The day after they voted nearly unanimously to reject the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, many Republican senators said yesterday they do not want the United States to resume nuclear testing, still hope a test ban can be approved in the future and believe America should remain in the forefront of arms control efforts.
"There is no technical urgency" to resume testing immediately, which "would be a double blow to a somewhat astonished world," said Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
Warner proposed that President Clinton appoint a bipartisan commission under former defense secretary James R. Schlesinger to find a way to make the test ban treaty acceptable to the Senate. He predicted that the treaty would be approved "someday . . . though not in the foreseeable future."
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), who voted against the treaty, and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), who voted for it, also appealed for a bipartisan effort to stop nuclear testing and deter the spread of nuclear weapons.
"We should continue our moratorium on testing," said Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). "We should use all our skills and resources in concert with other nations to limit the spread of nuclear weapons."
Such conciliatory language was typical on the morning after a vote that evoked stinging criticism around the world. A dozen Republican senators who voted against the treaty said in interviews that they want to continue the seven-year-old U.S. moratorium on nuclear tests. Another dozen declined to answer questions about what the United States should do in the field of arms control.
Several Republican senators and their aides expressed discomfort with the 51 to 48 vote, in which only four Republicans joined 44 Democrats in supporting the treaty. An aide to one prominent senator who voted against the treaty said his boss had wanted to postpone consideration of the test ban and was disappointed that a few "extremists" had forced a vote on it.
"Ninety out of 100 senators didn't want to do this," the aide said.
During the abbreviated debate on the treaty, many of its critics said it could not be enforced or verified and would prevent the United States from maintaining the reliability of its nuclear deterrent. Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) said yesterday that he and his staff, working with experts at New Mexico's Los Alamos National Laboratory, had identified four possible understandings that could have made the treaty more acceptable, "but we didn't have the time to think them out."
Domenici added that he could imagine reconsidering and approving the treaty in a few years, if "some better arrangement with the Russians and other countries" can be worked out to prevent cheating and guarantee the reliability of the U.S. arsenal without testing.
"I don't believe we will lose the leadership on disarmament. That will continue," Domenici added.
Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who decided to speed the treaty to a vote with little time for debate, said yesterday that "this treaty in five years or 10 years, with corrections, may be something we'd want to consider again."
Lott sent a letter to Defense Secretary William S. Cohen asking for a comprehensive review of the state of the U.S. nuclear arsenal to "identify ways the administration and Congress jointly can strengthen our nuclear deterrent in the coming decades." Cohen did not immediately respond, but Energy Secretary Bill Richardson announced that his department would undertake a thorough review of its $4.5 billion-a-year Stockpile Stewardship Program, which checks U.S. weapons using laboratory tests and computer simulations rather than underground nuclear explosions.
Lott also proposed that the Senate undertake a study to determine whether U.S. policies have contributed to the "heightened proliferation" of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons during the Clinton administration.
The office of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) put out a news release Wednesday that seemed to indicate ambivalence about his vote against the treaty. Though he could not support ratification "right now," the news release quoted McCain as saying, "The concept of a global ban on testing has considerable merit. Defeating the treaty would not only imperil our prospects of attaining that objective at some future point, it would in all likelihood send a green light to precisely those nations we least want to see test that it is now okay to do so. Such a development, I think we can all agree, is manifestly not in our national interest."
A few hours later, after the option McCain had favored of deferring the vote had been abandoned, McCain voted against the treaty.