Senators Weigh Plan to Endorse Nuclear-Test Ban

     WASHINGTON (CN) — The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations engaged in rigorous debate Wednesday over unreleased terms of the Obama administration’s proposed ratification of the United Nation’s nuclear-test ban treaty.
     If ratified, the proposed resolution could put an end to nuclear testing altogether and encourage the U.S. and seven other nations to commit to the ban permanently.
     There are eight nations that still need to ratify the treaty for it to take effect: the United States, Israel, Egypt, China, India, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea.
     U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., urged fellow committee members on Wednesday to move their focus from what he repeatedly called the “substance of the treaty” and hone in on the legal ramifications of the resolution if ratified.
     “This isn’t about trying to pass judgment on the test ban agreement,” Corker said. “It’s about trying to understand what it is that the administration is doing…I’m concerned that the administration is possibly taking steps that will take that policy and turn it into something binding through customary international law.”
     According to Corker, that could create undue hardship for future administrations should they want to pursue a different policy.
     Specific language in the resolution has yet to be released in full to the committee, but a letter issued by Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday stated that “the administration fully respects the Senate’s constitutional role in treaty ratification.”
     “We remain committed to securing the Senate’s advice and consent on the ratification [of the treaty], the entry into force of which would result in a durable, legally binding test ban and bring into full force the treaty’s vital verification mechanisms,” Kerry said in the letter, which Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., read to committee members and witnesses Stephen Rademaker and Michael Krepon.
     Rademaker, former assistant to the secretary of state under George W. Bush’s administration, and Krepon, co-founder and senior associate of the national-security think tank The Stimson Center, were asked to weigh in on the constitutionality of the proposed resolution.
     “The question we should be asking is what the administration is proposing to do here,” Rademaker asked. “Does the president have the authority to [ratify the resolution] on his own or only with the approval of the U.S. Senate? Traditionally, the answer has been that the Senate has to approve.”
     Though specific terms of the resolution remain to be seen, the State Department correspondence also emphasized that the actions the executive branch may pursue with nuclear non-proliferation treaties or nuclear weapon states “are in no way a substitute for entry into force of the [Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, or CTBT].”
     The letter singled out the George W. Bush administration and its decision to drop the ban treaty from its docket. President Barack Obama’s administration, Kerry noted, had been clear since 2009 that it would pursue a different tack.
     “We are not proposing and will not support the adoption of a U.N. Security Council resolution imposing a legally binding prohibition on testing. Rather, we are pursuing a political statement of the nuclear nonproliferation states, all of whom are CTBT signatories affirming their view that a nuclear test would defeat the object and purpose of the [treaty],” Kerry wrote.
     The object and purpose, or terms agreed upon in a given treaty, was the catalyst of doubt for Rademaker.
     “[The Obama administration is] going to try to embrace the U.N. Security Council to declare that all signatories of the CTBT have an obligation not to defeat the object and purpose of the treaty,” he said. “They may do that directly. There’s talk of a declaration being made where somehow the Security Council will approve that or incorporate it by reference [in the resolution].”
     Rademaker asked committee members to consider the immediate and future impacts of such a decision.
     “We could elect a president who wants to deport every illegal alien in the country and he could sign a treaty with some other country [that wants to facilitate that]. Are you going to credit him when he comes to you and says, ‘I have this obligation not to defeat the object and purpose of this treaty I just signed?” he asked.
     Krepon opposed the assertions put forward by Rademaker.
     “The test ban treaty is an issue the Senate hasn’t addressed since 1999,” he said. “This administration has assured you and us that this resolution will not be binding…it will not invoke chapter seven of the U.N. charter and it will not override national law and national prerogatives.”
     Chapter seven of the U.N. charter outlines the Security Council’s powers to maintain peace, including military and nonmilitary action.
     “Nothing in this resolution will extend or change existing obligations on our country. We’re all waiting to see the language that comes out of the current negotiations and we’ll all be able to check the administration’s assurances against the actual text,” Krepon added. “I’m asking for a little more patience and we’ll get to the bottom of this.”
     According to Krepon, the importance behind the resolution is that both national and international security interests are best served by an enforcement of a test ban.
     “Our allies don’t want to see Russia or China resume testing and we’re looking for more leverage on North Korea, the only country left that tests,” Krepon said. “Reaffirmation of a treaty that this administration believes in, after its predecessor did not, [shows support to] our allies and shows we support monitoring of very low yield covert testing.’
     Wednesday’s resolution hearing was only one of two held on the topic of nuclear security.
     The U.S. Committee on Armed Services also held a hearing later Wednesday afternoon to review deferred maintenance issues impacting U.S. nuclear stockpiles and facilities.
     Dr. Charlie McMillan, laboratory director for the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, and Frank Klotz, administrator for the National Nuclear Security Administration, brought harrowing examples of the decrepit state of facilities throughout the nation.
     “Although the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy is widely understood, the link between nuclear deterrents and the infrastructure that supports it is less well appreciated,” Klotz said.
     He added, “While much has been accomplished over the last two decades to construct facilities with the high-performing computing capabilities required to certify nuclear stockpiles without testing, investment in infrastructure has not kept pace with the growing need to replace Cold War-era facilities. I can think of no greater risk than the current state of our aging infrastructure.”

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