October 6, 1999
KWAME HOLMAN: A treaty banning nuclear testing has languished on Capitol Hill for more than a year. But this week, the treaty became the focal point of a major partisan fight between the Clinton administration and Republicans in the Senate.
SPOKESMAN: The committee will come to order.
KWAME HOLMAN: Today, the Senate Armed Services Committee held its first major hearing on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, amid growing reports there are nowhere near the 67 Senate votes needed to ratify it. Committee Chairman John Warner said it's up to the Clinton administration to change the minds of the treaty's solidly Republican opponents.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: This is a tough case. We are being asked today to put at risk, some degree of risk, our nuclear deterrent capability in exchange for the promise that we may have a way to accurately certify that capability in the future. The question before the Senate is, can we afford to take this risk?
KWAME HOLMAN: Appearing before the Committee, Defense Secretary William Cohen said maintaining that nuclear deterrent is the top priority of the Clinton administration as well.
WILLIAM COHEN, Secretary of Defense: I could not possibly come before this committee and recommend that you give your advice and consent to a treaty without the confidence that we could maintain our own nuclear deterrent.
KWAME HOLMAN: The comprehensive test ban treaty would ban nearly all testing involving the detonation of nuclear weapons, and set up an international monitoring system to confirm compliance. Since the treaty's drafting in 1996, 154 countries have signed on, but only 48 have ratified it, agreeing to abide by its terms. But several countries with known or presumed nuclear capability have not signed the treaty, including India, Pakistan, and North Korea. And others, including China and Russia, are believed to be waiting for the U.S. to ratify the treaty before doing so themselves. But treaty opponents, citing reports from the CIA, say no monitoring system is sophisticated enough to detect the kind of testing the treaty bans.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: It is difficult, if not impossible, to detect tests below a certain level. If a nation is determined to conceal their noncompliance with this treaty, there are certain levels below which we just simply can't do it. The equipment is not there. Further, countries that want to evade detection can do so by masking or muffling tests in mines, underground cavities, salt domes, and other geological formations. Or a country could attempt to test anonymously by using remote ocean areas or outer space. I am convinced that the U.S. and the international community cannot now, and will not in the foreseeable future, be able to detect adequately the intention of a nation to cheat under this treaty.
WILLIAM COHEN: Mr. Chairman, on verifiability, can states cheat on the CTBT without being detected? And the answer is, yes; we would not be able to detect every evasively conducted nuclear test. But from a national security standpoint, this is not going to be dispositive, in my judgment. Indeed, I am confident that the United States will be able to detect a level of testing, and the yield and the number of tests by which a state could undermine our U.S. nuclear deterrent.
KWAME HOLMAN: Opponents also argued the U.S. may need to conduct nuclear tests to check the reliability of its current nuclear stockpile. The Senate's lone independent, former Republican Bob Smith of New Hampshire, questioned Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Henry Shelton.
SEN. BOB SMITH: General, Chairman Warner asked you a question a few moments ago and said, "General Shelton, could you guarantee the safety of our stockpile?" And then you said words to this effect: "There are no guarantees, but I expect within the next ten to 12 years, we'll be able to be more sure," and that you think the program looks like it's on track to be ready in ten to twelve years. Then the obvious question is, why not come back here in ten to twelve years and ask us to stop the testing?
GEN. HENRY SHELTON: First of all, Senator Smith, as I also tried to indicate is that we have a safe and reliable stockpile right now. And as the Secretary indicated, as the stockpile grows older, we need to ensure that we have a system of testing that is very comprehensive, to include the warhead portion of the missile, and the stockpile stewardship program is designed to do exactly that. It first of all has a surveillance part that enables them to pull out, as I indicated earlier, a statistically significant sampling each year and basically tear the weapon down and inspect all components of it, looking under the hood, so to speak, as Senator Thurmond referred to it as. Then they have an assessment and certification process, which allows them to test all of the non-nuclear components of the missile or of the weapons system. Then they can compare that to prior test data. And then finally, you have to have a system that has design and manufacture, so that you can replace parts, as you find those that need to be replaced. So that's all part of the SSP.
SEN. BOB SMITH: But you did say, though, there are no guarantees? I mean, I understand there's...
GEN. HENRY SHELTON: Well, as related to the stockpile stewardship program, we have a lot of very leading-edge technology that is in this system. It's being worked very hard. Everyone that I have talked to in this regard seems to feel very, very comfortable that that program is on track, and that we'll accomplish the intended objectives of the program.
KWAME HOLMAN: So far, only the Senate's 45 Democrats and a handful of Republicans have expressed support for the test ban pact, well short of the 67 votes needed. The Clinton administration says Republican leaders ignored the treaty for two years, then suddenly scheduled a vote for next Tuesday, leaving the White House little time to try to sway fence-sitting Republicans. Throughout today, Democratic and Republican leaders tried to find a face-saving way to deal with the treaty. Late this afternoon, the treaty's leading Senate opponent, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, pointed out it was Democrats who originally asked that the test ban treaty be brought up.
SEN. JESSE HELMS: It was forced upon us by the Clinton administration, and all 45 of our friends in the Senate on the other side of the aisle. But now our colleagues on the other side of the aisle obviously realize that they don't have the votes to ratify the CTBT, and so they are hoping to dictate the terms of their own surrender. They want us to say something like this: "Okay, let's call it a draw." And I say to them, that ain't gonna happen. Well, now we are ready to vote, and there is general agreement that if the vote is held on Tuesday, the treaty will be defeated, and there is only one way the President can now prevent that vote. He must request in writing two things: One, that the treaty be withdrawn; and two, that it not be considered by the Senate for the duration of his presidency.
KWAME HOLMAN: Hearings on the nuclear test ban treaty are scheduled to continue this week. Meanwhile, negotiations to avoid its rejection by the Senate proceeded into this evening.