In a largely partisan vote on Wednesday, the U.S. Senate rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) against nuclear weapons testing, signed by President Clinton in 1996. The rejection has created a storm of criticism, warning of “international embarrassment,” damage to America’s status as a “global moral leader,” and the rebirth of the nuclear arms race.
How America is embarrassed by the treaty’s repudiation is not specified, nor is it obvious, unless it is now embarrassing for your country’s elected representatives to defy an agreement that limits your country’s right to defend itself.
As an ardent supporter of the Treaty, losing this battle with the Senate may embarrass President Clinton, but he has embarrassed himself, his office and the country so many times that he should be used to it.
America’s status as a “global moral leader” is, if anything, enhanced by the evidence that at least some Senators realized that Clinton cannot be trusted with foreign policy. If only implicitly, this is a lesson to all countries that America is not yet completely willing to subordinate its national sovereignty to global opinion.
The Treaty’s supporters claim that America’s ratification would be a major step towards total nuclear disarmament and world peace. All of the world’s 44 nuclear-capable nations must sign and ratify the Treaty, which prohibits even underground nuclear tests, before it takes effect. American ratification, it was claimed, would renew pressure on those countries to follow suit. India, Pakistan, and North Korea have not signed the Treaty at all, and Russia, China and Iran are among the 15 signatory nations who have not ratified the Treaty. That these are the countries who are supposedly waiting to follow America’s lead is reason enough not to ratify the Treaty, but whether or not America’s ratification would encourage global nuclear disarmament is irrelevant.
Senate Republicans, led by John Kyl (AZ) and Jesse Helms (NC) argued persuasively against the Treaty, primarily on the grounds it could not be enforced effectively, and that maintaining America’s nuclear arsenal requires more than the computer-modeling system that is currently being used.
However true, even these arguments do not identify the central issue. To be truly the world’s moral leader, and, more importantly, to defend its citizens and interests, the United States must assert morally the right to its own defense.
Under no circumstances — particularly in cooperation with hostile nations — should America hobble its defense forces by limiting itself to current technology and computer models. A treaty such as this — which undoubtedly America would follow assiduously (as it is already doing) while other nations circumvent it — sacrifices our capacity to develop and maintain the weapons necessary to defend ourselves and deter whatever threats may exist or emerge. Fundamentally, it sacrifices the principle of self-defense.
Treaty supporters claim that the likely escalation in weapons testing by Russia, China and other hostile nations will put America at a disadvantage. (That such tests have occurred secretly — in China’s case using stolen nuclear technology — and are not easy to detect reveals the lie behind the Treaty’s enforceability.) This is only because America is already disarming itself by a foolhardy, self-imposed moratorium on testing.
The answer to this — and the possibility of a new arms race — is that America should resume testing — and as openly as national security permits. Let those nations who want to shackle America’s defense know the strength of our arms should they attack American lives or interests.
While the crucial principle of America’s right to defend itself remains unstated, unasserted and even threatened, the embargo on testing continues and treaty-ratification remains a possibility for the next Senate. Not only should the CTBT be torn up, but so also should the SALT II agreement (which Russia has never ratified), 1972’s Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty, and every other arms limitation agreement which infringes America’s right to self-defense.