St. Petersburg Times|
(St. Petersburg, Fl.)
March 2, 1998
Stand aside, senator
Jesse Helms, the veteran senator from from North Carolina, continues to hold
hostage treaties and nominations he opposes for reasons that are not always
clear to reasonable people.
This time, he is sitting on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The measure
bans worldwide nuclear weapons tests and is one of the most widely supported
anti-proliferation treaties to date. Helms, true to form, is holding it up,
and fellow senators ought to be doing more to fight for its release.
The treaty was signed by President Clinton in 1996 and has since been signed
by 147 other countries. It now awaits Senate ratification, but Helms, who is
chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has refused even to schedule
hearings on the measure.
As he did with the Chemical Weapons Convention last year, Helms is using
every transparent tactic available to him to delay a vote on the nuclear
Helms says he will hold off discussing the measure until after the Senate
considers the global warming agreement hammered out last year in Kyoto, Japan,
and a series of amendments to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed with
Moscow. If history is any indication, that process will take years, and the
nuclear weapons convention should not be delayed in the meantime.
For one thing, failure to ratify the measure will mean the United States
will forfeit a seat at a conference next year, when delegates are expected to
decide how to implement the treaty's specific provisions. As the world's
undisputed nuclear superpower, the United States cannot responsibly miss such
an important event. That would be a crushing blow to our credibility as an
international leader in the non-proliferation effort.
Helms' opposition to the treaty is mainly ideological. Though he has warned
it could pose a threat to national security, his real concern is that its
anti-nuclear objectives do not gel with the rest of his right-wing agenda. He
is wrong on both counts.
Presidents of both political parties have recognized the importance of
diminishing the world's reliance on nuclear weapons technology, going back as
far as 1970. The issue transcends partisan politics.
More recently, four former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have
publicly endorsed the treaty, noting that it will not weaken America's nuclear
capabilities or damage our ability to fight wars.
Helms needs to be persuaded to bring the test ban treaty to the floor.
Fellow Republicans will have to do the persuading. It will be a test of their
leadership to prevent this important pact from languishing.