• U.S.

A Call for American Consensus

8 minute read
Madeleine Albright

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 are premature.

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 most threatening.

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 arms control.

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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