IT is now nearly 30 years since President John F. Kennedy's most lasting achievement: the signing of the world's first nuclear arms control treaty, the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963. The treaty followed a remarkable speech by Kennedy on June 10, 1963, at American University in Washington that dramatically altered relations between the world's two great nuclear powers. With the upcoming anniversary as a goal, President Clinton faces a historic opportunity to lead the way to a worldwide end to nuclear we apons testing and a substantial reduction of the nuclear threat.
He should use one of the upcoming 30th-anniversary dates to announce new, drastic reductions in nuclear weapons and progress toward a Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB).
Since the president was required by the Nuclear Testing Moratorium Act of 1992 - which halted US nuclear testing until July 1, 1993 - to report to the Congress whether and why he will pursue more nuclear tests and how he plans to achieve a CTB, the time for decisions that will make history is at hand. He has an excellent opportunity to be linked with his political idol by more than the youthful photograph of their hand shake so visible during the 1992 campaign.
Chastened by his brush with nuclear annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, Kennedy went to the podium at American University with a call for an end to the cold war, an end to the nuclear arms race, and greater United States-Soviet cooperation. To underscore his rhetoric, he made two brief announcements: High-level talks for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty would begin shortly in Moscow; and US atmospheric nuclear testing would stop so long as other nations also stopped. Kennedy's wo rds and deeds had a dramatic effect in Moscow. They led within only 55 days to the Aug. 5, 1963, signing of the Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT). The LTBT was then ratified on Oct. 7 and took effect on Oct. 10.
Mr. Clinton entered office preoccupied with other matters, including economic and foreign policy problems from Bosnia to Haiti that, like Berlin and Cuba, are not of his making. Meanwhile, nuclear disarmament, a CTB, relations with Russia, all demand bold action. None of these matters have, as yet, received the concerted presidential attention they deserve, despite repeated entreaties from activists and intellectuals to do so.
AT the recent Vancouver Summit, Clinton passed up the opportunity to announce the start of negotiations for a CTB. Nuclear weapons, moreover, received scant attention except for the promise of some $215 million to help the Russians store and dismantle weapons scheduled to be reduced under the START II Treaty.
In fact, the Clinton administration seems to be following an overly cautious approach to national security and nuclear issues in general, similar to that of the Bush administration and laid out last year by the 102nd Congress. The Clinton agenda so far appears to be modest defense cuts, despite the end of the cold war; minimal aid to Russia and other former Soviet republics; slow, steady, but finite reductions in nuclear weapons to the level of 3,500 US warheads in the year 2003 mandated by START II; con tinued work on the strategic defense initiative; production of nuclear submarines like the Seawolf and missiles like the Trident D-5; and, when the required report to Congress is completed, a likely series of so-called safety tests of nuclear weapons.
Clinton's course seems to calculate that the future of the planet should be determined by positions designed to secure a majority of votes in Congress. The perils of nuclear proliferation and possible political turmoil in Russia, however, call for vision and decisiveness. Each nuclear weapon not destroyed, each nuclear test conducted for whatever reason, and every failure to support reform in Russia, will spell peril in the future for the US and the world.
The 30th anniversaries of Kennedy's American University speech, and the signing, ratification, and implementation of the Limited Test Ban Treaty all await Clinton this year. Arms control groups here and abroad will be working, watching, and waiting. By June 10, Clinton should once again shake hands with destiny. As Kennedy understood, the world at times needs not just progress, but dramatic new hope.