Telegram & Gazette
(Worcester, MA.)
September 26, 1997


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 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 the 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 vote.

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 still are being developed and stockpiled by other nations - North Korea, Iran, Syria, Iraq - whose intentions are unpredictable.

Nevertheless, the risk seems acceptable, and achieving a nuclear-free world should be the ultimate 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.