The Senate Republicans’ shameful rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was the work of a core of hard-line conservatives led by Senator Jesse Helms. As chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Helms is an evil spider waiting to swallow whatever wanders into his web–an ambassadorial nomination, a United Nations dues payment proposal, an arms treaty. But it is wrong to see this odious man as the sole architect of the defeat when there are so many Republicans to blame, from Trent Lott down to the hapless internationalist Richard Lugar.
The circles of culpability ripple outward to an inept and unprepared White House. By the time the Administration concluded that it didn’t have the votes for ratification and wanted a postponement, Helms’s satraps had rounded up a solid majority against the treaty. Although that miscalculation was a proximate cause of the defeat, deeper flaws were at work–primarily, a host of misjudged Administration foreign policy priorities. The White House has repeatedly put other matters above laying the foundation for a denuclearized international order. Generally it has stressed unilateralism over collective action and corporate interests over international welfare. Specifically, rather than work with Russia to achieve quick ratification of START II and move on to START III, it placed NATO expansion over arms control, alienating Moscow. Rather than search for a way to introduce nuclear arms control in East Asia, it allowed the Pentagon to hype the North Korean missile “threat” and backed a plan for theater missile defense with Japan (goading China into its own nuclear buildup); rather than use further funding for missile defense as a stick and carrot to bargain with treaty opponents, it proceeded with its own plans for strategic as well as nuclear defense.
The Administration has failed, after seven years in office, to formulate, articulate and implement a foreign policy guided by an overarching internationalism. Its inadequate support for the CTBT is of a piece with the unilateralism implicit in its failure to pay its UN dues, its undercutting of the UNSCOM inspection system in Iraq (choosing bombing instead) and its NATO-oriented policy in Kosovo. Yes, the Republicans deserve the elephant’s share of the blame for, say, nonpayment of UN dues, but the President downgraded the UN by inadequately supporting its initiatives and failed to mobilize the two-thirds of Americans who disapprove of withholding US dues. Similarly, Clinton failed to rally public opinion behind the test ban treaty, which more than 80 percent of Americans support.
The Administration’s failure to push for an internationalist policy created a vacuum, and in oozed the Republicans. They have no better or more popular ideas. Their policy, as Jonathan Schell discusses on page 7, is an amalgam of discredited notions like Star Wars, US exceptionalism and an open-ended arms race. They have repudiated–in the case of the CTBT–the thinking of every Republican President since Eisenhower; they will help make the world the “dangerous place” they conjure up in their propaganda for Fortress America; they have dismayed our friends abroad by flaunting their contempt for the international community. Their ideas won by default (not by debate) because there was no coherent, vigorously championed internationalism to oppose them.
It is time for progressives to press for a New Internationalism. Its outline is easily sketched, and much of it is not new: collective security through the UN; multilateral aid with debt relief for the Third World, rather than foreign aid with strings attached; a global trade regime that protects labor rights and the environment and opposes corporate free trade; more resources for diplomacy and less for military buildup; adherence to an international criminal court, and so on.
There are points where progressive individuals and groups can immediately apply pressure. The defeat of the CTBT has galvanized antinuclear groups like Peace Action, the Council for a Livable World and Greenpeace, all of which plan activism in the presidential campaign, including badgering treaty opponents on the hustings. A shaky line is being drawn–Al Gore leaping in with a pro-test ban TV spot and George W. Bush equivocating on resuming testing but placing himself firmly in the Helms-Lott camp. People can ask their senators–Democrat or even Republicans like Richard Lugar–to schedule hearings on reintroducing the test ban treaty, keeping the issue alive in Congress.
The Republican senators have put the nuclear issue back on the table. They have given us a chilling preview of the foreign policy they want a GOP President to carry out. In the coming months, those who care about a nuclear-free world must make certain the Democratic candidate is on our side. It’s clearer than ever: Foreign policy must be a top issue in the next election.