Joseph Cirincione, Senior Associate

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U.S. and International Editorials About the CTBT

Non-proliferation is a process shaped as much by states’ perceptions as by physical progress in achieving specific goals. If nations believe that, overall, the non-proliferation regime is preventing or constraining the spread of nuclear weapons and reducing global arsenals, they are more willing to participate in the regime and to take some measure of risk to further additional reductions in nuclear dangers. If, however, states perceive a more dangerous, unrestrained, international security situation, they are more likely to hedge their bets, to participate partially, and even to reject regime arrangements in favor of increasing their individual national defense programs.

Before the U.S. Senate’s vote on ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on October 13, many experts warned of the serious consequences treaty rejection would have for international efforts to constrain the spread of nuclear weapons. On the Senate floor, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, one of four Republican senators voting in favor of the treaty, told his colleagues, "[This] will be a vote heard around the world to the detriment of the United States."

The Senate ignored these warnings, rejecting treaty ratification, 51 to 48. The international reaction was sharp, immediate and—as Senator Spector and others had predicted—harmful to the reputation of the United States and to prospects for global stability. Russia and China, the two potential nuclear adversaries of the United States, were harshly critical but also pledged to accelerate their nations’ ratification process may ameliorate some of the damage. Conservatives in the United States tend to dismiss most statements from these two nations, however, as posturing or predictable hostility to the U.S. Of greater significance, both for the future of the non-proliferation regime and the possible impact on political opinion in the United States, is the reaction of U.S. allies, friends and other nations that do not possess nuclear weapons. These nations, after all, compose 182 of the 187 states parties to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Overall, their reaction was one of shock, dismay and a deepening pessimism for efforts to advance non-proliferation, threat reduction and regional security arrangements around the world.

The international reaction mirrored the domestic response in the United States. Newspaper editors denounced the Senate action almost universally. The Carnegie Non-Proliferation Project has counted over 100 editorials criticizing the Senate Republican majority’s rejection of the treaty and fewer than five in favor, most noticeably the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times.

Internationally, many governments, analysts and editors link the rejection of the test ban to the stalemate on the START II treaty and the impending presidential decision on deployment of a national missile defense system, which some fear is a foregone conclusion.

International Assessments

Many countries saw the Senate’s action as part of a disturbing trend. Across the Pacific, Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald summed up the situation:

"The U.S. Senate’s refusal to ratify the CTBT undermines an important element in the global non-proliferation regime. It is doubly serious when considered in the light of renewed U.S. interest in ballistic missile defence systems.

"Should a future Administration take up this option—and it appears to have strong support in the Republican Party—it would almost certainly encourage some nuclear states to refine their arsenals and, in particular, to seek the technical means to overcome any missile defence systems that the U.S. might put in place. This could prove the final blow for the CTBT.

"The end of the Cold War ushered in a period of reduced anxiety about the nuclear arms race. But the spread of nuclear weapons to India and Pakistan, continued uncertainty about the nuclear intentions of countries like North Korea and Iraq, renewed interest in ballistic missile defence, and now the undermining of the CTBT all suggest that this respite might be short-lived."

While in Japan, The Japan Times said:

"The Senate vote is a serious blow to the non-proliferation movement…Nothing will do more damage to America’s image than the notion that U.S. foreign policy could be held hostage by petty partisan squabbles."

Japan’s Foreign Minister Yohei Kono said the harm was "immeasurable" to the cause of disarmament and non-proliferation. "We had hoped for the U.S.’s leadership in nuclear disarmament and in preventing nuclear proliferation, and so the result is very regrettable." In a related development, Japan's Vice Defense Minister, Shingo Nishimura, handed his resignation to Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi on October 20, following strong criticism of his statement in and interview that "Japan may be better off if it arms itself with nuclear weapons," This was also not the first time Nishimura advocated Japan acquiring nuclear weapons. In an August 2, 1999, interview with The Washington Post, he said, "Japan must be like NATPO countries. We must have the military power and the legal authority to act on it. We outght to have aircraft carriers, long-range missiles, long-range bombers. We should even have the atomic bomb."

A leading Singapore newspaper said:

"The Senate Republicans are living in a world of their own if they think their rejection of the treaty has no international repercussions. There is universal dismay and condemnation at what they did. The danger now is that without U.S. support, the comprehensive test ban treaty could unravel. For sure, it is going to be much harder now to get India, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, North Korea and others to ratify the pact…America’s rejection of the pact could, ironically, erode its lead in nuclear weaponry, because it may encourage low-yield testing by Russia and other countries."

Indian analyst Braham Chellaney at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi was delighted with the Senate vote, "All said and done, the treaty is dead," he concluded. "Why would other nations move ahead with the treaty. It will just go into limbo. It’s not an issue any more. India can just relax now."

To the north, The Toronto Star reported the official Canadian government reaction in a story titled, "Canada Joins Chorus of Condemnation," and referred to the "nearly universal dismay." Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy said in a statement, "A world accustomed to U.S. leadership in the cause of non-proliferation and disarmament can only be deeply disturbed by this turn of events, which will be welcomed by those who remain uncommitted to that cause." The Star concluded, "Many governments voiced alarm about a superpower that now seemed bent on following unilateralist policies in flagrant disregard of world opinion."

Across the Atlantic, the conservative Belgian newspaper, La Libre Belgique, seemed to speak for many European observers:

"Beyond the inconsistency of the American position, the message delivered by the Senate on Wednesday is a renewed profession of faith in the force of nuclear weapons, and not of new confidence in non-proliferation. Its impact on the countries tempted by ‘nuclearization’ is not likely to serve the interests of a superpower worried as much about international terrorism as about the multiplication of regional conflicts in which it is called to intervene."

Many papers noted the caviler disregard shown by the Senate in brushing aside appeal by the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Several, like Toronto Star, detailed a long list of official reactions critical of the Senate. Although France and the United Kingdom each possess hundreds of nuclear weapons and have always closely coordinated their policies and negotiating positions with the United States, in this instance there was little difference between their reaction and that of the non-nuclear European nations.

  • French President Jacques Chirac declared the Senate vote would inflict "serious damage" to the cause of nuclear disarmament, and aides said he was particularly dismayed that the views of European allies were ignored.
  • Javier Solana, the European Union's new director for foreign and security policy, called the Senate action "a very sad development - for the future, for peace and for the cause of stopping the spread of nuclear weapons."
  • In Germany, Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping called the vote an "absolutely wrong" decision. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said his country and other European allies were "deeply disappointed" and feared it would seriously harm the cause of nuclear disarmament. "It is a wrong signal that we deeply regret," he said.
  • Thus, Russia’s reaction tracked closely with other European states. Russia's foreign ministry spokesperson Vladimir Rakhmanin, for example, said, "This decision is a serious blow to the entire system of agreements in the field of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. There is a definite trend visible in recent times in U.S. actions and it causes deep alarm."

In Africa, many states reacted similarly to the opinion expressed by that continent’s only former nuclear-weapon state, South Africa. Marco Boni, a spokesman for the South African Foreign Ministry, noted the timing of the Senate vote was particularly troubling, given the military coup in Pakistan. "What has happened in Pakistan heightens the need for the world to consolidate the solidarity against the use of nuclear weapons," he said.

Middle Eastern countries also expressed their fears about the signal that the CTBT’s rejection would send. The mainstream Israeli newspaper Yediot warned that

"The nuclear arms race is going to raise its ugly head … Senator John Kyl, a treaty opponent, argued that ‘our enemies should be made to realize that our weapons work.’…If nations such as Iran, North Korea, India and Pakistan take their cue from the Senator, the whole world may soon find out the hard way that nuclear weapons do indeeed do their jobs."

The Saudi newspaper Al-Hayat concurred, asserting that the "consequences [of CTBT rejection] are no less than the motivation for a new nuclear arms race," while Morocco’s Liberation cited the "double-standard policy" of the United States in concluding that "the U.S. administration is in complete contradiction of moral values."

In Latin America, Brazilian editorials suggested that the CTBT vote "raises serious doubts about the U.S. capacity to honor its international commitments," arguing that the decision "reaffirms the increasing feeling of isolationism in U.S. society."

These are the reactions of U.S. allies and friends. Some countries are not so charitable. In Malaysia, the New Straits Times lashes out at the "bellicosity and underlying hypocrisy of American diplomacy:

"But the world should not be surprised by its indifference to international law and morality. Barely noticed in the May ’98 furor over the Indian and Pakistani nuclear testing, the Senate had attached amendments to enabling legislation that, if allowed to stand, would give the President the right to refuse inspections by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. This to the Chemical Weapons Convention, in force in ’97, which it has already ratified….

"The world should not be deceived by the pathetic argument that the vote is a Republican ploy. Both Democrats and Republicans are more or less identical on most foreign issues and no issue of principle is going to divide them down the middle. Perhaps, the U.S. has no intention to ‘denuclearize’ itself…It proves American imperialism in all its brutal power is flourishing. The world can only wonder how much longer it will be held in thrall by a nation that seems totally devoid of an ethical impulse to guide its technical prowess."

Again, within the international reaction, China’s comments on the vote appeared fairly mild. Official statements and press commentary in China criticized the "irresponsible conduct of the U.S. Senate" for ignoring the aspirations of the international community, as Renmin Ribao editorialized from Beijing. The Hong Kong paper Ta Kung Pao was scathing:

"The incident has further exposed the hegemonic, arrogant nature of certain U.S. politicians: The United States must maintain its absolute nuclear superiority, while other countries cannot carry out tests and develop nuclear weapons. Isthis not the logic familiar to the Chinese people, ‘The magistrates are free to burn down houses, while the common people are forbidden even to light lamps?’"

The Other Shoe: The Coming Decision to Deploy National Missile Defense Systems

In the international reaction to the test ban vote, there is also a foreshadowing of the likely reaction to a decision by President Clinton to deploy a National Missile Defense system. This decision is far more advanced and far more likely to result in a deployment than many international observers may have realized. Their attention is now turning to this process in earnest and with some foreboding.

During the 1996 presidential campaign, the Administration announced it would structure missile defense research into a "3 + 3" program: three years of research to put the United States in a position to deploy a missile defense system within three (now five) years of a decision to do so. The Department of Defense will now hold a Decision Deployment Review meeting in June 2000 to decide (1) whether the threat warrants and (2) the technology justifies deployment of a system. The White House will receive the defense department’s recommendation and consider as well (3) the overall system cost and (4) whether amendments to the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty would allow deployment.

The barriers to a positive decision on the first three criteria are remarkably low. The 1999 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), "Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States Through 2015," released on 9 September, concludes that over the next 15 years the United States:

"most likely will face ICBM threats from Russia, China and North Korea probably from Iran, and possibly from Iraq, although the threats will consist of dramatically fewer weapons than today because of significant reductions we expect in Russian strategic forces."

This would seem to fulfill the threat assessment criterion, at least if evaluated, as the NIE does, in the absence of political, diplomatic or economic considerations.

On 2 October, the first of three intercept tests to be conducted before the deployment decision took place. The official defense department release made clear that program proponents believe they have a winning technology:

"The test successfully demonstrated ‘hit to kill technology’ to intercept and destroy the ballistic missile target…This "hit to kill' intercept demonstrates that a warhead carrying a weapon of mass destruction-nuclear, chemical or biological - will be totally destroyed and neutralized."

According to the official criteria established for the deployment review, two successful intercepts will be required before the system is approved for deployment. However, officials now say that the defense department would only need one intercept success to proceed with site construction contracts, if the system has the possibility of achieving a second intercept before actual construction would begin in May 2001.

None of the scheduled tests represents the real-world difficulty of acquiring, tracking and hitting a high-speed target accompanied by realistic decoys and other countermeasures. Thus, it is likely that one of the next two tests will result in an intercept, particularly given what the defense department’s director of operational test and evaluation has termed the "careful scripting" of these demonstrations to optimize the possibility of success. Even with two consecutive failures, however, program proponents will argue that the minimum necessary technical requirement for proceeding with construction of a site has already been achieved.

Cost estimates for construction of a single site are approximately $28 billion to build and operate over 20 years. Two sites would double that cost. This is well within cost estimates for most major defense systems and should not prove a significant obstacle to a deployment decision.

This leaves only diplomatic and political barriers to deployment. Since the plans to place interceptors at a site in Alaska will violate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Administration would like to secure Russian agreement to amend the treaty to permit deployment of this one site, and a second possible site in North Dakota within the next decade. The talks with the Russia have been difficult. Russia’s opposition to U.S. defense seems to increase weekly and has hardened since the CTBT vote. This may be simply a negotiating ploy, but it is at least in large part motivated by deep suspicion of U.S. intentions.

Russian opposition would be minimal for a site that was truly limited and capable of intercepting only the "few, simple RVs" as originally described by U.S. officials. Plans for the site have quietly increased, however. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Walter Slocombe testified to Congress on October 13 that while the first site would begin operations with only 20 interceptors, plans called for expanding to a full 100 interceptors over the first year to achieve the capability "of defending all 50 states against a launch of a few tens of warheads accompanied by simple penetration aids." Between 2010 and 2011 the goal was a capability to intercept "up to a few tens of…warheads with complex penetration aids launched from either North Korea or the Middle East."

Russia fears that the radar and sensor infrastructure required for this mission (including, but not limited to: upgrades to all five early-warning radars, construction of X-band radars for better tracking of warheads, launch of a new constellation of early-warning satellites, the SBIRS-High, to replace the existing DSP system, and launch of the SBIRS-Low satellite system for warhead tracking and discrimination) would provide the base for a "breakout" from even an amended ABM treaty. While a defense against even a few tens of warheads would not affect Russia’s nuclear deterrent force, a rapid multiplication of interceptors and sensors could theoretically defeat hundreds of warheads, or about what Russia could expect to have available by 2010 under current plans.

The International Reaction to NMD Deployment

The U.S. Administration recognized the international sensitivity of this issue. "A number of allies have more than an indirect interest in the ABM treaty," said Steve Andreasen, director of defense policy and arms control at the National Security Council. "They view it as an important component of stability as they make their own calculations of their own security."

The Financial Times, for example, notes in its commentary on the Senate’s vote:

"…America's allies are right to be troubled. The post-cold war world has inevitably undermined the case for U.S. engagement globally. Siren voices at home are urging retrenchment. As with ‘Star Wars’ in the 1980s, the attractions of a national missile defence system is further fostering disengagement."

America’s European allies are particularly concerned that any missile defense deployment would restart an arms race most had thought had ended with the Cold War. Here again Britain and France seem to be leading the growing European sentiment against any deployments. As nuclear-weapon states, they are particularly concerned that Russian or Chinese defenses could blunt their nuclear forces, which number in the low hundreds. Overall, however, the British, French and all the Europeans see the ABM treaty as a cornerstone of the international non-proliferation regime and fear that its removal could bring about the rapid deconstruction of the inter-locking network of nuclear restraints. "What would this [scrapping the ABM treaty] do to missile control regimes, and what would its effect be on the third world?" asks one senior British official quoted by the Financial Times. He worries it might sap efforts to get India and Pakistan to sign up to nuclear test ban and non-proliferation treaties, or be read by industrial countries as an admission of defeat in the battle to keep missile technology in responsible hands.

The French, in particular, have been strongly critical of U.S. deployment plans. Prime Minister Lionel Jospin warned in late October that "the global strategic equilibrium would be threatened" if the international community "does not succeed in reining in an arms race which is clearly reviving," and "if the temptation" of the United States "to free itself from international discipline in the field of strategic weapons were to take more concrete form."

Minister Jospin said that French officials shared a fear of the consequences of the development of anti-missile defenses, despite the "arguments of our American friends." In particular, he said, "It is clear that this question cannot be dealt with solely within the bilateral Russian-U.S. framework connected with the ABM treaty." Similar to many European officials and commentators, Jospin is not persuaded by assessments of a growing ballistic missile threat. Rather than seeing North Korea or Iran as rogue nations threatening international peace through their violation of agreed norms, many European and Asian governments now view with considerable alarm the recent and anticipated actions of the United States. As Jospin observed, "It is also important to evaluate the consequences of a revival of the arms race provoked by a project the logic of which would tip the balance between efforts towards non-proliferation and efforts centered on counter-proliferation."

U.S. Reaction to International Opinion

Does international opinion matter any more to the United States? Does the Senate vote signal the beginning of a new isolationism? Not exactly. At least not the classic isolationism of the 1920’s or 1930’s. The U.S. is deeply, extensively and irreversibly engaged in the world. Our era is characterized by the globalization of economies, technologies and politics. The United States could not withdraw from the globalized economy or technology exchanges if it wanted to.

It could, however, try to reject the political forms of multi-lateral cooperation that flow from these economic and technologic relationships. That is precisely what the far-right wing of the Republican Party advocates. They, of course, want to continue to engage commercially with the world, but they oppose participation in any international political regime that they believe hinders the freedom of action of the United States. Arms control, environmental accords, and trade restrictions are anathema. Conservative writers Robert Kagan and William Kristol railed recently against such "squeamish and guilty" internationalism. They say that in the coming election campaign,

"Republicans will argue that American security cannot be safeguarded by international conventions. Instead, they will ask Americans to face this increasingly dangerous world without illusions. They will argue that American dominance can be sustained for many decades to come, not by arms control agreements, but by augmenting America’s power, and, therefore, its ability to lead."

For this political camp, political power flows from the barrel of an atomic gun. This is why Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott’s proscription for what to do next after he successfully defeated the test ban treaty began with "enhance the U.S. strategic deterrent." For some, the U.S. arsenal of over 12,000 nuclear weapons is not enough.

Writer Thomas Friedman calls this group the "Nutty and Energetic Republicans," one of the three schools forming in the U.S. This grouping is composed of old cold warriors, extreme isolationists and unilateralists, and outright fools, he says. It is this faction that prevailed in the Senate vote on the test ban, defeating the two other schools: the "Serious but Timid Republicans," who have serious and thoughtful policies to offer but are in the minority in their own party at present, and the "Serious but Lazy Democrats" who have the right instincts—focus on policies that can forge a stabilizing and sustainable globalization—but often lack the courage of their convictions or the ability to focus and persevere in the political battles.

This description, summarized by Friedman in his column in The New York Times of October 27, seems compelling, entertaining and largely accurate.

It may yet be that the strong global reaction to the Senate rejection of the test ban and U.S. plans to deploy missile defenses may have some impact on the serious Republican and Democrats. There were, in fact, some positive developments in late October, as Senator John Warner, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, introduced a bill to form a bi-partisan commission to review the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, so that in his words, "the consideration of a nuclear testing treaty can go forward and people around the globe will have a better understanding of our efforts to achieve a more secure world." Senator Warner said he was motivated in large part by the "misunderstandings" about the Senate vote.

Such considerations may lead to Senate reconsideration and approval of the test ban treaty after the 2000 elections, and even a delay in President Clinton’s plans to deploy a national missile defense system. These developments, however, will require the political victory of the "serious" Republicans and Democrats over the "nutty" far-right.

International opinion can play a strong role in this internal U.S. struggle as responsible political and business leaders of both parties come to appreciate the destabilizing impact of U.S. withdrawal from the non-proliferation regime. It is unlikely, however, to have any impact on the far-right faction. Thus far, they have proven immune to international and centrist entreats for reason and have shown repeatedly that energy, ideology, and political skill can defeat "squeamish" internationalism, no matter how many paper broadsides are fired in the battle. To prevail, internationalists will have to be as determined and persistent as the neo-isolationists. The months ahead will tell whether they are up to the task.