American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Update and Hearing Summary on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (5-22-98)

Most Recent Action:
Efforts in Congress to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty were dealt a serious blow on May 11th when India conducted a series of underground nuclear tests. Additional information on the Indian tests a nd seismic monitoring of them.

On September 24, 1996, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) 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 50 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 6th. In the United States, ratification requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate, a vote that could come as early as the summer of 1998 but is more likely to be delayed until 1999 due to opposition by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC). In January, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) wrote to the president, bluntly informing h im 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 ad dress, 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 tr eaty have called into question the ability of the US to perform both these tasks.

Thus far, Senate action has been limited to a hearing held by Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) on the treaty in October, focusing primarily on stockpile stewardship. This update includes a summary of that hearing. The principal hearings b y the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees are not likely to take place before next February with a vote to take place no earlier than May. Support for the treaty is expected to mirror that for the Chemical Weapons Treaty, ratified last year. All of the Senate Democrats are expected to vote in favor of the treaty, requring an additional 22 Republicans to obtain ratification. Several Republicans have come out in favor of the treaty, including Domenici (R-NM), Susan Collins (R-ME), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Arlen Specter (R-PA). Some are openly opposed, and 26 are undecided at this time.

Although a number of arms control groups are actively pursuing ratification, the American Physical Society is developing a centrist coalition of scientists and others to push for Senate ratification, specifically targeting the undecided Republican senator s. The APS Council voted unanimously in favor of a position supporting the treaty. The physicists' effort is being led by APS President Alan Bromley, former science advisor to President Bush. Since geoscientists (principally seismologists) will play an in tegral role in monitoring the test ban, AGI is following this issue and will seek to facilitate input from the geoscience community.

Senate Hearing on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (10-29-97)

Senate Appropriations Committee
Subcommittee on Energy and Water
October 29, 1997

Opening Remarks:
Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) opened the hearing by stating that the purpose was to determine how the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) would affect the appropriations process. Ranking Member Harry Reid (D-NV) emphasized the importance of the hearing, as did Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) who voiced his support for a quick ratification of the CTBT.

Panel 1: Frederico Pena, Secretary of Energy

Secretary Pena reaffirmed his commitment to nuclear stockpile safety and stated, "I am pleased to report that there is a strong consensus that Stockpile Stewardship is the right program to address that challenges of maintaining our nuclear deterrent witho ut underground nuclear testing; that the program is properly sized and funded for the outyears; and that, with the President's six safeguards, we can enter into the CTBT with the confidence that the safety and reliability of our nuclear deterrent can be m aintained." The safeguards are:

The Question and Answer session with Pena centered around costs of compliance with the treaty. Pena testified that $4.5 billion is needed for FY99, an amount that serves as a basis for the outyears. He stated that the CTBT is not a disarmament treaty, b ut it will curb nuclear proliferation because it will effectively deter countries from testing.

Panel 2
Victor Reis, Assistant Secretary of Energy for Defense Programs, U.S. Department of Energy
Franklin C. Miller, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy
Dr. Harold P. Smith, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Chemical and Biological Defense Programs

Mr. Miller testified that "the CTBT is an important element of the Administration's approach to nuclear security in the post-Cold War world" and is "in the national security interests of the United States." He explained the safeguards mentioned by Secret ary Pena, and stated his belief that the treaty is verifiable and that our monitoring capability will also be drastically improved over the next few years. Dr. Smith spoke about the importance of utilizing universities, laboratories, and oil exploration companies that have the technology to detect explosions. He also testified about provisions in the treaty that allow for on-site visitation and bilateral agreements with France, the United Kingdom, and Russia. Mr. Reis provided additional background inf ormation on the CTBT and testified that he has "confidence that stockpile stewardship will work...thirty years from now."

Question and Answer
Before retreating to a closed question and answer session, members engaged in brief questioning of the witnesses. Sen. Cochran (R-MS) framed his questions around the Safeguard F, which allows the United States to withdraw from the treaty if necessary. Miller replied that he cannot imagine a scenario, but believes it could happen and the provision is necessary.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Contributed by Kasey Shewey and David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs
Posted December 14, 1997; Last updated 5-22-98

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