nevada Test Site, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
A total of 146 nations have so far signed the nuclear anti-testing treaty,
although only Japan and three others so far have ratified it. Two prominent
holdouts from the signatories are India, which has said it does not envision
signing soon, and Pakistan, which has said it cannot sign as long as India
abstains. Both nations are among the 44 actual or potential nuclear powers that,
under the treaty's rules, can block it from taking effect.
A more immediate concern for the administration is opposition to the treaty at
home. Hoping to answer objections that a ban on testing would erode the potency
and deterrent effect of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, Robert Bell, the National
Security Council's senior director for arms control, said the administration has
arrived at a plan, with a projected annual cost of $4.5 billion, to use nuclear
labs and supercomputers to ensure the effectiveness of the arsenal without
setting off bombs.
Many Republican lawmakers have said they feel no urgency about taking up the
test ban treaty, which they say has lesser priority than a package of United
Nations reforms and legislation supporting the expansion of NATO, according to
Marc Thiessen, a spokesman for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He said
some lawmakers 'have a lot of concern' about a test ban and predicted that the
treaty likely would not be considered by the committee before the middle of next
year at the earliest.
In Monday's address, Clinton also said pending legislation in Congress makes him
more confident than ever that the United States will soon repay its long overdue
bill to the United Nations, but warned the money will come with strings
attached. He and U.S. lawmakers want other nations to pay a larger share of U.N.
But Clinton's linkage of back dues the United States pays the largest share of U.N.
costs but is in arrears by more than $1 billion to an agreement on a
'more equitable' funding formula and other reforms put him at odds with
Secretary General Kofi Annan. Moments before Clinton spoke, Annan delivered a
barbed message to nations that are behind in payments, lecturing them to 'do
what your legal obligations require: to liquidate your arrears and to pay your
future assessments in full, on time and without conditions.'
The Clinton administration's pledge to get out of debt is not new, but Clinton
said that 'for the first time since I have been president, we have an
opportunity to put the questions of debts and dues behind us once and for all
and to put the United Nations on a sounder financial footing.'
White House national security adviser Samuel 'Sandy' Berger said the optimism is
fueled by legislation recently passed in the Senate with the support of Foreign
Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, R-N.C, a critic of the United Nations.
The bill would pay about $819 million of the money the United States owes but
would require that the U.S. share of U.N. funding drop from its current level of
25 percent to 22 percent this year, and to 20 percent by 2000.
COMPREHENSIVE NUCLEAR TEST BAN TREATY
President Clinton announced Monday that he has sent the global treaty banning
nuclear test explosions to the U.S. Senate for its advice and consent to
ratification. A look at the treaty's main points:
Scope: The treaty bans any kind of nuclear weapons test explosion.
Verification: An international monitoring system would be set up to check
treaty violations. The network of 201 stations would be able to detect
underground atmospheric or underwater explosions more powerful than the
equivalent of 1,000 tons of conventional explosive.
Inspections: Any country would be able to request an inspection to see
whether an explosion had been carried out. Such requests could be based on
information collected by the international monitoring system or through
surveillance by individual countries - but not through spying activities. A
request for an inspection would require 30 votes in the 51-member Executive
- The U.S., China, France, Britain, and Russia have signed the
- Israel is expected to sign Wednesday.
- India, another known power, says it won't sign the treaty in its current form.
- The treaty can't become law until 180 days after all 44 nations with nuclear
power or nuclear research reactors sign it.
Organization: The seat of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization
would be in Vienna, Austria. Decisions would be made by the 51-member Executive
Council, whose representatives would be chosen regionally.