A Quaker Lobby in the Public Interest
NYT Editorial: The Test Ban TreatyThe New York Times
May 25, 2009
The Test Ban Treaty
Nearly 17 years ago, after more than 1,000 explosions, the United States conducted its last underground nuclear test. President George H. W. Bush, following Russia and France, announced a voluntary moratorium and the other major nuclear powers — Britain and China — made the same pledge with more or less enthusiasm. Since then, 180 countries have signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
That’s all very good news. The bad news is that the test ban treaty, which would go beyond the voluntary moratorium and legally bind states to not test, has never come into force.
That is because the United States and eight other nuclear-capable states whose participation is required — China, North Korea, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Iran, Israel and Egypt — have not ratified it.
A formal ban on testing would make it harder for nuclear-armed states to build new weapons, and place another hurdle in the way of any country — Iran comes immediately to mind — thinking of starting an arsenal. North Korea’s announcement that it had tested a nuclear device on Monday is a stark reminder of the many dangers out there.
In September 1996, President Bill Clinton was the first leader to sign the treaty. But the drive to bring it into force hit a wall three years later when the Senate voted 51 to 48 against ratification, with most Republicans opposed. President George W. Bush buried the pact even deeper during eight destructive years in which he disparaged arms control and weakened the international rules that for decades helped curb the spread of nuclear weapons. So it is important that President Obama has vowed to “immediately and aggressively” pursue ratification of the test ban treaty. He has asked Vice President Joseph Biden to shepherd the treaty in the Senate.
The campaign got an important boost from two Republican former secretaries of state, George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, who have urged ratification. Mr. Shultz was right when he said in Rome last month that the old arguments against the treaty — cheaters might not be detected and the safety and viability of American weapons could not be guaranteed without testing — have been put to rest by advances in technology.
A task force led by former Defense Secretary William Perry, a Democrat, and Brent Scowcroft, a Republican former national security adviser, also concluded that the treaty is in America’s national security interests.
Still, Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden will have to invest considerable effort and political capital to win ratification. Senate sources say no more than 63 senators would now vote for the treaty, four less than the two-thirds majority needed. Two key Republican senators who need to be won over are John McCain, who said in the 2008 presidential campaign that the treaty deserved another look, and Richard Lugar, former Foreign Relations Committee chairman, who has said he would “study it thoroughly.”
We hope they, and any others who are skeptical or undecided, will withhold final judgment until the administration completes a review that aims to answer their doubts with updated data. Another Senate defeat would probably doom the treaty forever.
One can shrug and say that such treaties are leftovers from the cold war. That is wrong, especially in a world where nuclear appetites are growing.
A test ban will make it technologically much harder for other countries to press ahead with weapons development. And if Washington has any hope of rallying diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions for constraining Iran’s nuclear ambitions or North Korea’s program, it has to show that it, too, is willing to play by the international rules. For both of those reasons, the Senate needs to ratify the test ban treaty.