"Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of thread, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us…The logical place to begin is a treaty assuring the end of nuclear tests of all kinds."

--President John F. Kennedy
September 25, 1961


President Kennedy’s words are just as true today as they were 37 years ago, when his young administration revived an effort begun by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to ban all nuclear weapons tests. Eisenhower said his failure to make any progress on a test ban "would have to be classed as the greatest disappointment of any administration—of any decade—of any time and of any party." Today, President Bill Clinton is close to achieving this long-sought trophy. Negotiated over two and one-half years in the Conference on Disarmament and now signed by 149 nations (including all five nuclear-weapons states) the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty awaits ratification by 44 specific nations, including the United States, before it can enter into force.

To-date, 13 nations have ratified the treaty, most recently, the nuclear-weapons states France and the United Kingdom. But three of these 44—India, Pakistan, and North Korea—have not yet signed. Whether these states will ever sign, or if the treaty can be effectively observed without their signing, depends in large part on the political will of the nations that do ratify the treaty. Here, the early ratification by the Unites States could be decisive. The Senate will likely consider the treaty later this year or early next. Though facing strong opposition from key Senators, the treaty enjoys such strong domestic support and is so vital to international non-proliferation efforts that it is likely to win approval if it can overcome several procedure hurdles and reach the Senate floor.(1)

A Brief History of the Test Ban

Efforts to ban nuclear test began almost as soon as the dust from the first nuclear explosion had settled back onto the New Mexico desert in 1945. Scientists responsible for the development of America’s nuclear weapons urged various restraining measures, including a test ban. In June 1946, the United States representative to the newly formed Atomic Energy Commission, Bernard Baruch, presented an American plan to stop the manufacture of all atomic bombs and to eliminate all bombs in the US arsenal. But rising US-Soviet rivalry and false hopes that the United States could maintain a nuclear monopoly thwarted these early proposals.

Eisenhower’s interest in a test ban stemmed from his military appreciation of the disproportionate destructive power of nuclear weapons. In a December 8, 1953 speech to the United Nations he noted, "A single air group, whether afloat of land-based, can now deliver to any reachable target a destructive cargo exceeding in power all the bombs that fell on Britain in all of World War II." By that time, the United States had already conducted 42 nuclear tests and had developed hydrogen bombs with the explosive power of several million tons of TNT. The United Kingdom and the Soviet Union had also acquired their own nuclear weapons. This meant two things, Eisenhower feared. "First, the knowledge now possessed by several nations will eventually be shared by others—possibly all others. Second, even a vast superiority in numbers of weapons…is no prevention, of itself, against the fearful material damage and toll of human lives that would be inflicted by surprise aggression."

In early 1958, the Soviet Union announced that it would stop testing if the United States would do likewise. Eisenhower responded by proposing that scientists from the two countries jointly assess the verifiability of a test ban. On the basis of the scientists’ findings, the president in October 1958 initiated formal negotiations for a comprehensive test ban and declared a moratorium on testing that lasted almost three years, until France tested in 1960 and the Soviet Union in 1961.

By 1963, President Kennedy argued that a test ban "would check the spiraling arms race in one of its most deadly areas. It would place the nuclear powers in a position to deal with one of the greatest hazards which man faces in 1963, the further spread of nuclear arms." But the United States and the Soviet Union could not agree on the number of on-site inspections and Kennedy settled for the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty banning nuclear tests in the atmosphere, underwater and in outer space. The signatories vowed in the treaty’s preamble that they would seek "to achieve the discontinuance of all test explosions of nuclear weapons for all time."

On many occasions during the next 30 years, the nuclear weapons states repeated their intention to end all testing, but never completed a treaty. However, President Lyndon Johnson negotiated, and in 1970 President Richard Nixon signed, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The treaty entered into force in 1970 with almost 100 nation as signatories. It now has 185 members—almost every nation in the world. The NPT remains the sole global, legal, and diplomatic barrier to the spread of nuclear weapons. Key to the promise by non-nuclear-weapon states not to acquire nuclear weapons is the pledge by the nuclear-weapon states, enshrined in Article VI of the treaty, to undertake good-faith negotiations on "effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament…" Three of these measures are explicitly cited in the treaty’s preamble: a comprehensive nuclear test ban; an end to the manufacture of nuclear weapons; and the elimination of existing nuclear weapons. A fourth is implied: refraining from the threat or use of nuclear weapons.(2)

President Jimmy Carter came close to fulfilling the test ban pledge in 1979, only to have the negotiations lose their momentum after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Negotiations were not resumed during the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan or George Bush.

Congress, in September 1992, moved into this presidential vacuum and mandated a September 1996 deadline for ending all U.S. nuclear tests. The "Hatfield Amendment," supported by Senators Mark O. Hatfield, George Mitchell, and James Exon, specified that:

    • The United States would begin a nine-month nuclear testing moratorium;
    • The President must submit to Congress, at least 90 days before any resumption of testing, a report that provides a plan for achieving a multilateral comprehensive test ban no later than September 30, 1996;
    • Any tests performed by the United States before the test ban target date would be limited to 15 and conducted for the purpose of weapon safety and reliability; and
    • The United States would not be the first nation to conduct a nuclear test after September 30, 1996.

President Bush reluctantly signed the law in October of that year, ending a 47-year testing program that included 215 atmospheric and 815 underground tests. Neither President Bush nor President Clinton used the 15 tests allowed under the moratorium to verify weapon safety or reliability.

The Soviet Union had observed its own testing moratorium since 1990. President Clinton extended the moratorium in July 1993, and at the Moscow Summit in January 1994, he and Russian President Boris Yelstin declared their intention to work to achieve a test ban treaty as quickly as possible and urged other nuclear weapons states to refrain from nuclear testing while test ban talks were underway. On January 25, 1994, the 61-nation Conference on Disarmament (CD) convened in Geneva, Switzerland to begin multilateral talks on a CTB treaty. The Conference is the only multilateral disarmament negotiating forum linked to the United Nations. A test ban had been at the top of the forum’s agenda since its inception in 1959.

Many nations participating in the CD are also members of the NPT and identified a test ban as a key indicator of whether the nuclear-weapon states took the treaty’s disarmament commitments seriously. Steady progress in the negotiations was a major factor influencing the decision by these nations to make the NPT permanent at the NPT Review and Extension Conference in April 1995. The states also strengthened the NPT by implementing a regular review process and adopting "Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament" as a yardstick for determining progress in realizing the treaty's purposes. The first specific measures cited in the document is the completion by the CD of "a universal and internationally and effectively verifiable Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty no later than 1996."

After two and one-half years of arduous negotiations, debate, and a last minute effort by India to block transmittal of the treaty to the United Nations, the treaty was approved by the UN General Assembly by a vote of 158 in favor, 3 against and 5 abstentions on September 10, 1996.(3)  On September 24, President Clinton became the first world leader to sign the treaty, using the pen President Kennedy had used to sign the Limited Test Ban Treaty 33 years earlier. His remarks to the General Assembly on that occasion outline the basic Administration position on the international security benefits of the treaty:

"By overwhelming global consensus, we will make a solemn vow to end all nuclear tests for all time…. This Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty will help to prevent the nuclear powers from developing more advanced and more dangerous weapons. It will limit the ability of other states to acquire such devices themselves. It points us toward a century in which the roles and risks of nuclear weapons can be further reduced, and ultimately eliminated.

"The signature of the world's declared nuclear power -- the United States, China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom—along with those of the vast majority of its nations—will immediately create an international norm against nuclear testing, even before the treaty formally enters into force. Some have complained that it does not mandate total nuclear disarmament by a date certain. I would say to them, do not forsake the benefits of this achievement by ignoring the tremendous progress we have already made toward that goal."(4)

All the nuclear-weapon states have now ended their test programs. China was the last nation to test, exploding two devices in 1996, for a total of 45 Chinese tests. France conducted the last of its 210 tests in 1996 as well. The United Kingdom, which had used the US test site in Nevada for its 24 underground tests, ended its 45-test series in 1991. Russia/Soviet Union conducted 715 tests from 1949 to 1990 (219 atmospheric). Including India’s underground test explosion in 1974, there have been 2046 known nuclear test conducted from 1945 until 1996.

Treaty Components

The treaty has 17 articles, two annexes, and a three-part protocol complete with its own two annexes. A summary of the treaty follows:

  • Basic obligations

The Treaty creates an absolute prohibition against the conduct of nuclear weapon test explosions or any other nuclear explosion anywhere. Specifically, each State Party undertakes not to carry out any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion; to prohibit and prevent any nuclear explosions at any place under its jurisdiction or control; and to refrain from causing, encouraging, or in any way participating in the carrying out of any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion.

  • Organization

The Treaty establishes an organization to ensure the implementation of its provisions, including those for international verification measures. The organization includes a Conference of States Parties, an Executive Council and a Technical Secretariat, which includes an International Data Center.

  • Structure

The Treaty includes a Protocol in three parts: Part I details the International Monitoring System (IMS); Part II on On-Site Inspections (OSI); and Part III on Confidence Building Measures. There are two Annexes: Annex 1 details the location of treaty monitoring assets associated with the IMS; and Annex 2 details the parameters for screening events.

  • Verification and inspections

The Treaty's verification regime includes an international monitoring system composed of seismological, radionuclide, hydroacoustic and infrasound monitoring; consultation and clarification; on-site inspections; and confidence building measures. The use of national technical means, vital for the Treaty's verification regime, is explicitly provided for. Requests for on-site inspections must be approved by at least 30 affirmative votes of members of the Treaty's 51-member Executive Council. The Executive Council must act within 96 hours of receiving a request for an inspection.

  • Treaty compliance and sanctions

The Treaty provides for measures to redress a situation and to ensure compliance, including sanctions, and for settlement of disputes. If the Conference or Executive Council determines that a case is of particular gravity, it can bring the issue to the attention of the United Nations.

  • Amendments

Any state party to the Treaty may propose an amendment to the Treaty, the Protocol, or the Annexes to the Protocol. Amendments shall be considered by an Amendment Conference and shall be adopted by a positive vote of a majority of the States parties with no State party casting a negative vote.

  • Entry into force

The Treaty will enter into force 180 days after the date of deposit of the instruments of ratification by all States listed in Annex 2 to the Treaty, but in no case earlier than two years after its opening for signature. Annex 2 includes 44 States members of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) with nuclear power and/or research reactors. If the Treaty has not entered into force three years after the date of the anniversary of its opening for signature, a conference of the States that have already deposited their instruments of ratification may convene annually to consider and decide by consensus what measures consistent with international law may be undertaken to accelerate the ratification process in order to facilitate the early entry into force of this Treaty.

  • Review

Ten years after entry into force, a Conference of the States Parties will be held to review the operation and effectiveness of this Treaty.

  • Duration

The Treaty is of unlimited duration. Each State Party has the right to withdraw from the CTBT if it decides that extraordinary events related to its subject matter have jeopardized its supreme national interests.

  • Depository

The Secretary General of the United Nations is the Depository of the Treaty and receives signatures, instruments of ratification and instruments of accession.

Ratification Prospects

Article two, section two of the U.S. Constitution empowers the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, providing two thirds of the Senators agree. At least 67 of the present 100 Senators must vote in favor of the treaty. Accordingly, President Clinton transmitted the CTB treaty to the Senate for its consideration on September 23, 1997, with a section-by-section analysis. He noted:

"The Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty is of singular significance to the continuing efforts to stem nuclear proliferation and strengthen regional and global stability. Its conclusion marks the achievement of the highest priority item on the international arms control and nonproliferation agenda. Its effective implementation will provide a foundation on which further efforts to control and limit nuclear weapons can be soundly based. By responding to the call for a CTBT by the end of 1996, the Signatory States, and most importantly the nuclear weapon states, have demonstrated the bona fides of their commitment to meaningful arms control measures."(5)

Since then, the President has spoken out strongly and often in support of the treaty, using opportunities including his State of the Union address, speeches before the UN General Assembly and a February 1998 visit to Los Alamos National Laboratory. So, too, have Secretary of Defense William Cohen, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and Secretary of Energy Frederico Peña and others. The treaty has the support of all of the Joint Chiefs and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Hugh Shelton.

In addition, the directors of the three national nuclear weapons laboratories—John Browne (Los Alamos National Laboratory), Bruce Tarter (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) and Paul Robinson (Sandia National Laboratory)—have all publicly expressed their confidence that the safety and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile can be ensured within a test ban treaty regime. In January 1998, four former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—Gen. John Shalikashvili, Gen. Colin Powell, Adm. William Crowe, and Gen. David Jones—supported Senate approval of the treaty.

The laboratory directors and the military leaders conditioned their support on the implementation of six "safeguards" the President has established and noted in his submission to the Senate with the treaty. The safeguards are as follows:

  • The conduct of a Science Based Stockpile Stewardship program to ensure a high level of confidence in the safety and reliability of nuclear weapons in the active stockpile, including the conduct of a broad range of effective and continuing experimental programs.
  • The maintenance of modern nuclear laboratory facilities and programs in theoretical and exploratory nuclear technology to attract and retain highly qualified scientists and technical experts.
  • The maintenance of the basic capability to resume nuclear test activities prohibited by the CTBT should the United States cease to be bound by the treaty.
  • The continuation of a comprehensive research and development program to improve treaty monitoring capabilities and operations.
  • The continuing development of a broad range of intelligence gathering and analytical capabilities and operations to ensure accurate and comprehensive information on worldwide nuclear arsenals, nuclear weapons development programs, and related nuclear programs.
  • The understanding that if the President of the United States is informed by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Energy (DOE) -- advised by the Nuclear Weapons Council, the Directors of DOE's nuclear weapons laboratories, and the Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command -- that a high level of confidence in the safety or reliability of a nuclear weapon type that the two Secretaries consider to be critical to our nuclear deterrent could no longer be certified, the President, in consultation with the Congress, would be prepared to withdraw from the CTBT under the standard "supreme national interests" clause in order to conduct whatever testing might be required.

To implement the last safeguard, the President has established a new, annual certification procedure for the nuclear weapons stockpile. On February 12, 1998, the president provided his second annual certification to Congress, including the following report from the secretaries of defense and energy:

"In response to your direction to conduct an annual certification of the nuclear weapons stockpile, we have thoroughly reviewed the safety and reliability of the stockpile under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The nuclear stockpile has no safety or reliability concerns that require underground testing at this time. Problems that have arisen in the stockpile are being addressed and resolved without underground nuclear testing to ensure the stockpile remains safe and reliable. In reaching this conclusion, we have obtained the advice of the Directors of the National Weapons Laboratories, the Commander in Chief, United States Strategic Command, and the Nuclear Weapons Council. We will continue to inform you annually on the safety and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile in the absence of underground nuclear testing, and in the context of the DOE's Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan."

The Stockpile Stewardship Program is, according to the Department of Energy, "a single, highly integrated technical program for maintaining the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile in an era without nuclear testing and without new weapons development and production."(6)  The program consists of a wide variety of new facilities, programs, experiments and activities. The total cost of facilities now planned or under construction is $2.6 billion, according to DOE. Annual expenditures for the program are expected to total $4.5 billion, or more than the department normally spent on nuclear weapons maintenance and production during the test years.

Senate Opposition

There remains, however, strong opposition to the treaty from conservative leaders in the Senate. The most important of these is Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is, in effect, the "gatekeeper" of the treaty: it must pass through the Foreign Relations Committee in order to get to a full Senate vote.

Senator Helms opposed the other two arms control treaty President Clinton submitted to the Senate, the START II treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention. Both were negotiated by and signed by President George Bush, but derided by conservative Senators. The Senate overwhelmingly approved START II, 87 to 4, on January 26, 1996. After several missteps by the Administration, Senator Helms was finally persuaded to allow the CWC to come to the Senate floor, where it was approved by a vote of 74 to 26 on April 24, 1996. The 26 Senators who voted against the CWC, a popular treaty backed by a strong lobbying effort from the chemical industry, are likely to vote also against a CTB.

Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss) represents the skeptical attitude these Senators have about arms control treaties in general and the CTB in particular:

"We have to be assured before we approve this treaty that it is clearly going to help protect security rather than the other way around. If it creates a more dangerous environment and is an incentive for others to cheat and steal a march on the rest of the world, and puts us at risk, then we would make a bad mistake to approve the treaty.''(7)

Senatorial concerns are fueled by a steady barrage of faxes, mail and visits from far-right advocates such as Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy. He writes in one of his numerous "Decision Briefs," against what he calls, "a prescription for the further, complete ‘denuclearization’ of the United States." Gaffney warns:

"Without nuclear weapons tests to assure the reliability and effectiveness of the existing nuclear deterrent- to say nothing of introducing continuous improvements that will enhance its safety and credibility- the U.S. arsenal will, in not too many years, become unsustainable and ineffectual as a means of deterring aggression and other grievous threats."(8)

This view reflects the position held my several Senators, key staff and some mid-level officials in the Department of Defense that the nation will have a continuing need for militarily useful nuclear weapons. That is, in addition to the role many believe nuclear weapons play in deterring a nuclear attack on the United States, its troops or allies, these individuals see a role for using nuclear weapons in combat against non-nuclear targets, in particular, chemical and biological weapons and facilities. To do so, however, it may be necessary to make the warheads smaller or adapt them to different delivery vehicles. This would necessitate new designs and testing. Thus, a test ban is seen as an unnecessary impediment to improving the military capabilities of the United States against the current and developing proliferation threats.

There are many Senators, perhaps a majority, who strongly support a test ban. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) believe:

"This treaty represents another useful and important step toward reducing the spread of nuclear weapons…The CTBT is an important step down the path toward a safer world. In simple terms, the United States, the country with one of the largest and certainly the most sophisticated nuclear weapons arsenals in the world, has the most to gain from freezing the competition in place."(9)

In the middle are Senators such as Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) who says he is "leaning strongly in support" of the treaty, but warns the treaty has no chance of passing unless the Senate can be assured that funding and programs are in place to sustain the safety and reliability of the nuclear stockpile.(10)

The question remains: Will eight additional Senators join the 26 likely opponents to defeat the treaty?

Senator Helms would prefer to delay the answer to that question. Days before the President’s State of the Union address this year, the Senator wrote him a letter:

"Mr. President, the Committee's first priority when Congress reconvenes will be to work with you and Secretary Albright to secure Senate ratification of NATO expansion. [approved, April 30, 1998]…. Following the vote on NATO expansion, the Committee will turn its attention to several other critical treaties which could affect both the security of the American people and the health of the United States' economy. Chief among these are the agreements on Multilateralization and Demarcation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, and the Kyoto Protocol to the U.N. Convention on Climate Change. Ironically, while the Administration has delayed in submitting these vital treaties to the Senate, some in your Administration have indicated that the White House will press the Senate for swift ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), immediately following the vote on NATO expansion. Such a deliberate confrontation would be exceedingly unwise because, Mr. President, the CTBT is very low on the Committee's list of priorities. The treaty has no chance of entering into force for a decade or more. Article 14 of the CTBT explicitly prevents the treaty's entry into force until it has been ratified by 44 specific nations. One of those 44 nations is North Korea, which is unlikely to ever ratify the treaty. Another of the 44 nations -- India -- has sought to block the CTBT at every step: vetoing it in the Conference on Disarmament so that it could not be submitted as a Conference document. India has opposed it in the United Nations. And, India has declared that it will not even sign the treaty…...

"Mr. President, let me be clear: I will be prepared to schedule Committee consideration of the CTBT only after the Senate has had the opportunity to consider and vote on the Kyoto Protocol and the amendments to the ABM Treaty. When the Administration has submitted these treaties, and when the Senate has completed its consideration of them, then, and only then, will the Foreign Relations Committee consider the CTBT."(11)

Demonstrating the high, personal priority the he attaches to the CTB Treaty, President Clinton immediately wrote back to the Senator (despite the swirl of events surrounding the President at that time). On February 10, he reasserted his strong support for the test ban and countered Senator Helms objections:

"I believe it is essential that the United States demonstrate leadership with regard to the crucial treaties and regimes that strengthen our global non-proliferation system. Rather than waiting to see if others will ratify the CTBT, I believe America must lead in bringing the CTBT into force. And with regard to India and Pakistan, I think it is important that when I travel to the subcontinent later this year I do so with U.S. ratification in hand."(12)

The President also deftly echoed concerns about the Kyoto treaty voiced by the Senate, i.e., it would be premature to commit the United States to the treaty until "key developing countries meaningfully participate in meeting the challenge of climate change."


During the first part of the year, the Clinton Administration conducted a well-orchestrated campaign to win Senate approval. Inter-agency cooperation was well coordinated and included a steady stream of faxed fact sheets produced by the White House Working Group on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.(13) Cabinet secretaries and key Senators have regularly and repeatedly voiced their support for the treaty and urged the beginning of Senate hearings. The President appears to have assembled the military and scientific support for the treaty that is normally sufficient to ensure passage.

In addition, there is strong public and editorial support for the test ban. The most recent survey of public opinion reveals that an overwhelming 70 percent of the American public support a treaty banning all nuclear explosions, while only 13 percent oppose it (17 percent are undecided).(14) With 26 out of 100 Senators likely to oppose the treaty, the Senate is twice as negative on the treaty as is the American public.

Moreover, these latest results are consistent with the high level of public approval for banning nuclear test over the past three decades. Polling data collected by the Roper Center for Opinion Research show strong public support ranging from 61 percent to 85 percent in favor of a limit or a ban on nuclear weapons tests since the question was first asked in 1957.(15)  As President Kennedy noted while savoring the popular approval garnered with the signing of the Limited Test Ban Treaty, "If I had known it was so popular, I would have done it along time ago."

The editors of The Salt Lake City Tribune reflect the logic many editors see behind the treaty when they opine:

"The theory of the treaty is simple. Without test explosions, it is difficult to develop reliable nuclear weapons, especially for newcomers to the nuclear club. That is less true for the five acknowledged nuclear weapons states -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- which have conducted extensive tests and can improve their weapons using computer simulations based on knowledge gained from prior detonations.

"However, the inability to conduct test explosions should retard the proliferation of nuclear weapons to wannabe nations such as Iraq, Libya, Iran and North Korea. Without tests, it would be difficult for them to develop advanced nuclear warheads that are deliverable by ballistic missiles."(16)

Significantly, the Tribune editors also sympathize with Senator Helms’ concerns over the ABM Treaty and favor deployment of a national missile defense system. Nonetheless, the editors conclude, "Helms should not hold up action on a test ban treaty that would advance U.S. security." Dozens of editors around the country have expressed similar sentiments, from the big-city New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Denver Post, to the St. Petersburg Times, Lexington Herald-Leader, Dayton Daily News and The News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina,

Strong public and editorial support are particularly import for this president, whose initiatives are often fueled by popular opinion as well as their intrinsic merits. This support reinforces the President’s own personal commitment to this treaty, which he has exhibited since the beginning of his Administration. While the Administration secured the indefinite extension and strengthening of the NPT and officials have been involved in dozens of arms control negotiations, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty remains the only arms control treaty bearing the personal signature of President Clinton. Whereas President George Bush in his four years signed two strategic arms reduction treaties, a treaty prohibiting chemical weapons, unilaterally eliminated thousands of tactical nuclear weapons and took all strategic nuclear bombers and many intercontinental ballistic missile off alert, the CTBT is the sole nuclear Clinton legacy. It would undoubtedly be a personal as well as a political defeat if the treaty were to fail.


With significant military, scientific, editorial and public support, and the strong personal presidential commitment, it appears likely that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty would win Senate approval, if it gets to the floor. Senator Helms remains the main hurdle, but, as in the START II treaty and the CWC, he is also a man willing to negotiate.

The cooperation of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) is also essential. No major treaty has ever passed the Senate when the majority leader was in active opposition. In the case of the CWC, Sen. Lott had a critical role in bringing the treaty to the floor and, although he voted against it, he withheld his vote until it was certain the treaty would pass and never took a lead role in opposing the pact. With NATO enlargement now decided, the exchange of letters in the first few months of the year suggests a deal waiting to be struck: consideration of the ABM Treaty amendments in exchange for a commitment to Senate hearings and consideration of the CTB this year.

To complete this deal, the Russian Duma would have to ratify START II, and that is by no means assured. Without Duma approval, it would be politically impossible to bring up either the AMB treaty amendments or the CTBT. Further, if Duma approval comes too late in the year, the Senate’s legislative clock—already one of the shortest in many years—could run out before the CTBT could be brought to the floor. With a favorable vote Duma vote, however, and a determined presidential push, there could still be enough time to consider the treaty before the Senate adjourns.

If time runs out and the President goes to South Asia without the benefits of a ratified treaty to help him press for action on regional proliferation concerns, the pressures would still be there for Senate consideration in early 1999. In fact, it is imperative that the debate does not slip into 2000. The Senate has never approved a major arms control treaty in a presidential election year. This history was lost on the Administration when it tried to win ratification of the CWC in 1996, only to see the treaty succumb to campaign politics as Senator Bob Dole withdrew his support in order to shore up his right flank.

The Administration seems to have learned the painful lessons of that failed effort. Officials regrouped and won CWC ratification in 1997 with the strong support of non-government organizations and business interests.(17)  The CTBT campaign has been tightly integrated with non-governmental support groups and has the attention of national security officials at the highest levels. Barring Duma failure to ratify START II, a major electoral defeat for the President’s party in the 1998 elections, or a scandal more serious than those yet alleged, the Administration should be able to win ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in late 1998 or early 1999.

US Senate approval would provide critical impetus to the international ratification process. With the United States, the United Kingdom and France on board, Russia and finally China could be expected to follow suit. Japan has already ratified and Germany and other nations possessing the technical ability to construct nuclear weapons could then be expected to ratify soon, knowing the US was committed to the treaty. Pressure would build on the hold-out nations to join. Even without ratification by all 44, there are a number of ways that the treaty might be effectively brought into force, or its test ban established as the international norm.

The treaty provides that in September 1999, three years after the treaty opened for signature, there could be a review conference by all those who have ratified to evaluate and confer on steps for bringing the treaty into force. Ambassador Wolfgang Hoffman, Executive Secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the CTBTO, suggests that this conference will certainly bring pressure on those who have not yet ratified, but may also be able to bring the treaty into force provisionally, as allowed by Article 14 of the treaty.(18)  Further, this meeting could come shortly before the first of the new review conferences for the Non-Proliferation Treaty convenes in 2000. A questionable or collapsing CTB process would ignite bitter debate at the 2000 Review, weakening the entire international non-proliferation regime.

The international effort to end nuclear testing, the longest marathon in nuclear arms control history, may well have several more years to go and several more significant hurdles to leap. It may be some time before there is a clear finish line. But the momentum seems difficult to resist at this point. It is, as then-Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright noted after the September 1996 UN vote, "a treaty sought by ordinary people everywhere. And today, that universal wish could not be denied."



1.  A wealth of information on the CTBT, including the treaty text and lists of signators and ratifications is readily available on the Internet. See the large and well maintained sites at: U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, http://www.state.gov/www/global/arms/ctbtpage/trty_pg.html;   Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO PrepCom), Vienna, http://www.ctbto.org/; and The Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers, http://www.clw.org/pub/clw/coalition/ctbindex.htm .

2. For further information on the relationship and history of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, see, "The Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Nuclear Balance," Joseph Cirincione, Current History, May 1995, available at: http://www.stimson.org/campaign/currhst.htm .

3. For additional background on negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament, please see "History of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Negotiations, Remarks by Joseph Cirincione at Arms Control Association Press Conference," Arms Control Today, September 1996, p. 6, available at: http://www.stimson.org/coalition/jcctbt.htm

4. President Clinton’s full remarks are available at: http://www.state.gov/www/global/arms/ctbtpage/trty_pg.html

5. President’s Transmittal Letter available at: http://www.clw.org/pub/clw/coalition/whtransm.htm

6. "The Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program," Office of Defense Programs, Department of Energy, May 1995, available at: http://www.clw.org/pub/clw/coalition/doessm.htm

7. September 23, 1997, Associated Press.

8. "Warning to the Nuclear Labs: Don't Count on 'Stockpile Stewardship' to Maintain Either Overhead Or Confidence," Decision Brief, Center for Security Policy, 1 December 1997. Available at: http://www.security-policy.org/papers/1997/97-D183.html

9. October 1, 1997 Congressional Record.

10. July 15, 1997 Congressional Record.

11. Senator Helms’ Letter available at: http://www.clw.org/pub/clw/coalition/helm0121.htm

12. President’s Letter available at: http://www.clw.org/pub/clw/coalition/clint210.htm

13. White House Fact Sheets available at : http://www.state.gov/www/global/arms/ctbtpage/trty_pg.html

14. "Public Support for a Test Ban Remains High," Press Release from the Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers, September 26, 1997, available at: http://www.clw.org/pub/clw/coalition/rel926.htm

15. Public Attitudes on Nuclear Weapons: An Opportunity for Leadership, p. 20, figure 11 and 11a, The Henry L. Stimson Center, March 1998, available at: http://www.stimson.org/policy/pollrpt.htm. See also, "Public Support for a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Remains High," Backgrounder, Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers, September 26, 1997, available at:

16. "End Treaty Standoff," The Salt Lake City Tribune, April 27, 1998, available at: http://www.sltrib.com/1998/apr/04271998/opinion/30258.htm

17. For more information on the CWC ratification effort, see The Battle to Obtain U.S. ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention, Occasional Paper #35, The Henry L. Stimson Center, July 1997, available at: http://www.stimson.org/pubs/cwc/op35.pdf

18. Ambassador Wolfgang Hoffman at a meeting of the Nuclear Roundtable of the Henry L. Stimson Center, October 21, 1997, summary of his remarks available at: http://www.stimson.org/rd-table/ctbt-97.htm