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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 41, November 1999

Aftermath Of US Senate CTBT Rejection


In the wake of the Senate's rejection of the CTBT on October 13, senior figures in the Clinton Administration and both parties in Congress have been attempting to minimise the damage to American credibility as a responsible member of the international arms control community. Of the other declared nuclear-weapon states, Britain and France have ratified the ban, and China and Russia have affirmed that their intention to do so will not be affected by the Senate vote. Indeed, on November 17, President Yeltsin announced to the heads of state and government gathered in Istanbul for the summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE): "Today, I have signed the draft law on ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. This means that Russia is making its concrete and real contribution to strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime and strategic stability. I call on all states to follow this example."

On October 28, Senator John Warner (Republican - Virginia), the Chair of the Armed Services Committee who voted against the test ban, called for the establishment of a bipartisan commission to reconsider the merits of the accord and address the concerns that led to its defeat. According to Warner, another objective of the commission would be to help "dispel much of the confusion in the world about why this Senate failed to ratify the treaty." In Warner's plan, the commission would be composed of 6 Republicans and 6 Democrats, with two co-Chairs, one appointed by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (Republican - Missouri), the other by President Clinton in conjunction with Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (Democrat - South Dakota).

In a speech in Chicago on November 10, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced the creation of a "high-level task force" to garner support for the accord. According to Albright, "this team will carry the dialogue to Americans from all walks of life to explain and analyze the treaty." She also implied that the Administration would not be deaf to concerns and reservations about details of the treaty, saying that the process of seeking US ratification may come to "include at an appropriate point the potential need for additional conditions and understandings."

On November 12, Vice-President Al Gore listed six foreign policy steps key to advancing US national interest: item 1 was that "our next President must resubmit the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and demand its ratification by the Senate."

The fiercest opponents of the test ban are questioning the wisdom, following the October 13 vote, of the US committing funds to the treaty's International Monitoring system (IMS) - $16 million of funds are allocated for that purpose in a $12.6 billion foreign aid bill snarled, as of mid-November, in other disputes between the Administration and Congress. On October 29, White House spokesperson David Leavy claimed that any withdrawal of support for the IMS would be "clearly damaging to our national security" and "makes no sense whatsoever in terms of America's interests." Leavy added: "After voting down the CTBT, to say we don't care if anyone else is testing is a ludicrous position... Dismantling this monitoring system is to eliminate one of the tools we have already to watch what is happening around the world."

On October 21, a survey carried out by the Pew Research Center for The People & The Press was published, showing that only 49% of 1,022 telephone respondents telephoned across the US between October 15-19 were aware of the Senate's decision. 21% of respondents said they had "heard a lot" about the vote. 47% of all respondents thought the Senate decision was "a bad thing", with 27% describing it as "a good thing." Of the 49% of respondents who had heard about the vote, 35% said the Senate had made the right decision while 49% said the Senate had made a mistake.


Speech by Secretary Albright, Chicago, November 10: "[It is important] not to overreact [to this setback]... The United States has not gone crazy. ... [The blame for the setback can be attributed both] to the Senate for giving the treaty short shrift and to the administration for not doing enough to lay the groundwork for a successful debate. ... [I] f we do not accept the rules we insist that others follow, others will not follow them either. The result will be a steady weakening of nuclear controls. If efforts at control fail, within a couple of decades or less a host of nations, from the Middle East through South Asia to the Korean Peninsular, could possess nuclear weapons and the ability to deliver them at long range."

Article by Albright in Time Magazine, published November 22 (remarks released to the press, November 14): "I have repeatedly had to rebut fears expressed by my counterparts that the US is intent on going it alone... These fears were fuelled by the vote on the CTBT and especially by the view some Senators expressed that efforts at non-proliferation are useless and naive. ... It is plainly smart to anticipate that some countries will try to cheat on their obligations. It is not smart to conclude - as some do - that if we can't guarantee perfect compliance with the rules we establish, we are better off not establishing rules at all. ... [We need] responsible leaders from both parties to come together and ensure the US's continued leadership in building a safer, stabler, freer world."

Remarks to the Press by John Holum, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Washington, November 9: "[The Senate decision is] a detour rather than a reversal on the road to ratification... [Many Senators] who voted against the treaty nonetheless want to start the process [of reconsidering it] and have encouraged a process of sharing information, working out possible conditions and understandings that would allow the treaty to go forward. ... If something very good internationally were to happen, I think perhaps the outlook would change. If we could get 43 other ratifications, so that the United States was the only country left - I think that would have some influence on the Senate... It's unlikely that there will be renegotiation of the treaty. ... [But] we have a lot of consultations to do. And what I'm arguing is that ultimately this treaty will be ratified. Whether next year, the year after that, or even later."

Resolution Adopted by the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Amsterdam, November 15: "The current moratorium on nuclear testing by the declared nuclear powers has not undermined the Alliance's nuclear deterrent."

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, New York, November 2: "It's pretty hard to say on the one hand that we feel very strongly about Pakistani and Indian nuclear testing and on the other hand the US Senate won't ratify the...treaty... The last thing the United States wants to see is a resumption of nuclear testing or the proliferation of nuclear weapons - and it is the last thing Australia wants to see. By refusing to ratify this treaty, the United States Senate has done a lot to undermine the arms control agenda that the international community, including Australia, has been working on."

Sha Zukang, Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Department of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Beijing, October 25: "I believe there is no question that we will ratify the treaty. It is only a matter of time. ... We will never adopt double standards. The Chinese Government will firmly honour its political commitment to the CTBT."

Reports: Poll gauges test ban vote opinions, Associated Press, October 21; China wants to pass nuclear treaty, Associated Press, October 25; Commission on test ban approved, Associated Press, October 28; White House advocates nuke monitors, Associated Press, October 29; American block on treaty undermines arms control - Downer, Sydney Morning Herald, November 2; Holum says Senate dismissal of CTBT a 'detour,' not a 'reversal,' United States Information Service, November 10; Albright promises new push for test-ban treaty, Chicago Tribune, November 11; Text - Gore on use of diplomacy and force in post-Cold War era, United States Information Service, 12 November; Albright calls for US consensus on arms control, Reuters, November 14; NATO Assembly knocks US Senate on test ban treaty, Reuters, November 15; Yeltsin, upstaging US, endorses N-Test ban, Reuters, November 17.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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