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Push for nuclear test ban treaty ratification starting soon

The Obama administration is ready to start the legislative push to seek ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the next major step in the president’s drive toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher, who is a key official in the Obama administration’s missile defense policy and ...

DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images
DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images
DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images

The Obama administration is ready to start the legislative push to seek ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the next major step in the president's drive toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher, who is a key official in the Obama administration's missile defense policy and the successful drive to ratify New START, announced on Tuesday that the administration will begin the CTBT ratification effort in earnest in the coming weeks. She acknowledged that the ratification drive will face opposition in the Senate, but argued the treaty would benefit U.S. national security.

"I know that the conventional wisdom is that the ratification of New START has delayed or pushed aside consideration of the CTBT. I take the opposite view," Tauscher said in a speech at the Arms Control Association's conference being held at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "The New START debate, in many ways, opened the door for the CTBT.... When the Senate voted for the treaty, it inherently affirmed that our stockpile is safe, secure, and effective, and can be kept so without nuclear testing."

The Obama administration is ready to start the legislative push to seek ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the next major step in the president’s drive toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher, who is a key official in the Obama administration’s missile defense policy and the successful drive to ratify New START, announced on Tuesday that the administration will begin the CTBT ratification effort in earnest in the coming weeks. She acknowledged that the ratification drive will face opposition in the Senate, but argued the treaty would benefit U.S. national security.

"I know that the conventional wisdom is that the ratification of New START has delayed or pushed aside consideration of the CTBT. I take the opposite view," Tauscher said in a speech at the Arms Control Association’s conference being held at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "The New START debate, in many ways, opened the door for the CTBT…. When the Senate voted for the treaty, it inherently affirmed that our stockpile is safe, secure, and effective, and can be kept so without nuclear testing."

The treaty was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1996, but has not yet entered into force. It has been ratified by 153 countries, but not the United States or nuclear powers such as China, India, Israel, or Pakistan. In 1999, the Senate declined to ratify the CTBT in an embarrassing vote for President Bill Clinton.

Tauscher said that in the aftermath of the New START debate, which was the first arms control treaty debate since the 1999 vote, the Senate was now primed and ready to consider another international nuclear treaty. She promised that debate would start soon.

"[W]e are in a stronger position to make the case for the CTBT on its merits. To maintain and enhance that momentum, the administration is preparing to engage the Senate and the public on an education campaign that we expect will lead to ratification of the CTBT," Tauscher said.

Tauscher explained that the administration will make three arguments in favor of ratifying the CTBT. The administration will argue the United States no longer needs to conduct nuclear explosive tests, that if CTBT enters into force it will provide a disincentive for other states to conduct nuclear tests, and that the international community now has a greater ability to catch those who cheat.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Bob Casey (D-PA) also spoke at the Carnegie conference and are set to play key roles in the coming drive to ratify CTBT.

But there is well entrenched opposition to CTBT ratification among Republican senators. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who led the successful opposition to ratification in 1999 and also took the lead for the GOP during the negotiations on New START, may also lead opposition to the CTBT.

"All of those reasons [from 1999] still pertain, and then some," Kyl told The Cable in October 2009, the last time the administration promised it would quickly move forward on CTBT.

"I will lead the charge against it and I will do everything in my power to see that it is defeated," he told Congressional Quarterly at the time.

A senior GOP Senate aide spelled out Republicans’ objections and their argument going forward.

"The Republicans will say that the risks are you can’t verify the agreement, countries will be cheating, and at the end of the day, we may need to test to make sure our systems are viable," he said.

Tauscher responded preemptively to GOP criticisms in her Tuesday remarks, saying that international monitoring systems have improved verification mechanisms significantly since 1999. She also said that ratifying CTBT would help the United States increase international pressure on Iran and North Korea to halt their nuclear advances.

But the administration is preparing for a hard slog on Capitol Hill.

"We recognize that a Senate debate over ratification will be spirited, vigorous, and likely contentious. The debate in 1999, unfortunately, was too short and too politicized. The treaty was brought to the floor without the benefit of extensive committee hearings or significant input from administration officials and outside experts," Tauscher said. "We will not repeat those mistakes."

UPDATE: A State Department official writes in to clarify that while the process of educating senators about CTBT will start in the coming weeks, the actual ratification debate and vote in the senate is not likely until after the 2012 election. "It is highly unlikely that the senate will take this up in this Congress and we are proceeding with that expectation," the official said.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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