A Call for American consensus
Why our arms-control leadership is too important to risk in
partisan political fights
By Madeleine Albright
November 15, 1999
Web posted at: 1:53 p.m. EST (1853 GMT)
The U.S. Senate's recent rejection of the Comprehensive Nuclear
Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was a huge disappointment to many
Americans. The U.S.'s allies and friends responded to this vote
with universal shock. I have been besieged by calls from around
the globe. All express concern. Some commentators have used the
vote to proclaim the death of arms control. But the obituaries
The CTBT and the larger challenge of reducing the dangers posed
by nuclear weapons are far too important to abandon. So the
Administration is determined to continue fighting for the treaty.
Approval of the pact means the U.S. would be joining with other
nations to halt the development of more advanced nuclear arms and
prevent them from falling into the wrong hands.
Unfortunately, as the CTBT vote reflects, the Administration and
Congress have not yet agreed on a common post-cold war strategy
for responding to these dangers. But the world's leading nation
cannot remain divided on how to respond to the world's gravest
threats. The Administration and Congress have worked together in
the past on such key issues as the Chemical Weapons Convention
and NATO enlargement. We must put aside partisan distractions
and work together now.
A common strategy must recognize the need for 1) a strong
national defense; 2) American leadership in nonproliferation; and
3) responding to new threats without reviving old ones. And, of
course, whatever agreements we enter into--the CTBT included--must
serve America's overall national-security interests. The CTBT
would do that by impeding the development of advanced new arms by
nuclear-weapons states and constraining the nuclear capabilities
of countries that do not now have such weapons.
For example, in Asia the CTBT would make it harder for North
Korea to advance a nuclear-weapons program or for China to
develop the technology required to place multiple warheads atop a
single mobile missile. The congressional committee investigating
potential Chinese espionage concluded that it would be more
difficult for Beijing to exploit secrets it may have acquired
from the U.S. if it can't conduct nuclear tests.
Under the CTBT, America would gain the security benefits of
outlawing nuclear tests by others, while locking in a
technological status quo that is highly favorable to us. We have
conducted more than 1,000 nuclear tests--hundreds more than anyone
else. We do not need more tests to protect our security. Would-be
proliferators or modernizers, however, must test if they are to
develop the kind of advanced, compact nuclear weapons that are
During the abbreviated Senate consideration of CTBT, many
Senators raised concerns about verification and preservation of a
safe, reliable nuclear deterrent. We take these concerns
seriously and are prepared to explore a variety of ways to
resolve them. We believe that, with hard work, favorable action
on CTBT will become possible.
A second challenge we must meet is posed by the combination of
our development of a limited National Missile Defense (NMD)
system and our deep stake in preserving the benefits of the
Antiballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, which bars such systems.
The ABM treaty has contributed much to strategic stability. It
reassures leaders in Washington and Moscow about each other's
intentions and gives them confidence to pursue mutual reductions
in nuclear arsenals. This sense of confidence remains essential
to both countries.
But the strategic environment has changed greatly since the
treaty was signed. Iraqi Scud attacks during the Gulf War showed
the dangers of theater-range missiles in hostile hands. And tests
of longer-range missiles by North Korea and Iran raise concerns
that must be addressed.
While the U.S. military provides an overwhelming deterrent to
any rational adversary, we must also worry about how to deal
with potential threats from sources that are not rational. And
it is against these dangers that the Administration is
developing and testing a limited NMD system, with a decision on
deployment possible as early as next summer. This decision will
be based on our overall security interests and will take into
account cost, threat, technological feasibility and effects on
For deployment to occur under the treaty, certain changes would
be necessary. We have been discussing these with Congress, our
allies and Moscow.
To date, Russian leaders have strongly objected to any treaty
modifications and accused us of undermining the entire system of
international arms control simply by raising the subject.
This is an overreaction. The limited changes we are contemplating
would not undermine Russian security. In fact, because Russia and
the U.S. are vulnerable to the same threats, we are prepared to
cooperate with Moscow on missile defense.
In response, Russia must do more than just say nyet. It is in our
mutual interests to develop an arrangement that preserves the
essential aims of the ABM treaty, while protecting us from the
new dangers we both face.
Unfortunately, our consideration of NMD has aroused serious
concerns not only in Russia, but also in Western Europe, China
and elsewhere. As Secretary of State, I have repeatedly had to
rebut fears expressed by my counterparts that the U.S. is intent
on going it alone, disregarding the interests of former
adversaries and current allies alike.
These fears were fueled by the vote on CTBT, and especially by
the view some Senators expressed that efforts at nonproliferation
are useless and naive. According to this thinking, agreements
such as the CTBT will limit America's options but have no effect
on rogue states--who will promise anything but allow nothing to
slow their quest for nuclear arms.
It is plainly smart to anticipate that some countries will try to
cheat on their obligations. It is not smart to conclude--as some
do--that if we can't guarantee perfect compliance with the rules
we establish, we are better off not establishing rules at all.
Consider that during the first 25 years of the nuclear age, five
countries tested nuclear weapons. In the 29 years since, two,
India and Pakistan, have joined the list. Knowledge about how to
build nuclear arms has spread, but far fewer nations than we once
predicted are acting on that knowledge. Why?
The answer is that global standards do matter. Over the years,
nations have increasingly embraced the view that it is
unnecessary and dangerous to develop nuclear weapons.
This view has given birth to a framework of legally binding
agreements, including nearly universal participation in the
Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Of course, neither law nor
world opinion can compel nations to act against their own best
interests. But most countries find it in their interests to
operate within the law and be perceived as doing so.
Why else, for example, did South Africa, Brazil and Argentina
abandon their nuclear-weapons programs; or Belarus, Kazakhstan
and Ukraine return nuclear weapons to Russia after gaining
independence; or China decide to sign the CTBT; or India and
Pakistan agree, in principle, to do the same?
North Korea joined the NPT and then evaded its obligations under
it. But why did North Korea even take on those obligations? And
why should we conclude that because that pact was violated,
efforts at arms control are fruitless? After all, North Korea's
secret activities first came to light as a result of inspections
under that agreement.
Obviously, agreements do not erase the need for a powerful
military deterrent, but they do establish rules that increase
the chance that our deterrent will succeed in preventing war.
They complicate efforts by potential adversaries to develop and
build nuclear weapons. They provide for wide-ranging
verification systems that complement our own monitoring
capabilities. And they make it more likely that others will join
us in a common response against those who break the rules.
Americans must resist the temptation to think the strength of our
armed forces means we no longer need help from others. It is
simply impossible to halt the spread of weapons of mass
destruction unless countries work together.
Moreover, for almost six decades, American leaders have strived
on a bipartisan basis to achieve security for our nation within a
broader framework of security for all who desire to live in peace
and respect the rights of others. In this era of readily
available and highly destructive weaponry, this is the only true
path to a secure future. And the only way to ensure that the U.S.
remains respected, not only for our economic and military power,
but also for the power of our example and our ideals.
Restoring an American consensus on reducing the dangers posed by
nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles is among the most vital
and complex challenges our leaders face. It will be a central
priority during the remainder of this Administration and will
surely preoccupy the next.
It is my hope that historians will view the Senate vote on CTBT
not as marking the death of arms control but rather as a wake-up
call--which spurred responsible leaders from both parties to come
together and ensure the U.S.'s continued leadership in building a
safer, stabler, freer world.
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Cover Date: November 22, 1999