Dec. '99/Jan '00
Senate to World:
Senateby Chris Netram
There's no question about it--we are THE global leaders. A recent piece on one of the television "newsmagazines" summed it up: we have the most powerful military, the strongest economy, the most inventive populace, and the greatest opportunities in the world. In short, everyone wants to be here. So what are we doing to foster continued prosperity?
No one credible can tell the future. But by looking at our current decisions one can extrapolate the effects of specific actions on our current standing as the king of the world. With its across-the-board influence, the federal government's actions serve as the best bellwether of things to come.
The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty provides a glimpse of where we're at. The CTBT, a 1996 UN-brokered pact, calls for a stoppage of underground nuclear testing. Currently, new bomb designs cannot be efficiently tested without underground testing; therefore, the treaty effectively ends the development of nuclear weapons. Signed by 154 nations, the treaty needs to be ratified by all 44 current nuclear powers in order to be put into effect.
The details of the treaty's fate in the US are stark: Jesse Helms, R-N.C., the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman had tabled the treaty for over two years; Helms and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-MS., unexpectedly reintroduced the treaty for a quick vote; when it seemed that treaty would be defeated, Democrats appealed to Lott for a motion to table the treaty or allow debate on its merits and flaws; the request was denied by Lott and in partisan voting (51 to 48), Republicans rejected the treaty.
Each party provides its own spin as to why the internationally vital and domestically popular treaty was defeated. Democrats say the treaty was shot down because the timing was not right to justify a quick vote. Here, our Senators admit that rallying votes on party lines is how work gets done in the upper house. Have we really come to this? Our elected officials determining the fate of nuclear arms control treaties according to loyalties to parties that address primarily domestic issues in their campaigns?
Republicans justified their partisanship with the contention that the treaty was inherently flawed due to the current state of our technology, which would not allow us to monitor every possible test in the world. This is undoubtedly a valid concern, but this reasoning is nonsensical in the United States. Are we not the same country that went to the moon, invented the computer, and developed space-based weapons? In the country that fostered the human genome project, NASA, Los Alamos, MIT, and Stanford lack of technology is a poor excuse, one that reveals the rejection of the treaty as little more than a thinly-veiled swipe at the President. Regardless of the quality of their reasoning, the fact remains that the rest of the world has to deal with a decision that seems to have come about as a result of petty bickering.
At its worst, the treaty would have frozen the development of a new generation of nuclear arms and may have prompted a standoff with a violating country testing its first bomb. As an arms-testing agreement, the CTBT was not designed to limit overwhelming American capabilities, which are key to America's role as a global peacekeeper, but rather to prevent the world from being threatened by a rouge group armed with the most destructive weapon ever created. Even without developing new nuclear devices, we posses the ability to steamroll any country or individual that gets on our bad side (read: Iraq and Milosevic).
At its best, the treaty would have allowed countries without a powerful military to divert resources and energy to issues more positive (education, economic development, political stability) than the development and testing of a nuclear arsenal. The logic here is simple--if the US, with the world's most technologically advanced and best-trained military supports a nuclear arms treaty, then the rest of the world need not put nuclear arms development at the top of their agendas. Some would say that this amounts to meddling in affairs outside our sphere of concern; however, CTBT's influence is more economic than military.
With an aging population and an insatiable desire for new products and services, America is a global economy whore. Without Indian engineers, Japanese researchers, Brazilian coffee exporters, and European car manufacturers, our standard of living would be barely tolerable. While we are globally dependent for our standard of living, the Senate's action casts America as isolationist. The situation is comparable to Bill Gates suddenly pulling all $5 billion out of his endowment to support education and diversity and putting it back into Microsoft in order to push his personal wealth even higher. By not ratifying the treaty, we have forced all world governments to make a hard decision that directly impacts US citizens. Should their resources be used to develop nuclear weapons or to develop the things that make them money, like American consumer goods?
So imagine that you're India--your people are impoverished, literacy is well-below the level of any industrialized nation, you can hardly support yourself economically--and you hear the US has canceled a UN-backed nuclear treaty.
The message that the rejection of the treaty sends is: the US is so big and bad that it doesn't need to care about the rest of the world. Suddenly, those computer engineers you've been sending to America seem like a valuable asset to your defense industry, since you need to make major technology gains in order to protect yourself from potentially nuclear-armed enemies. Simultaneously, the US with its low unemployment rate sinks into a recession because its manufacturers cannot fill orders or develop new technologies fast enough due to a simple lack of bodies. A nightmare scenario ensues of global economic chaos, war, and the Messiah walking the earth.
To Senate Hawks, the fate of developing countries is of little concern. These Hawks are in the same camp as House legislators whose protectionist concerns focused on sending "our boys" to fight "someone else's" war instead of human rights or ethnic cleansing when Kosovo happened. And when Afghanistan's Taliban, Iraq's Hussein, or Yugoslavia's Milosevic tests a nuclear weapon and threatens to destroy an American city, these are the same legislators who will be painting themselves as prophetic defenders of US nuclear capabilities rather than as reactionary militants who missed the best opportunity to prevent the situation from occurring.
Without this treaty, we have no real ability to pressure rogue states and countries with a vendetta against America who seek to develop nuclear arms. Our nuclear arsenal can't bring the dead back to life. It is a deterrent to countries with which we have positive relations, relations which are strengthened by military and economic cooperation. The fear of sanctions from all members of the industrialized world, which is what the treaty would have provided, is the ONLY thing that can effectively deter such a development.
Yes, the world is worried by the rejection of this treaty. So why aren't US voters?
Well, we do have the comfort of possessing the world's most advanced nuclear arsenal. In the long run though, that means very little. England had the world's most advanced navy and settled into a pattern of not caring about anything other than its own interests. It was at that point their influence waned. Do we really want to be another Britain--sitting back and trying to compete in a global economy that we created, instead of leading it?
With the threat of doom hanging over us, we remain complacent, letting partisan politics threaten our lives and livelihoods. We sit back, watch the news, read the papers and accept partisan politics as a matter of principle, as the way things work, a system that cannot be changed. But that is just not true. The time has come for us to make a personal choice. We can either let our voices be heard now by telling our legislators that we want ideas, debate, and action--not party-led voting--or make our voices heard in the future while whining about our status as a second-rate nation.
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