Clinton Faces Nuclear Test Ban Defeat

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This time, President Clinton may not even snatch defeat from the jaws of humiliation. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott indicated late Monday that Senate Republicans would postpone Tuesday's vote on the nuclear Test Ban Treaty, but only if the President lets the matter lie for the duration of his term. And National Security Council Adviser Sandy Berger told the New York Times the administration could live with the condition that it scrap the treaty, which had been designated among the foreign policy priorities of Clinton's second term. In the end, the White House found Capitol Hill simply unwilling to accept any internationally defined limits on what the U.S. is able to do with its nuclear arsenal, despite the White House's entreaties to recognize that the treaty actually codifies Washington's global nuclear superiority.

Without anything close to the two-thirds majority required to pass the treaty, Clinton wrote Lott on Monday that "proceeding to a vote under these circumstances would severely harm the national security of the United States, damage our relationship with our allies, and undermine our historic leadership over 40 years, through administrations Republican and Democratic, in reducing the nuclear threat." But postponing the vote won't avert that danger. Whether the Senate votes or decides to table the motion is irrelevant to the governments of such newly nuclear states as India and Pakistan. What matters is that the U.S. has failed to ratify the CTBT. Postponing a Senate vote means abandoning a key foreign policy goal, which sends the wrong message to the world — and in their minds, that lets them off the hook.