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
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. …