Rejection Of Test Ban Treaty Sent Bad Message

15 October 1999

By Stentor Danielson

Which is worse: nuclear war or allowing that sleazeball Bill Clinton to accomplish something worthwhile before the end of his term in office?

A group of Republican Senators have clearly chosen the second option, as they managed to block an action on Wednesday that would postpone a vote on ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. As expected, the treaty then fell short of the two-thirds majority necessary for it to be ratified. I hope that those Senators are happy with making the world a less safe place, because I know I am not.

The treaty, which President Clinton signed in 1996 along with 154 other world leaders, calls for an end to the testing of nuclear arms.

Opponents of the treaty paint a fearful picture, in which the United States with its armaments crippled by an inability to innovate and perform maintenance checks, is nuked into oblivion by a rogue power. They worry that no monitoring system will be able to tell when a foreign power has performed tests. Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden or some other enemy of the United States could sneak up on us with a bomb while we faithfully comply with the treaty, allowing our arsenal to become decrepit.

Opponents forget that our nuclear arsenal is far superior to anything Hussein or bin Laden could scrape together in both quantity and quality. The bombs that we dropped on Japan at the end of World War II are mere toys compared to the firepower of a fraction of our current stockpile. We have little reason to continue developing nuclear arms, as no nation could successfully engage in an arms race with us. So we have no need to protect our right to test.

In fact, the US is so sure in its technological might that it stopped performing nuclear tests in 1992. Our arsenal is currently maintained by tests of less-than-critical mass samples and advanced computer simulations. So in effect, we are already obeying the test ban. Signing it would have no effect on our nuclear activities. But without the treaty, other nations are free to try to catch up.

Opponents are right in noting that it will be next to impossible to thoroughly monitor other nations' nuclear tests. But that does not make the treaty worthless, as they so handily conclude. The treaty would give the international community a defined policy in the event that a test is detected. This way, the response to nuclear weapons development would be concerted, efficient and swift.

Given the excitement surrounding the tests performed by India and Pakistan, I find it hard to believe that the existence of a full-fledged nuclear program could go undetected by the international community. A test ban treaty can only increase our vigilance, as well as giving us a clear justification for investigating rumors of nuclear activity. A nation that is not developing nuclear weapons should be happy to let us see that for ourselves. Without a treaty, they can dismiss us as nosy.

The defeat of the treaty also sends a bad message to the rest of the world. We are saying two important things: first, that we do not trust other nations to be responsible with their bombs, and second, that we approve of developing and maintaining a nuclear arsenal.

There will come a time in the not-too-distant future when the US is no longer the world's only superpower. When that time comes, we will be glad for the kind of friendship that comes only with trust. However, if we present ourselves as fearful and hiding behind the most awful device human hands have ever created, we will not win much trust. We might as well just nuke the rest of the world right now if we're going to be cowering behind our bombs for the rest of the foreseeable future.

More important, though, is the implicit approval of nuclear warfare. Even the Senators most dead-set against the treaty are in favor of a world without nuclear weapons. But in rejecting the treaty, we are telling the world that we love our bombs too much to restrict them even a little bit.

Other countries look up to the US because of our clear superiority in the current international scene. If nuclear arms are so vital to the security of the most powerful country around, it is hard to believe other nations won't feel compelled to follow that example.

Some nations have explicitly stated that they would wait to ratify the treaty until the US does. Among those nations are the world's two newest and most volatile nuclear powers, India and Pakistan. Given the current political crisis in Pakistan, I am very worried about giving these nations the green light to continue testing nuclear arms.

I have no doubt that nuclear test ban treaties will come up again in the future. Hopefully, the Senate of the time will be able to see the situation in a clearer light if they are free of the worry that history will ascribe any part of the accomplishment to Clinton. But I pray that it will not take disastrous repercussions from the current treaty's rejection to convince them.

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