PRESIDENT Clinton underscored on March 15 America's commitment to negotiating a global ban on nuclear testing: He told Congress that the United States will continue its current moratorium on testing through September 1995. The decision demonstrated bold American leadership that will give new impetus to the international talks on a Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB) in Geneva. The first round ends on March 31, with encouraging progress thus far.
Achieving a CTB is critical to this administration's arms control and nonproliferation strategy. A permanent ban on testing will lower international tensions and provide new insurance against an arms race between the nuclear powers. As importantly, it will stem nuclear proliferation by discouraging other nations from developing their own nuclear arsenals. Continuing the moratorium creates the most conducive atmosphere for negotiating a CTB, and it puts the US in the best possible position to urge indefinite extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995.
Nonnuclear-weapons states that must vote on extension of the NPT have often questioned the seriousness of the nuclear powers in curbing their own nuclear-weapons programs. Extending the moratorium and working diligently for a CTB agreement is the best demonstration of that seriousness.
Mr. Clinton's decision was premised on a fundamental assessment of the US nuclear arsenal by the Pentagon and Department of Energy. They affirmed that our nuclear weapons are safe and reliable - fully able to provide the strategic deterrence on which the security of our nation depends. While additional tests could conceivably help prepare for a test ban - by providing further improvements in safety and reliability - the president believes that any benefits derived from testing are outweighed by the negative impact on our nonproliferation goals.
He also based his decision on the fact that Russia, Britain, and France have not carried out any nuclear tests since the moratorium went into effect. Only China has exploded a nuclear device during this time.
AFTER the Chinese test, the US protested vigorously to the Chinese government but decided that the test was not sufficient grounds for breaking the US moratorium. The US continues to press China hard to join the moratorium in order to further the CTB negotiations and advance global nuclear nonproliferation.
On Jan. 25, I delivered a strong message from Clinton to the opening session of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, where delegates from many countries are now negotiating a CTB. The president emphasized that there is no more important an issue for the conference ``than the negotiation of a comprehensive and verifiable ban on nuclear explosions.''
He said that a CTB ``reflects our common desire to take decisive action that will support and supplement the global nuclear nonproliferation regime and will further constrain the acquisition and development of nuclear weapons.''
In the nine weeks since bringing the president's message, delegates at the Geneva Conference have made real progress. They are striving within working groups to address difficult verification and legal issues. They are evaluating technologies to help monitor a test ban, including a network of seismic stations, atmospheric radioactivity detectors, and on-site inspections.
The US delegation in Geneva, led by Amb. Stephen Ledogar, will surely encounter obstacles in the negotiating that lies ahead. But we intend to push as hard as possible to resolve contentious issues and prevent them from blocking the path toward a CTB.
Each of the nuclear powers has committed itself to achieving a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing - and many other nations are willing to follow the lead. We must not squander this unprecedented opportunity by failing to assert US leadership or weakly pursuing US arms control and nonproliferation goals. We must rededicate ourselves to the task of achieving a CTB. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.