New Era of Doubt over Arms Deals ; Woes of Test-Ban Treaty May Signal End of Bipartisan Accord on Armscontrol

By Jonathan S. Landay , writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, October 7, 1999 | Go to article overview
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New Era of Doubt over Arms Deals ; Woes of Test-Ban Treaty May Signal End of Bipartisan Accord on Armscontrol


Jonathan S. Landay , writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


A raging battle over whether the US should ratify a treaty banning nuclear-test explosions poses extraordinarily high risks for both the Clinton administration and its Senate Republican foes - and appears to mark the collapse of a 35-year bipartisan consensus in favor of arms control.

Yesterday, each side was looking for a face-saving way out of a scheduled up-or-down vote on the global Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Republicans were recognizing that if they voted the treaty down, in the first-ever Senate repudiation of an atomic-arms pact, Democrats could paint them as nuclear war-mongers in next year's elections. For his part, President Clinton was looking to avoid a humiliating foreign-policy defeat.

Whatever the outcome, one thing has become clear: The bir

partisan arms-control consensus of the cold-war era, which produced overwhelming votes to ratify every key nuclear treaty ever brought to the Senate floor, has for the most part evaporated.

"The political situation is different from anything I've ever seen in 30 years," says John Rhinelander, a member of the US delegation that negotiated the 1972 Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) with Moscow.

This divergence is rooted in a post-cold-war debate over how best to preserve America's military and economic power. On one side are those who believe US preeminence can be locked in through treaties and dialogue that advance democratic values and priorities shared with much of the world. On the other are those who contend that the United States faces an uncertain future filled with multiple threats, and that maintaining martial, technological, and economic dominance is the only way to defuse them.

The only nuclear-weapons treaty not ratified by the Senate was the 1979 SALT II. While it ran into GOP opposition, it was never voted on because President Carter withdrew it from consideration after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Senate GOP leaders are urging Mr. Clinton to do the same with CTBT, saying it lacks the 67 votes - two-thirds of the Senate - needed to pass. "If the vote occurs, I hope and I believe the treaty will be defeated," says Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R) of Mississippi, who surprised the administration last week by scheduling the CTBT vote for next Tuesday, after a two-year delay.

Acknowledging an uphill fight, Clinton said this week he intends to press on. "It would be, in my judgment, a grave mistake not to ratify the treaty," he said. Yet administration officials won't rule out the possibility that Clinton might yet withdraw the CTBT.

The White House and its backers say the treaty's defeat would be a devastating blow.

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