The Cavalier Daily
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Politics sabotage nuclear security

AS ONE might well expect, the Senate's rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty last week prompted an explosion of anger both here and abroad. After the treaty failed a ratification vote mainly along party lines, Democrats viciously attacked Republicans for playing politics with nuclear weapons. Internationally, most of our allies -- 26 of the 44 nuclear-capable powers have ratified it -- expressed shock and outrage that we had so readily abandoned our leadership role on nuclear issues.

The anger, however, likely will be the least significant reaction to the rejection. The Senate's decision not to ratify the CTBT was a risky one in terms of our national security. What's inexcusable is that we ended up facing that risk for almost purely political reasons.

First, we should dissect the risk we now face. Many Republicans ostensibly chose to vote against ratification because they felt the treaty could not be enforced completely. This is not a rational way of looking at the security situation. Frankly, no treaty can be enforced completely -- there's no way short of invasion to make any country do what it doesn't want to do. The question with a treaty like CTBT is whether it does something positive for the security situation. And CTBT does.

True, not every nation will sign it. But if we can get countries like India and Pakistan, which use nuclear tests as hostile acts, to join in the ban, then we've done something positive for our national security. Seismologists and satellites can monitor countries that have signed on. While the existence of CTBT won't itself prevent all nuclear tests, it can stop a large number.

Look at it this way: You can have no enforcement of a ban on nuclear testing, or you can have some. Complete enforcement is not a feasible option. It simply doesn't make sense to reject the possibility of some enforcement because you can't have perfection.

Republicans also opposed the treaty on the grounds that tests of nuclear weapons are needed. Given the large amount of data available and the sophisticated computer programs for handling it, it certainly seems that simulations could work. And of course, there is the fact that we haven't needed to test our nukes in the past seven years. It's hard to believe that there will be a compelling need to do so in the future.

Of course, the Republicans said that the treaty actually would affect our security adversely because there would be monitoring stations to keep an eye on our compliance. This seems to be an insignificant trade-off, if it is one at all. Given that nations usually need to test nuclear weapons in the course of a development program, the CTBT offers an important method to resist nuclear proliferation. Keeping in mind that we already have monitoring due to arms limitation treaties, and that we have been under a self-imposed testing moratorium since 1992, the balance sheet looks pretty good if we approve the treaty.

But we haven't, and that refusal will have some consequences. The new military government in Pakistan (now equipped with nuclear missiles) has indicated that it will not sign the treaty at this point, using America's rejection as an excuse. India likely will not either. China has a self-imposed moratorium itself, but the reaction of Asia's greatest military power to the treaty now is uncertain. In short, the Senate's refusal to ratify already has had a destabilizing effect on the pact, which now is likely to fail. That this compromises American security should be obvious.

That leaves us to ask why the Senate decided to vote the treaty down. The Republicans have phrased their reasons for rejecting CTBT as above, but those reasons seem to be entirely irrational. Even stranger is that many of them are attempting to call this sudden about-face they have forced in our foreign policy an example of our leadership. Sabotaging a good treaty in the name of leadership is the same as shooting people in the face in the name of gun control.

More indicative of what was really going on was the backroom politics of the situation. Originally, Republicans didn't want to vote on this at all. Regardless of the line the party wished to take, they simply didn't want this issue coming up in an election year. The Democrats initially were willing to accommodate this request. President Clinton, however, was not willing to accept the stipulations that Senators Helms and Lott wanted to add to the change. The result is now a moderately sordid part of our history.

Sadly, there are no heroes here. The Republicans should not have rejected the pact. They should not have requested that the time of discussion be moved, and they certainly should not have been completely unwilling to send it back to committee (a move Helms vehemently opposed). The Democrats, on the other hand, should not have forced the issue when they knew that they did not have enough votes to get the treaty ratified. Ultimately, however, the party line won.

And the American people lost.

(Sparky Clarkson's column appears Tuesdays in The Cavalier Daily.)

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