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Test ban politics proliferate under Clinton: bans go only so far when other nations refuse to do the same.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- President Bill Clinton's surprise decision to extend a moratorium on nuclear weapons testing for 15 months while pressing for a test ban treaty could mark the end of half a century of nuclear explosions, say advocates of nuclear disarmament.

But, they add, a test ban alone will not achieve the goal the president set forth when he announced the extension July 3: "to discourage other nations from developing their own nuclear arsenals."

Clinton had been widely expected to accede to pressure from the Pentagon and the Department of Energy to permit a resumption of testing after a nine-month moratorium imposed by Congress expired July 1. When it passed the moratorium last October, Congress also directed the government to strive for a comprehensive test ban treaty by 1996. But the legislation permitted as many as 15 underground weapons tests, if they were needed to insure the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

In June, as the moratorium's expiration date neared, 36 senators and 100 members of Congress urged the president not to resume testing. Subsequent news reports said the White House planned to offer Congress a compromise of six tests. That plan, though, was suddenly swept aside when Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary -- in the face of vehement opposition from the DOE's own nuclear weapons laboratories -- told Clinton that experts had convinced her there was no need to test weapons for safety purposes.

Clinton announced July 2 in his weekly radio address that the United States would begin talks with the four other nuclear powers about a comprehensive test ban treaty. On July 19, Undersecretary of State Lynn Davis began visiting European and Asian capitals to open discussions about the test ban treaty. Meanwhile, the president said, Washington would continue its test ban through September 1994 -- "as long as no other nation tests."

Sen. J. James Exon (D-Neb.), a sponsor of the moratorium legislation, told the Associated Press he was worried that testing proponents at the weapons labs and the Pentagon were trying to provoke Russia, France and China to resume testing. China is regarded as the nuclear power most eager to conduct further tests.

However, William Arkin, the director of military research for Greenpeace, told NCR he did not believe a Chinese test "would automatically trigger U.S. testing" -- not as long as negotiations on a comprehensive test ban treaty are going forward 'and the French and the Russians are continuing to play ball.'

Russia, which has maintained a unilateral moratorium on tests since October 1991, and France, which suspended its nuclear weapons tests in April 1992, welcomed the U.S. extension with pledges to continue their own bans. (Britain conducts its tests at the U.S. test site in Nevada and is therefore effectively constrained by U.S. policy.)

Moves toward a test ban might achieve one key administration goal: persuading the more than 150 nonnuclear signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to vote for a long-term extension of the 1968 pact when it comes up for renewal in 1995. But a test ban is unlikely to inspire the group of nations known as undeclared nuclear powers to join the NPT. These states reject the monopoly on nuclear weapons the treaty gave to the original five nuclear powers.

In a pointed statement welcoming Clinton's July 2 announcement, India -- which has refused to join the NPT and is widely believed to be capable of making nuclear weapons -- said it would work "toward establishing a cooperative world order based on truly nondiscriminatory nonproliferation and disarmament with the objective of establishing a nuclear-weapons-free world."

An official of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, a State Department office that Clinton has designated to lead U.S. nonproliferation efforts, noted that "a vast majority of the world's states ... have chosen to tie their hands" and pledge, under the NPT, not to develop nuclear weapons.

In return, "the U.S. is very generous in providing all sorts of [civilian nuclear] technologies to most NPT parties," said the official, who requested that her name be withheld. Moreover, she told NCR, "I don't think that the weapons states would have been as comfortable in reducing their weapons" under START II and other recent initiatives, "if it had looked like there were new nuclear weapons states popping up all over the world."

However, Arkin said, "the administration and most nuclear experts and moderates in this country are willing to tacitly accept the existence of an Israeli, Indian and Pakistani arsenal under certain constraints and controls and (instead of a tough nonproliferation stance against these states) they're focusing their attention on the arsenals that don't exist: the Iranian and North Korean and Algerian and Libyan."

"As long as the U.S. clings to nuclear weapons for its security, other nations will want nuclear weapons for their security," Kathryn Schultz, a research analyst at the Center for Defense Information in Washington told NCR. CDI proposes banning the production of fissile material and dismantling existing nuclear warheads to "delegitimize nuclear weapons in the eyes of others, to make them seem as though they're not valuable additions to your military defense or power," Schultz said.

"There's one magic button that's left" to halt proliferation, Arkin said, "and President Clinton doesn't have the guts to employ it: to say he's in favor of the abolition of nuclear weapons."

"The nonnuclear weapons states want the nuclear weapons states to get rid of their weapons," said the ACDA official when asked about the administration's policy on disarmament. "We're doing that as fast as we can, within the current thinking about our security requirements." But, she acknowledged, "there has not been an expression of view" on whether the administration envisions a nuclear-free world.
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Title Annotation:nuclear weapons testing
Author:Hunter, Jane
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Jul 30, 1993
Words:951
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