The nuclear tests by India and Pakistan have led some in the U.S. Senate to seek further delay on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which has already been awaiting ratification for more than a year and a half.
Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, the majority leader, said on Friday that "the nuclear spiral in Asia demonstrates the irrelevance of U.S. action" on the treaty, calling the pact "unverifiable and ineffectual."To the contrary, the treaty's international monitoring system, when used in combination with our own intelligence resources, provides the means to verify the test ban effectively. Moreover, a quick vote in the Senate approving the treaty is an essential response to the South Asian nuclear gambit.
While it is true that American intelligence failed to provide imminent warning of India's first three nuclear tests on May 11, we were well aware that the technical preparations had been made for testing. Furthermore, the global network of seismic sensors that will form the core of the treaty's verification system did detect, locate and identify the main nuclear blast that day.
It is evident that the system also proved effective in detecting Pakistan's tests, both on Thursday and on Saturday. And the treaty calls for the monitoring system to be beefed up.
India has claimed that its last two announced tests, on May 13, had very low yields, in the subkiloton range. Whether or not we succeed in corroborating possible tests of such relatively small magnitude, we need to remember that very low yield tests are of questionable value in designing new nuclear weapons or confirming that a new design will work as intended. Any failure by the monitors to detect such tests is not the proper benchmark for determining the system's - or the treaty's - effectiveness.
I know from my own work for the director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet, that the existing monitoring system did the job last summer, detecting a "seismic event" off Novaya Zemlya in Russia and eventually helping to determine that it was not from a nuclear test. Our intelligence services are rightly assigned the task of monitoring for nuclear explosions, with or without the treaty.
But with the treaty, additional sensors would be deployed in a global network that would complement our own intelligence. Some of these additional sensors would be "aimed" at the subcontinent. And with the treaty, we could request on-site inspection of suspicious activities.
The test ban treaty - which has already been signed by 149 nations and ratified by our nuclear allies, Britain and France - provides the legal framework for a long-term solution to the problem of nuclear testing in India and Pakistan.
The best way for these two nations to begin addressing the international condemnation and sanc-tions that have resulted from their tests is for them to sign the treaty, without condition. Senate ratification would strengthen our hand in pushing India and Pakistan toward a responsible course, and it would help dissuade other states from going down the dangerous road of developing nuclear weapons.
Lott also expressed concern that the treaty "will not enter into force unless 44 countries, including India and Pakistan, ratify it." Precisely for this reason, Article 14 of the treaty calls for a review conference in September 1999 to look for ways to put the treaty into effect if it has not been approved by all 44 nuclear-capable nations (i.e., those with nuclear weapons or with nuclear reactors for research or power).
Only those nations that have ratified will have a seat at that conference. Thus the United States must ratify the treaty this year if we are to be a leader, as we must be, in an effort to put the treaty into force.
Previous Senates have shown that they can act quickly and courageously on such matters. When President John F. Kennedy submitted the Limited Test Ban Treaty to the Senate in 1963, the Foreign Relations Committee held its first hearing four days later, and the treaty was approved by the full Senate in less than two months.
Yet in the wake of the Indian and Pakistani tests, it would appear that the Senate will not act even to bring the treaty to a vote. Inaction will not help to deter further nuclear tests or reduce nuclear dangers.
Four decades ago President Dwight D. Eisenhower said that not achieving a nuclear test ban "would have to be classed as the greatest disappointment of any administration - of any decade - of any time and of any party." It would be tragic if once more we fail to seize this opportunity.