TWQ: Renew the Drive for CTBT Ratification - Spring 2009
April 1, 2009
As the historic first 100 days of President Barack Obama’s administration fly by, he faces a tsunami of advice on the key priorities he should pursue over the next four years. Ranging from energy independence and national health care reform to improving America’s image with the Islamic world and revamping our foreign assistance structure, the president must decide where to focus his scarce time, resources, and political capital. One initiative he should strongly consider this year is calling upon the U.S. Senate to once again take up the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) to outlaw nuclear testing around the world, even though the initiative failed in October 1999 by a 51—48 vote.
Obama has assumed office at a time when the nuclear nonproliferation regime is seriously tattered. Iran is making significant progress on an ostensibly civilian uranium enrichment program that can be quickly converted into a weapons program. North Korea has quadrupled the size of its fissile material stockpile since 2002 and joined the nuclear club in 2006 with a nuclear weapons test. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the lynchpin of global efforts to halt the spread of nuclear weapons, is under heavy strain. Revitalizing the nonproliferation regime, and reducing the odds that a terrorist group can seize a nuclear weapon for use in a terrorist attack, must be at the top of any president’s to-do list.
During his presidential campaign, Obama often spoke of changing the U.S. approach to national security challenges by not being aggressively unilateral or overly reliant on the use of military force as the first option, calling upon the United States ‘‘to rebuild and construct the alliances and partnerships necessary to meet common challenges and confront common threats.’’ He described the prospect of a terrorist group detonating a nuclear weapon in a U.S. city as ‘‘the gravest danger we face.’’2 For that reason, following in the footsteps of such statesmen like Sam Nunn and Henry Kissinger, Obama explicitly endorsed the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons, achieved in a comprehensive and verifiable manner. A concrete means to that goal, as well as the opportunity to repair the image of the United States around the world, is for Obama to call upon the Senate this year to make another effort to ratify the CTBT by the end of his first term in office.
The 1999 vote fell short of an absolute majority, much less the two-thirds majority required for treaty ratification under the U.S. Constitution. This failure undercut traditional U.S. leadership on nuclear nonproliferation issues, and offered an easy justification for China to continue to refuse to ratify the CTBT, as well as for India and Pakistan to avoid signing the treaty altogether. An announcement in Obama’s first year in office that he will call on the Senate to initiate the consideration of the CTBT by holding the appropriate hearings over the next year, with the goal of scheduling a ratification vote prior to the end of his first term in 2012, will send an unmistakable signal that the United States is once again committed to multilateral, rules-based cooperation with the international community to advance mutual interests. It will reenergize a flagging nonproliferation regime and offer the United States important leverage on key challenges like Iran and North Korea. With a healthy majority of Democratic senators in place, and close relationships with key moderate Republicans, Obama is within reach of the 67 votes necessary to secure ratification, and accomplish a significant foreign policy and national security goal.