WASHINGTON -- A key U.S. Senate Democrat suggested on Tuesday that it is not only unlikely that a treaty banning nuclear weapons explosive testing will be ratified during the current legislative session but that it would be unwise to even begin Senate action regarding consent to the pact.
The United States signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996, and no longer conducts nuclear detonation tests as a matter of domestic policy. However, it is among eight key holdouts for ratification. In a high-profile speech in Berlin last month, President Obama reiterated his commitment to encouraging U.S. Senate consent to the accord.
During a question-and-answer session at the State Department Tuesday, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) suggested that pursuing CTBT ratification during the current session would be premature, however.
“I think it would be better not to take up the treaty in this session of Congress,” said Shaheen, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and an outspoken supporter of the president’s arms control efforts. “I think there needs to be a lot of education and groundwork done before that happens and so I think that’s where we need to start.”
Responding to another question, Shaheen suggested that Senate negotiations on arms control issues could be more difficult in the future given that Secretary of State John Kerry, a former Democratic senator from Massachusetts, and retired Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) are no longer members of the upper chamber.
The two former lawmakers, who until recently served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, respectively, were instrumental in obtaining ratification of the New START arms control accord in 2010, she noted.
“Their ability to go to their members in each caucus and speak to why the treaty was so important and to answer questions that people had is what made the difference,” Shaheen said. “I think as we look at new leadership on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that’s a challenge … We don’t have leadership now that has those years of experience that recognizes credibility.”
Shaheen said the current panel chairman and ranking member -- Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) -- are “very good people obviously doing a good job,” but that “they don’t bring to the discussion the kind of long, hard work that both John Kerry and Dick Lugar provided.
“I think as we look to the future we have to think even harder at how to provide that expertise in any negotiations,” Shaheen added.
Regarding prospects for quick ratification of the test ban treaty, Shaheen said, “I don’t think they’re good,” and noted that this assessment would be “not surprising” to experts tracking the issue.
The agreement has been cited recently in Republican legislative efforts that could limit the administration’s arms control work. A provision added to the fiscal 2014 defense authorization bill by Representative Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) would prevent the Defense Department’s Cooperative Threat Reduction program from spending money on work related to the test ban treaty unless Obama certifies that Russia and China are complying with the agreement.
Russia has ratified the treaty but China, like the United States, has signed but not completed ratification.
The Lamborn provision was cited in a White House veto threat last month.
Shaheen, meanwhile, is looking to expand the Cooperative Threat Reduction program’s efforts to secure materials that could be used to create weapons of mass destruction around the world. The senator has sponsored legislation that would require the Pentagon to report on how it could expand the initiative into the Middle East and North Africa. Similar language has been added to both the House and Senate versions of the fiscal 2014 defense authorization bill.
During her Tuesday remarks, Shaheen said that while continued bilateral talks with Russia on additional arms reductions are important, it is also “important for all of us to shift more time and resources back to the threat of nuclear terrorism.”
Shaheen said that last month, Iraqi military intelligence busted an al-Qaeda affiliate for making chemical weapons for use in both Iraq and Western cities. She also noted instability across North Africa and the Middle East, most notably in Egypt and Syria.
“The reality is that the proliferation threat in this already unstable region is growing,” Shaheen said.