September 24, 1997


It has been nearly one year since the ink dried on the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty that President Bill Clinton signed with the same pen used 33 years earlier by John F. Kennedy on a similar agreement.

Clinton seized the occasion of his speech to the United Nations General Assembly Monday to submit what he called "the longest sought, hardest fought prize in the history of arms control" to a reluctant, Republican-controlled Senate for ratification.

The landmark 1963 test-ban treaty signed by Kennedy prohibited nuclear explosions in the atmosphere, in space and underwater, but permitted them underground. A followup treaty in 1974 set a size limit on underground blasts, but the current treaty seeks to ban all test explosions.

Clinton, who often has cited Kennedy's campaign to limit nuclear testing as one of his inspirations for entering politics, purposely delayed submitting the treaty to the Senate in an attempt to build political consensus. The U.S. has not conducted a nuclear test since 1992.

The other four acknowledged nuclear powers -- Great Britain, France, Russia and China -- also have signed the comprehensive test-ban treaty, along with representatives of many of the other 44 presumably "nuclear-capable" countries. India has been a conspicuous holdout because the treaty does not require the signatories to destroy their current stockpiles of weapons.

If the Senate ratifies the treaty in a spring vote, as it should, and all other nuclear nations sign on, the global ban could be put into effect by next September.

That would be a significant step toward a shared vision of a safer world, a major foreign-policy achievement for the Clinton administration and an appropriate tribute to the memory of Clinton's political role model, Kennedy.