Omaha World-Herald
October 23, 1997

'U.S. Should Lead on Test Ban Treaty'

BYLINE: Isabel Cohen

Recently new information was released indicating that the entire U.S. population received some level of exposure to radioactive iodine from above-ground nuclear weapons tests conducted during the 1950s and '60s.

The National Cancer Institute's 14-year study suggests that more than 100 nuclear tests may be the cause of 10,000 to 75,000 cases of thyroid cancer nationwide. Although this study reflects the effects of above-ground nuclear tests, which were banned in the early 1960s, the United States also conducted more than 800 underground nuclear tests between the 1960s and 1992.

We may never know the full environmental, economic and public health effects of above- or underground nuclear weapons testing, but we now have an opportunity to end nuclear testing once and for all. On Sept. 22, exactly one year after signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, President Clinton took the first step with these words, "Our common goal should be to enter the CTBT into force as soon as possible, and I ask for all of you to support that goal . . ." President Clinton urged that the Senate ratify the treaty.

Critics contend that the treaty would weaken U.S. national security. Yet today, there are nearly 38,000 nuclear warheads worldwide, more than 10,000 of which are in the United States. The Department of Defense concludes that the current arsenal meets U.S. needs throughout the foreseeable future.

A panel of U.S. military experts concluded that these arms are "safe" and "reliable" without further testing. Many prominent military officers, including the last three chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff - Admiral Crowe, General Powell and General Shalikashvili - have endorsed the treaty.

The treaty is also critical to help stop the spread of nuclear weapons throughout the world. A central goal of the treaty is to freeze new weapon design and development by nuclear and non-nuclear nations and the subsequent risk of deployment. Ending underground nuclear testing severely hampers new weapon research.

The treaty establishes a strict verification system. A global network of monitoring stations, satellite imagery and on-site inspection teams would detect and investigate potential violations of the treaty.

This treaty continues the efforts at ending the nuclear threat begun with the nonproliferation treaty. An end to nuclear weapons testing is the first in a series of steps to reduce the number of nuclear arms worldwide.

Sen. Jim Jeffords, R-Vt., said the "enactment of a comprehensive test ban would do more to stem proliferation and reduce the nuclear threat than any other action we could take at this time."

The United States played a leading role in the development of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and has not conducted an underground nuclear test since 1992. Today there are 146 signatories to the treaty, including all five of the nuclear superpowers: the United States, Russia, England, France and China.

Only seven countries have formally ratified the treaty, making U.S. leadership imperative. However, the treaty will not enter into force until all 44 countries with nuclear technologies ratify it. As the world's leading military and nuclear power, U.S. ratification would encourage others to do the same.

More than 70 percent of Americans support a global ban on nuclear weapons testing. The will of the people must be heard by the Senate, where the treaty now lies.

Please let Sen. Chuck Hagel, who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, know where you stand. His vote will be crucial to its passage.