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. costs.

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.


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 Council.


- The U.S., China, France, Britain, and Russia have signed the treaty.
- 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.