Los Angeles Times
February 9, 1998


In 1996 President Clinton became the first world leader to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which prohibits all nuclear weapon tests and other nuclear explosions. But the long-sought pact, which has since been signed by 147 other countries, still awaits U.S. Senate consideration. Responsibility for the holdup falls on Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who has yet to schedule hearings on the treaty. His inaction threatens to prevent the United States from having a seat at the table next year when a special conference of nations that have ratified the treaty meets to consider how the accord can be more quickly put into force. The possibility that the world's leading nuclear power will be without a voice at that important meeting is as embarrassing as it is absurd.

Helms in effect is holding the test ban treaty hostage until, as he put it in a recent letter to Clinton, "the Senate has had the opportunity to consider and vote on the Kyoto Protocol and the amendments to the ABM Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty." The Kyoto Protocol deals with global warming and includes a U.S. promise to reduce its emissions of hydrocarbon gases, which some conservatives oppose. Helms and other Republicans want to amend the ABM treaty signed with Moscow to allow a national ballistic missile defense system to be built. The case for such an expensive and dubiously effective system has by no means been made, and the political costs of unilaterally insisting on reinterpreting a major treaty have been all but ignored by its proponents. In any case, both the ballistic missile defense system issue and the global warming problem are utterly unrelated to the aims of the test ban treaty.

Presidents of both parties have always recognized the urgency of limiting access to nuclear weapon technology; the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty is among the chief accomplishments of that effort. It makes no sense now to deny the United States and the rest of the world the chance to further control the spread of nuclear arms.

A few weeks ago four former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who together have served Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton, endorsed Senate ratification of the test ban treaty. They recognize that its implementation would not diminish national security or the integrity of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Surely their expertise ought to count for more in the Senate than the transparently ideological agenda of Jesse Helms.