Courtesy Reuters


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

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  • Terry L. Deibel is Professor of National Strategy at the National War College. This article is based on a detailed case study, "Inside the Water's Edge: The Senate Votes on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty," published by the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University. The views expressed here are solely the author's.
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