Vote Scheduled on Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
One of the major advantages of being the majority party in Congress is the ability to schedule votes when the timing and the vote count seems right. The Senate received this treaty for ratification more than two years ago. Up until last week, Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had refused to act on it.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), a vocal opponent of the treaty, has now scheduled a vote on the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty for Tuesday, October 12. He explained his change of heart about scheduling action on the treaty as follows: "We have said to our colleagues on the other side of the aisle we don't think this is a good treaty; we think it puts safety in jeopardy; we think its puts us in a weakened condition internationally; and we think it is dangerous. However, since there have been calls and demands for a vote, we have offered to vote... I am a little puzzled why the Democrats now are saying: We don't want to vote. I presume they are saying it because it may fail. The Senate will have a debate, and the Senate will vote. If there is not a two-thirds vote, it is over; it is defeated."
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) replied that "we are extremely disappointed with the way this has been handled. As I said, I believe it is irresponsible and dangerous. But we also note this may be the best we can get, and if it is the best we can get, as troubled as well are, we will take it. We will have our day in court. We will make our best arguments. We will let the judgement of this Senate prevail." He later added, "to rush to judgment on an issue of this importance is not the way to do business."
When President Clinton sent the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to the Senate in September 1997, he called it "the longest-sought, hardest-fought prize in the history of arms control." The treaty bans underground testing and would provide for verification through more than 300 monitoring stations and on- site inspections. Weapon component testing is allowed if no radioactivity is released. The treaty has been signed by 154 nations. To take effect, all 44 countries with nuclear power plants or research reactors must ratify it; to date, 23 nations have. It is felt that U.S. ratification would lead to other nuclear-capable countries taking similar action.
Faced with a short deadline, President Clinton announced yesterday that he will be leading efforts to persuade senators to vote for the treaty. He warned, "This is very important to protecting our people from the danger of nuclear war. It would be, in my judgement, a grave mistake not to ratify the treaty." Clinton will be concentrating his efforts on undecided Republican senators. Seven Republicans, and all Democrats support the treaty. The President will need to convince 15 Republicans to vote for ratification.
The Senate Armed Services Committee held the first of three hearings this week on the treaty. Today's closed hearing received testimony from officials with the DOE weapons laboratories and the CIA. Sunday's "Washington Post" ran a front page article with the lead paragraph that the CIA "has concluded that it cannot monitor low-level nuclear tests by Russia precisely enough to ensure compliance with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty." The Post notes that senior congressional officials were told of the CIA assessment before Majority Leader Lott scheduled the treaty vote. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will have a hearing on the treaty later this week.
The Council of the American Physical Society adopted a Statement on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in April 1997. See FYI #143 for the text of this statement. Tomorrow, the American Geophysical Union and the Seismological Society of America "will issue a position statement on the capability to monitor compliance" of the treaty; see FYI #144 for the text of that statement.
Richard M. Jones
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics