The world's major powers today deplored the Senate's refusal to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, claiming it marked an American retreat from global arms control that will encourage the spread of nuclear weapons and erode confidence in Washington's leadership.
The foreign criticism of the Senate's action was striking in its universality, as close American allies joined neutral Third World states and traditional big-power rivals such as Russia and China in expressing their dismay. Many governments voiced alarm about a dominant superpower seemingly bent on adopting policies in disregard of world opinion.
While more than 150 nations have signed the test ban treaty, it cannot enter into effect until all 44 nuclear-capable countries, including the United States, have ratified it. Only 26 have done so.
Only last week, the leaders of France, Britain and Germany made a rare joint appeal to the Senate Republican majority to reconsider its opposition to the treaty. In the aftermath of Wednesday's Senate vote, the leading European allies expressed annoyance at how their pleas were brushed aside.
French President Jacques Chirac said the Senate vote would inflict "serious damage" to the cause of nuclear disarmament, and aides said he was particularly dismayed that the views of America's allies were ignored.
In Germany, Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping called the vote an "absolutely wrong" decision. Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said his country and other European nations were "deeply disappointed" and feared it would seriously harm the cause of nuclear disarmament. "It is a wrong signal that we deeply regret," he said.
George Robertson, the former British defense secretary and new secretary general of NATO, also described the Senate decision as a "very worrying" act. But he expressed the hope that Congress could be persuaded to change its mind after next year's presidential election. "I hope that maybe when we've got over the election fever in the United States, the Congress will look again and see that arms control is something that's in everybody's interest and that we really have to press ahead with it," Robertson said.
In Japan, Foreign Minister Yohei Kono said the negative impact was "immeasurable" on the cause of disarmament and nonproliferation. "The adverse effects are inestimable, and it is of extreme concern," Kono said. "We had been hoping for U.S. leadership in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, so the result is very regrettable."
While the United States may seem to have squandered its leverage in convincing other countries to refrain from testing nuclear weapons, none of the states that possess nuclear arsenals said they were prepared to break off test ban commitments.
India and Pakistan, which conducted nuclear tests last year and triggered fears of an escalating regional nuclear race, said they would follow self-imposed moratoriums as they sought to nurture a public consensus that would enable them to sign the test ban treaty.
Among the five declared nuclear powers, France and Britain have already ratified the treaty. And in spite of the Senate rejection, both China and Russia declared their intention today to proceed with ratification as quickly as possible.
While expressing "deep regrets" over the Senate action, China announced it had no plans to break a moratorium on nuclear testing that it has maintained since its last explosion, in July 1996. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said the Beijing government is determined "to accelerate the process of ratification."
One Chinese official said China would factor the U.S. rejection of the treaty into its subsequent strategic calculations. While the official did not say that Beijing might reconsider its agreements with the United States on weapons nonproliferation and other security issues, it appears likely that the treaty's rejection will further cool Beijing's relationship with Washington and heighten feelings there that the United States cannot be trusted.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, warned that the Senate action risked ushering in a new arms race.
"It leaves us with the impression that America has a double standard," he said. "You tell the rest of the world not to do something, and then you go ahead and do it. It is very contradictory."
In Moscow, a government spokesman said President Boris Yeltsin had ordered the necessary documents prepared for speedy ratification of the test ban treaty. But there were serious doubts that the State Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament, would be willing to move quickly on arms control matters, including the long-stalled START II treaty that would curtail U.S. and Russian strategic weapons, in the wake of the Senate action.
"This decision is a serious blow to the entire system of agreements in the field of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin said. "There is a definite trend visible in recent times in U.S. actions, and it causes deep alarm."
Beside the defeat of the test ban treaty, Rakhmanin cited the U.S. pursuit of a national antimissile defense and the frequent brandishing of sanction threats in the area of export controls as examples of American arrogance "which are destabilizing the foundations of international relations."
Even more than the fate of the test ban, Russia and China are worried about a growing clamor in the United States to stop adhering to the terms of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty in order to develop a missile-defense shield.
Sha Zukang, China's top arms control official, said in a recent interview that any attempt by the United States to make itself invulnerable to nuclear missiles would trigger a dangerous new arms race. And if the United States sought to extend such a shield over Asian allies such as Japan or Taiwan, it would bring the world perilously close to nuclear confrontation.
"If the United States builds a ballistic missile defense, it would destroy the very foundations of arms control and put all of our common achievements at risk," Sha said. "Unfortunately, this is a terrible direction in which we are heading because of the current American mind-set."
Correspondents John Pomfret in Beijing and Daniel Williams in Moscow contributed to this report.