September 29, 1997
Senate should ratify historic treaty banning nuclear tests
President Clinton used his address to the General Assembly of
the United Nations to urge world leaders to "end all nuclear tests
for all time." He then sent the test ban treaty he had signed a
year ago to the U.S. Senate for ratification.
Clinton called the treaty "our commitment to end all nuclear
tests for all time, the longest sought, hardest fought prize in
the history of arms control."
Indeed, it is proper that the United States, the world's largest
nuclear power, should lead other nations into the post nuclear age.
But it should do so carefully, fully aware of the lingering danger
of nuclear confrontation that rogue governments or even terrorist
organizations could trigger.
Opposition to the ban is rooted in concerns that if all test
explosions are prohibited, the United States could not count on
its nuclear arsenal to work. Unreliable weapons could place America
in a vulnerable position and encourage others to renege on their
commitments and start hostilities.
While Clinton was the first world leader to sign the treaty last
year, the pact would not take effect unless all 44 countries with
known nuclear capability ratified it. Some countries -- India and
Pakistan, for example -- are holdouts. The United States hasn't conducted
a nuclear test since 1992.
The battle line in the Senate is likely to follow the one drawn
before ratification of the chemical weapons treaty in April. While
most Democrats favored that agreement, many Republicans opposed
it, with several GOP senators changing their minds just before the
The opposition is not without merit, to be sure. Even though
the Cold War is over, the United States cannot become complacent
while nuclear weapons are being developed and stockpiled by other
nations -- North Korea, Iran, Syria, Iraq -- whose intentions are
Nevertheless, the risk seems acceptable, and achieving a nuclear-free
world should be the goal of all responsible nations. Besides, should
a nuclear threat endanger America's security, Washington could,
and should, revise its position on testing.
Meanwhile, the Senate should ratify the treaty.