Nuclear weapons can be eliminated: Chapter 8, Part 4

Chapter 8: Now in the United States
Part 4: Ratification

by Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writer

Deliberations over the CTBT continue in the U.S. Senate

At this stage, U.S. lawmakers and others close to Capitol Hill, on the whole, are reluctant to speak about developments regarding ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Predictions are being withheld as to whether the U.S. Senate will ratify the CTBT prior to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference to be held next May. This is partly due to the fact that ratification, or rejection, of the CTBT by the U.S. Senate will have a significant impact on the world's nuclear non-proliferation regime, including how the NPT Review Conference itself unfolds.

Ratification requires at least 67 votes, two-thirds of the Senate's 100 seats. Currently, the ruling Democratic Party holds 60 seats. Even if every Democratic senator supports ratification, the party would still be seven votes shy, so it must persuade some members of the Republican Party to cross the aisle.

In 1999, the Democratic Party suffered a setback when the CTBT was rejected with less than a majority of the vote: 48 votes in favor and 51 votes against. "We must convince senators who opposed the CTBT back then that they won't be contradicting themselves by voting for it this time," said one source close to Congress. "To realize this, we must carefully lay the groundwork for the vote." In order to avoid a similar setback, lawmakers are moving forward with caution.

Those involved in the 1999 defeat attribute the opposition to doubts concerning such questions as: "Will the United States be able to ensure the reliability of its nuclear weapons without the opportunity to conduct tests?" and "How will the United States be able to detect and verify, within the framework of the CTBT, any nuclear tests conducted by other nations?"

With these doubts in mind, another Washington source shared information that may help persuade hesitant senators. "The Stockpile Stewardship Program" (SSP), which can maintain the reliability of nuclear warheads without conducting nuclear tests, has apparently produced satisfactory results. The success of detection systems, too, has been demonstrated through the two nuclear tests performed by North Korea. Since technology has advanced, "the situation is significantly different from ten years ago," the lawmaker said.

At the Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in September, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton expressed her resolve to see the treaty ratified by the United States. At the same time, she added a message for the U.S. public and the world at large by including the phrase "without jeopardizing the safety, security and reliability of our nuclear arsenal."

Currently, however, the Obama administration is grappling with a number of challenges apart from the issue of nuclear weapons. These challenges include passing bills aimed at global warming by regulating the emission of greenhouse gases and reforming the U.S. health care system to provide universal coverage. Voices in Congress are heard to say: "Congress is consumed with deliberations over these bills" and "Full deliberations over the CTBT will then be able to proceed."

Steve Andreasen of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a private organization established by former Senator Sam Nunn and others, said, "If the United States will conclude the agreement with Russia on the successor convention of the First Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START 1) within this year, its ratification procedures will take place prior to the ratification of the CTBT." The view that the CTBT will be deferred appears to be spreading.

It is believed the Democratic Party will be able to win wider support for the CTBT by focusing on moderates within the Republican ranks, including Senator John McCain, Mr. Obama's opponent in the presidential race. Dianne Feinstein, a Democratic senator and chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is a key player in the Democratic strategy. Ms. Feinstein expressed her determination to maneuver the CTBT through the Senate, saying, "It will be a tough fight, but I will do everything I can in the U.S. Senate to push for its ratification."

(Originally published on October 17, 2009)

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