For more than 40 years, millions of Americans have participated in public campaigns to end nuclear testing. Opinion polls consistently have shown 80 percent or more of the public in favor of a test ban. Every U.S. president since Eisenhower has expressed support for the treaty, and legions of officials and military experts, including the current joint chiefs, have urged its ratification.
Yet this level of support was not sufficient to secure passage of the treaty. When even so modest a measure as the test ban cannot muster political support in Washington, the hopes for ending the nuclear menace seem bleak indeed. What can those of us who have worked for disarmament over the years do now in response to this debacle?
The first requirement is understanding why the treaty was defeated. Senate rejection of the treaty had little or nothing to do with the merits of the test ban. The Republican claim that the treaty cannot be verified is false. Existing seismic capabilities are able to detect all but the tiniest, militarily insignificant explosions. Anyone genuinely interested in verification would vote for the treaty, since it establishes a new International Monitoring System that significantly enhances verification capabilities.
The rejection of the test ban was politically driven. Senate leaders did not want to give President Clinton (and Vice President Gore) the political advantage that would result from passage of this important and politically popular treaty. Scoring points against the Clinton administration was more important than preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.