The News and Observer
(Raleigh, NC)
January 13, 1998

Ban is the best defense

Nuclear weapons served the useful purpose during the Cold War of containing the Soviet Union's dangerous zeal for expansion. Now, well past the Cold War's end, huge nuclear stockpiles are no longer necessary for America's self-defense.

But despite some progress toward disarmament and a voluntary worldwide moratorium on testing, nuclear weapons still threaten international security and the planet's very future. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty being considered by the Senate represents an invaluable chance to help put the nuclear weapons genie back in its bottle.

The treaty, which President Clinton signed in December 1996, would drastically reduce the nuclear threat by prohibiting all nuclear explosions, above and below ground. That prohibition would hamper rogue nations from building nuclear arsenals and current nuclear powers from developing new weapons, thus strengthening the 1995 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

But the new treaty can't go into effect until it's ratified by 44 specific countries, including the five major nuclear powers (the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China) and three so-called "threshold" states on the verge of full nuclear capability (India, Pakistan and Israel).

U.S. opponents' main objections are that the treaty would compromise national security, by preventing defense scientists from testing the nuclear arsenal's reliability and safety, and that compliance would be too difficult to verify. A recent administration proposal adequately addresses the first concern, hinging continued U.S. participation on annual assurances from the secretaries of defense and energy that the arsenal is in good shape. They'll be able to provide that assurance without full-scale testing by relying on computer simulations and by independently testing weapons' non-nuclear components, which are most subject to aging.

As for verification, the treaty calls for the creation of an international network of more than 300 monitoring stations that would allow scientists to determine whether suspicious tremors were seismic or military events. That network, along with other provisions, would in fact strengthen U.S. intelligence capabilities.

The Senate should ratify this enforceable worldwide agreement because it would be a large step toward eliminating the threat of nuclear warfare - the ultimate act of defense.

Furthermore, the United States opened the door to the nuclear age and has a special responsibility to provide leadership in closing it. Without the wholesale commitment that ratifying the treaty would represent, U.S. rhetoric on nuclear non-proliferation simply won't hold water, and an international testing moratorium with teeth won't stand a chance.