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Executive Summary #1183 on Asia

May 21, 1998

May 21, 1998 | Executive Summary on Asia

BG1183es: India's Nuclear Tests Show Folly of Rushing Test BanTreaty

The Clinton Administration is expected to demand that the Senate move quickly to take up the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which would prohibit the kind of nuclear weapons testing that India undertook last week. This treaty has profound implications for the security of the United States, and the Senate should not allow itself to be bullied by the Administration. By taking the time to conduct a careful review of the CTBT, the Senate will discharge its responsibility to make a well-informed judgment on this complex and far-reaching treaty, which took four decades to negotiate.

The Senate should move deliberately for several reasons:

REASON #1: India's recent nuclear tests make it clear that the CTBT will not enter into force in the foreseeable future Ratification by 44 specified states is required for the treaty to enter into force. Three of them--India, North Korea, and Pakistan--have not even signed the treaty, and only six have formally ratified it. India stated at the conclusion of the CTBT negotiations in 1996 that it had no intention of signing the treaty. As a practical matter, India's series of nuclear tests on May 11 and May 13 have put a global ban on nuclear testing out of reach for some time to come.

REASON #2: By moving carefully, the Senate can better determine whether the CTBT will undermine America's nuclear deterrent
The Senate must determine whether the Department of Energy and the national laboratories can guarantee the safety and reliability of America's nuclear arsenal under test ban strictures. It must therefore take the time to review the Department of Energy's Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program. It also must assess whether the ban on the construction of new nuclear weapons and replacements for America's aging arsenal will endanger national security.

REASON #3: The Clinton Administration is using a 1999 examination conference to force early consideration Ratifying states may request a conference in 1999 to examine the reasons why others have not ratified the CTBT. Administration officials are demanding early approval of the treaty so the United States can participate. By itself, the conference will have little impact. There are fears, however, that the Clinton Administration will use the conference to modify treaty provisions to allow the CTBT to go into effect without holdout states India, North Korea, and Pakistan. This would make a mockery of the Senate's consideration of the CTBT and ignore Senate prerogatives to review amendments to treaties under the advice and consent process.

REASON #4: The Administration is attempting to implement provisions of the CTBT before it is ratified
The United States is participating in--and funding--the treaty implementation activities of the Vienna-based Preparatory Commission of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization. Further, the U.S. is helping to maintain existing monitoring stations and establish new stations that will be used to verify treaty compliance. Some of these facilities are located on U.S. territory. In each case, the Clinton Administration is acting as if the Senate already had consented to the treaty.

REASON #5: History demonstrates that the Senate is often justified in giving deliberate consideration to far-reaching arms control agreements
Arms control agreements frequently assume that the existing security environment will remain unchanged for some time to come. Unforeseen events, such as India's nuclear tests, can leave the United States in the position of having to honor arms control agreements that actually undermine its security in a new era. One example is the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which barred the United States from deploying an effective missile defense system. The United States continues to honor this treaty, even though the other treaty partner (the Soviet Union) no longer exists, and despite the emergence of new threats unforeseen in 1972, such as the risk of accidental or unauthorized missile launches from Russia and the proliferation of missile technology to rogue states such as Iran and North Korea.

REASON #6: The Senate has more pressing business on its treaty agenda
Several items on the Senate's treaty agenda require its immediate attention. These include a package of three agreements related to the ABM Treaty, signed by a U.S. delegation in New York last September, and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Administration is attempting to bypass the Senate by implementing provisions of these treaties without Senate review. In the case of the agreements related to the ABM Treaty, the Clinton Administration has yet to send them to the Senate for consideration, despite President Clinton's clear commitment to do so. The Senate has no choice but to step in and assert its prerogatives in the face of the constitutionally suspect actions of the Clinton Administration.

India's recent nuclear tests have proven the need for a careful and considered review of the CTBT. The issues surrounding ratification of the treaty are complex, and the implications for America's national security are profound. Members of the Senate should proceed without haste and without apology as they undertake the important job that the Constitution has entrusted to them.

Baker Spring is a Senior Policy Analyst with The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis International Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Baker Spring F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy