Most Recent Action:
After two years of inaction by the Senate, Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) scheduled a vote on ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) for October 12th following 10 hours of debate. The Senate Armed Services Committee held closed hearings on October 5-6. Confident that it had the votes to defeat the treaty, the Republican leadership denied Democratic requests for a delay until senators can become more educated on the issue. On October 13th, the treaty was defeated by a 51 to 48 vote. All Democrats and four Republicans voted for the treaty. The vote is viewed as a stinging defeat for President Clinton, for whom the treaty was a key foreign policy priority.
In the midst of this controversy, the American Geophysical Union and the Seismological Society of America held a joint press conference on October 7 in Washington to release their joint position statement on the technical feasibility of verifying compliance with the treaty's provisions. The statement does not address whether or not the treaty should be ratified but does address a key technical issue related to the treay. An AGI special update on this topic is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/ctbt_update.html.
On September 24, 1996, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was signed by President Clinton and the leaders of over 140 countries. The treaty, however, will not go into effect unless a core group of 41 nuclear or nuclear-capable countries ratify it -- Britain and France were the first to do so, presenting their articles of ratification at a joint ceremony in Brussels on April 6, 1998. In the United States, ratification requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate, a vote delayed due to opposition by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC). In January, 1998, Helms wrote to the president, bluntly informing him that any efforts to press the Senate for CTBT ratification would be "exceedingly unwise" and would only be considered after the Kyoto treaty and NATO expansion are resolved. Although the President subsequently included CTBT in his State of the Union address, the push for ratification was already losing steam before the Indian tests.
The two principal scientific issues associated with CTBT are stockpile stewardship and verification. The first centers on the ability of the DOE weapons laboratories (Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia) to safely maintain the nuclear weapons stock pile without nuclear tests. The second is the ability to verify nuclear tests using a variety of means, central among them the Global Seismographic Network (described as a "global neighborhood watch" by seismologist Greg van der Vink). Opponents of the treaty have called into question the ability of the US to perform both these tasks.
Until recently, Senate action had been limited to a hearing held by Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) on the treaty in October, 1997 focusing primarily on stockpile stewardship. An earlier AGI update on this subject includes a summary of that hearing.
Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.
Contributed by David Applegate and Margaret Baker, AGI Government Affairs
Posted October 7, 1999
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