More than two years ago President Clinton signed and sent to the Senate for ratification the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The majority party held no hearings and showed no interest in considering the treaty until last week. Suddenly, on Friday, Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) responded to pressure and announced that he would bring it to a vote on Oct. 12.
In his announcement, Lott also disclosed his opposition to the treaty, calling it "dangerous" for our country. He couldn't be more wrong.
It is critical that the Senate ratify this treaty. Designed to ban the testing of nuclear weapons, it has been decades in the making. Its origin is with President Dwight Eisenhower. More than four decades later, we finally have a treaty with 154 signatories that has now been ratified by 47 countries. Fifteen of our 18 NATO allies have ratified it, including our two allies that possess nuclear weapons. And the world now waits for action by the United States.
The objectives of the treaty are simple and compelling. It will allow the United States to retain a safe and reliable nuclear deterrent. But by preventing testing, it will inhibit the development of more advanced weapons by the nuclear powers, and it will establish roadblocks to the acquisition of nuclear weapons by those countries that would like to possess them.
Opponents of this treaty have alleged that it is supported by "extremists" who want to "disarm" the United States.
Let's review that list of so-called "extremists." They include four former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including Gen. Colin Powell and Adm. William Crowe, the current chairman, Gen. Hugh Shelton, and the current secretary of defense, William Cohen. All of them strongly support the treaty. Does anyone really think they would support a treaty that would "disarm" or endanger our nation? It's an absurd argument.
In fact, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs maintains that this treaty will "inhibit the development of nuclear weapons by other countries while including safeguard provisions which will protect our country's interest." The point is, the treaty includes safeguards providing that if another nation resumes testing, the United States can also test to protect its national security.
The treaty's detractors, including Sen. Lott and others, will argue that it can't guarantee with 100 percent certainty that another country won't test nuclear weapons. Therefore, they maintain, we shouldn't even try to prevent nuclear testing. But if 100 percent certainty were the test of every human endeavor, we'd still be living in caves.
Action always involves risk--but inaction frequently involves more risk, and that is certainly the case here. Every single effort in arms control has met with a chorus of opposition from the flat-earth choir. Yet in every instance they have been wrong. Arms control agreements have successfully reduced the stockpile of delivery vehicles and nuclear weapons in the world. Because of these agreements, fewer nuclear weapons are aimed at our country, fewer countries have missile programs, and fewer countries seek nuclear weapons. But the threat of the proliferation of nuclear weapons remains, and that is why this treaty is so important.
The Senate should heed the quiet, sound advice of former senator Mark Hatfield, one of the first U.S. soldiers to walk the streets of Hiroshima after the nuclear strike on that city. He said, "It is clear to me that ratifying [the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] would be in the national interest. It is equally clear that senators have a responsibility to the world, the nation and their constituents to put partisan politics aside and allow the Senate to consider this treaty."
The description of a nuclear war in which, as Nikita Khrushchev said, "the living would envy the dead" should motivate every American to demand that our country ratify this treaty now.
The Senate has a choice. It can pay attention to the hysteria of those who have opposed nearly every arms-control agreement in the past, or it can muster the courage to ratify this treaty and offer the world the full promise of our leadership to fight the further spread of nuclear weapons and reduce the threat of nuclear war.
The writer is a Democratic senator from North Dakota.