South Asian Nuclear Tests Cloud Prospect for CTBT Ratification

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DESPITE THE Clinton administration's increased efforts to achieve Senate action on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the prospects for ratification this year have not improved in the aftermath of the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests in May. While the administration has pointed to the nuclear testing in South Asia as a reason why it is now even more important for the Senate to act on the CTBT, key Republican senators, including Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), have argued that the new testing makes the treaty irrelevant. India, for its part, appears to have taken a more conciliatory tone with respect to the CTBT, but it is not clear what conditions New Delhi places on its becoming a signatory. Throughout May, President Clinton repeatedly called on India and Pakistan to sign the CTBT "immediately and without conditions."

Earlier this year, the administration began a campaign to raise the visibility of the CTBT with the Senate and American public. (See ACT, January/February 1998.) Following India's and Pakistan's nuclear tests, the administration renewed its push for immediate Senate action on the test ban. In a May 16 radio address just days after the Indian nuclear tests, Clinton said, "Now it's all the more important that the Senate act quickly, this year, [on the CTB] so that we can increase the pressure on, and isolation of, other nations that may be considering their own nuclear test explosions." Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, during her May 20 commencement address to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, said, "Now, more than ever, India should sign [the CTB Treaty]; and Pakistan, too. And it is doubly important for the Senate to act quickly to approve that treaty. American leadership on this issue should be unambiguous, decisive and strong."

Although the events in South Asia have not generated any new opposition to the CTBT on Capitol Hill, key critics show no sign of changing their views any time soon. In a strongly worded statement issued May 29, Lott said, "The nuclear spiral in Asia demonstrates the irrelevance of U.S. action on the [CTBT]. The CTBT will not enter into force unless 44 countriesincluding India and Pakistan-ratify it. That is not likely. Instead, it now appears likely that the Administration's push for the CTBT actually accelerated the greatest proliferation disaster in decades: two new nuclear powers emerging in the last few weeks."

In addition, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC) still treats the treaty as a low priority, refusing to even schedule committee hearings until after it has considered and voted on the amendments to the ABM Treaty and the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. The administration, however, does not plan to submit the ABM agreements to the Senate until after Russia has ratified START II, a move that is not expected before this fall at the earliest. It also has no immediate plans to submit the Kyoto Protocol to the Senate, due to the lack of participation by key developing countries.

Nevertheless, proponents of the test ban continue to show their unwavering support for the treaty. In his May 13 floor remarks, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) said, "[T]he nuclear detonation in India makes it more important than ever that the United States move ahead with leadership to try to defuse the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and that the Senate should act promptly to ratify the [CTBT]. …