Courtesy Reuters

The Death of a Treaty

ADVICE AND CONSENT

On October 13, 1999, the U.S. Senate conspicuously failed to give its consent to ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The CTBT was the Clinton administration's major arms control initiative at the time, and the treaty's high-profile rejection was widely considered the president's worst foreign policy defeat in Congress. The vote was a stark 48 to 51 -- not even a majority in the treaty's favor, and far below the two-thirds required for approval.

Despite the Democratic takeover of the Senate in 2001, the CTBT still sits with the Foreign Relations Committee, where it reverted at the end of the 106th Congress. Even if the Senate were to act, the treaty's ratification by President George W. Bush seems most unlikely. The United States continues to maintain the moratorium on nuclear weapons testing that it has observed since 1992, but the administration argues that the war on terrorism may require the development of new tactical nuclear weapons and it wants to shorten the time that it would take for the United States to resume nuclear testing. Moreover, although Bush professes deep concern about the spread of weapons of mass destruction in the wake of September 11, he shows little faith in the efficacy of treaty law as a means of thwarting it. The administration has, to be sure, signed and sent to the Senate a two-page arms reduction treaty with Moscow. But it repeatedly said that such a treaty was unnecessary, agreed to it largely as a quid pro quo for Russia's acquiescence to the U.S. abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and made sure that the document avoided the kind of specific language that has served to bind contracting parties throughout the history of arms control.

Looking back, the Senate's defeat of the CTBT may well have been a turning point in American statecraft if not in world politics, marking at the least a setback for efforts to regulate weapons through detailed arms control treaties, and possibly their end. The Senate's action

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