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US-UN Relations: Prospects for the 106th Congress, Zoe Caldwell
Remarks by Jee Hang Lee, LWVUS Lobbying Staff
The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and Prospects for Its Ratification, Nancy Gallagher

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United Nations Update, Spring 1999

United Nations Treaties in Trouble

US-UN Relations: Prospects for the 106th Congress

A Summary Based on Remarks by Zarrin Caldwell
Assistant Director for Research, United Nations Association of the United States of America
March 17, 1999, Washington DC
Before the International Relations Committee of the League of Women Voters of DC

Recent Legislation: Ms. Caldwell discussed relevant legislation introduced in the 105th Congress, including the Administration's request for FY 1998-2000 for $1.021 billion to pay a portion of debts owed to the UN and other international organizations. The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 permits the budget caps to be adjusted to cover payment of such arrearages.

US Debt: The actual amount owed by the U.S. to the UN is still in dispute, with different figures cited by the UN, the State Department and Congress. The UN sets the US debt at around $1.5 billion. The State Department uses a debt figure of $1.02 billion, which includes withholdings i.e., funds withheld from certain programs due to political disputes. As for peacekeeping arrears, Congress unilaterally cut the US peacekeeping assessment in 1995 from 31% to 25%. In addition, Congress has proposed reducing the US contribution to the regular (administrative) UN budget from the current 25% to 22% this year and to 20% in 2000.

Of the $1.02 billion request, $575 million has been appropriated by Congress but disbursement of funds was not authorized. The State Department counts these funds as already paid by the U.S., although the UN has not received any of these monies.

Late last year, Congress passed HR 1757, which would have authorized the total payment of $575 million in arrears to the UN, with a rider attached prohibiting any funds in conjunction with family planning programs. President Clinton vetoed the bill due to this amendment and Secretary Albright has deplored use of the UN as a "political football" in the domestic debate over abortion. In a separate bill, Congress appropriated sufficient money to pay current dues in order, in part, to retain the US vote in the UN and this payment was made. The U.S. has generally paid its yearly dues on time and that continues to be the case. However, no arrearages were paid under this legislation.

The Helms-Biden Bill: The Helms-Biden bill (Division C of HR 1757), which would impose some 30 conditions related to UN "reform" prior to payment of $800+ million, is expected to be reintroduced in the 106th Congress. While participating in the drafting of the legislation, the Administration notes that it is out-of-date and requires revision. The Administration also notes the requirement in the bill for certain actions which are not within the purview of the UN Secretary General and which would therefore require General Assembly agreement.

Criticisms and Consequences: Various parties have criticized the conditions set forth in Helms-Biden for being unilateral; other member nations don't impose such conditions. Should the U.S. have the freedom to set its own payment schedule when other nations cannot? Such an approach reduces US leverage in the UN General Assembly to lobby for desired reductions of US assessments for peacekeeping and administrative expenses. Some member states have called into question the US failure to recognize reforms already undertaken.

Ms. Caldwell noted that if the U.S. does not pay its debt, or if US assessments are reduced, other nations must bear the resulting financial burden, which of course is not popular with the General Assembly.

With regards to reduction of US assessments for peacekeeping and the regular budget, other nations have demanded that the U.S. "pay its debts first". There is little possibility of negotiating assessment reductions until 2000.

Politics of Helms-Biden The current Administration position with regards to the conditions in the Helms-Biden bill seems to be that while tough conditions may be appropriate, they must be attainable. Ms. Caldwell feels that this reflects some willingness to negotiate with Congress but also a hardening of the Administration's position. She noted a Washington Times article which stated that Richard Holbrooke's nomination as ambassador to the UN may be in trouble absent a strong showing of commitment by the Administration to the reforms demanded by Congress.

UNA Position: The position of the United Nations Association (UNA) is that the arrearages should be paid "on time, in full, and without conditions." It considers the arrears a treaty obligation which must be honored. Further information on the UNA is posted at

Chances of Hill Action: On prospects for payment of the debt, Speaker Hastert's position on the linkage to abortion is unknown; there is political resistance to payments in general; and the Administration has failed to make debt payment a priority. However, grassroots support for payment may be increasingly heard on the Hill, and other nations are becoming more vocal in their opposition to the US debt. In addition, the consequences of nonpayment are becoming more apparent to the Hill and the American public.

US/UN — the Bigger Picture: Placing the whole question of the US relationship to the UN in a larger perspective, Ms. Caldwell cited the demise of the League of Nations which subsequently allowed formation of the United Nations. She stated that eventually the UN might be replaced by another organization, one that is "more democratic". The Security Council is often described as representing the power structure in place at the conclusion of World War II, and there is sentiment for expanding the Council to reflect more accurately today's world. She noted, though, that there is no unanimity as to how the Council should be expanded.

Ms. Caldwell feels that world anarchy is inevitable in the absence of enforceable world law. This argues in favor of the necessity to create some type of international organization, whether it be the UN or some successor organization.

Finally, she noted the important role of the League of Women Voters in promoting the UN to the American public in early post-World War II days. The League and similar organizations could again provide grassroots support and exert political pressure upon Congress to pay our arrearages to the UN "on time, in full, and without conditions". They could also explain to the public "why it's important that we stay involved with the world." They must show that the U.N. is relevant to US citizens.

In that connection, Ms. Caldwell noted that $12 million of Ted Turner's donation to the UN is being used to educate the American public about the need for the UN and the US role in the organization.

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Remarks by Jee Hang Lee, LWVUS Lobbying Staff

The League has three tiers of advocacy issues. Our tier-one issue, which goes back to our roots as an organization. is campaign finance reform and enhancing voter participation, including Motor Voter and voting representation in Congress for DC. Our tier-two issues include UN funding, health care for all and clean air/global warming issues. We also monitor certain "watchdog" issues on which we become active if they become nationally prominent.

In terms of advocacy, the UN arrears issue is the one International Relations issue that we work on at the national level. The League considers US arrears to the UN a legal treaty obligation that should be honored without conditions.

The League Lobby Corps consists of members from the metropolitan area who lobby Capitol Hill every third Thursday of the month on these issues. Each Lobby Corps member is assigned specific members of Congress, including but not limited to his/ her own. Because of the excessive cost, we can't bring in our members from each congressional district. (Comment by Lobby Corps member: We try to represent "the folks back home" by communicating with the Local Leagues afterwards about the lobbying action and suggesting follow-up.) Our Lobby Corps is a unique mechanism because of its capability to lobby Congress on a regular basis rather than just once a year as is done by most organizations.

In the 105th Congress, we lobbied with other organizations and coalitions for the payment of our arrears to the UN, but we ultimately failed. Given the position of Senator Helms and of the House leadership in general, it is going to be very difficult to change this, but we have had harder fights in the past.

Now we are on the horizon of the 106th Congress. We received the message the other day to the effect that Sen. Biden did not consider the arrears question an important issue for his constituents. We called the President of the Delaware League who called Sen. Biden's office to reiterate our position and to schedule meetings with his office. This unique capability shows the strength of our grassroots. With our network of members, we have great opportunities as an organization.

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The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and Prospects for its Ratification

A Summary Based on Remarks by Dr. Nancy Gallagher
Scholar in Residence at the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency
January 13, 1999
before the International Relations Committee of the League of Women Voters of DC

Ratification Needed: The broad question is whether or not the US Senate should give its advice and consent to the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The Clinton Administration is planning a major drive to push for ratification as early as possible. The big holdup is getting Senator Helms to schedule hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and bring the treaty to the floor.

The treaty, although it will not solve all our security problems, is an important step in the right direction. Failure to ratify would have serious consequences for the nonproliferation regime and for US arms control and disarmament and security policy in general. We were out front in the final generation of negotiations. Failure to ratify it would be a major blow to our credibility on any kind of arms control issue. In considering the treaty's shortcomings, you have to compare it to what the situation would be without this treaty and the verification regime that goes along with it. US nuclear testing is already heavily constrained. The test ban treaty institutionalizes the commitments that we have already accepted for ourselves and ensures that they also apply to other countries.

The Negotiation History: A ban on nuclear testing is the arms control issue with the longest history of serious negotiation. President Clinton has called it "the longest sought, hardest fought prize in arms control history." The impetus for negotiations on some type of test ban treaty go back to the BRAVO explosion in 1954, the first thermonuclear weapon. It was much larger than anyone expected and awakened a lot of people both to the dangers of nuclear testing itself and to the immense destruction that would occur if there ever was a nuclear war.

The test ban was seen as an issue where verification problems should be relatively easy to solve because there were so many means of verifying compliance without requiring extensive entrance into Soviet territory. Both the US and the Soviets were saying they wanted arms control but they couldn't agree on verification. Many people looked at the test ban as a way to test Soviet intentions. But, in the U.S. there was also a huge debate about whether or not we really wanted to ban tests.

The Limited Test Ban Treaty: The net result of those negotiations and internal deliberations was the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963, when we agreed with the USSR and the UK to prohibit tests in the atmosphere, outer space, and under water but not underground. The actual rate of testing went up after the Limited Test Ban Treaty was signed, but it was the first set of constraints and they are still with us.

People hoped the Limited Test Ban would be the first step toward rapid progress on a comprehensive test ban treaty but that did not happen. The US and Soviets went back to fighting over verification issues, largely as a way to avoid deciding whether they really wanted to end testing.

The Threshold Test Ban Treaty: Finally in 1974, the U.S. and USSR decided to take another easy part of the problem and ban very high-yield nuclear tests. The 1974 Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT) banned tests that are larger than 150 kilotons. Negotiated in a very short period of time, it relied almost exclusively on national technical means of verification, i.e., means of verification that can be used from outside the border of the other country.

Many supporters of a comprehensive test ban treaty saw the TTBT and a companion treaty covering peaceful nuclear explosions (PNE) as distracting attention from the real issue. If we ratified those treaties, there was a danger that conditions would be attached to the resolution of ratification that would make it much more difficult to move quickly to a comprehensive ban. These two partial treaties were pulled from the ratification process. This raises the question of what to do when there is an agreement on the table whose scope isn't as broad as you wish. It also suggests that you have to look at not only whether the Senate gives its advice and consent but also at possible restrictive conditions.

The Carter Record: In the negotiations of the late 1970s, President Carter, the Soviets and the UK again tried for a comprehensive test ban treaty and came far closer than most people realize. The Soviets made a number of major concessions on issues such as verification and PNEs.

As political support for detente eroded in the U.S., however, some policy experts questioned more openly whether they really wanted a CTBT even if verification problems could be solved. They argued that without nuclear testing we couldn't guarantee the safety and reliability of our nuclear arsenal and that therefore a CTBT was not in our national interest, regardless of Soviet compliance. As Carter realized how much political opposition there would be to the treaty, he thought it more important to stay focused on ratification of SALT II, so CTBT negotiations stalemated.

The Reagan/Bush Years: When President Reagan came into office, he formally ended US participation in CTBT negotiations. He depicted the CTBT as a long-term goal for when we no longer rely on nuclear deterrence. During this time, however, non-governmental organizations and elements in the non-aligned movement refused to take the test ban off the agenda. Many countries that had signed the Non Proliferation Treaty in 1968 saw it as a bargain between the nuclear-weapon "haves" and "have-nots" in which the latter promised not to acquire weapons in return for promises by the former to take serious steps to reduce their nuclear weapons and ultimately work toward disarmament. The CTBT has always been symbolic as evidence that the nuclear weapons states really were planning to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons. In its absence, it became harder to convince many members of the non-aligned group that the nuclear "haves" were really serious about disarmament.

At this time, the Reagan administration refused to ratify the Threshold Test Ban Treaty until we had the right to go to Soviet test sites and do on-site yield estimation to make sure they were not violating this treaty. From the Soviet perspective, such on-site yield estimation was unnecessary for the TTBT and is totally irrelevant for a comprehensive test ban since no one is supposed to be testing at all.

After Gorbachev initiated a nuclear testing moratorium, allowed in-country seismic monitoring by an American organization, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and eventually agreed to on-site yield estimation for the TTBT, Congress became fed up with the Bush administration's refusal to negotiate further test restrictions. Legislation of 1992 permitted a very small number of tests for safety and reliability reasons, after which the U.S. would discontinue nuclear tests as long as nobody else tested. It also pushed the administration to begin serious CTBT negotiations.

Multilateral CTBT Negotiations: By the time we went into negotiations in 1994, all the nuclear weapon states but China had declared moratoria on nuclear tests. A lot of the verification uncertainties had been resolved and many observers were optimistic about chances for getting a treaty quickly.

It didn't work out that way. The CTBT negotiations did not actually conclude until the summer of 1996. There were heated debates about verification, such as rules for on- site inspections and the relationship between the international intelligence-gathering capabilities and national monitoring.

There were also arguments about the entry-into-force (EIF) provision, which requires signature and ratification by forty-four nuclear-capable countries named in the treaty text This formula captured the five nuclear weapon states and three that were then nuclear threshold states — Israel, India and Pakistan — without actually naming them. The U.S. did not want that provision but China, Russia and the UK argued that this treaty's value as a non-proliferation measure required participation by India, Pakistan and Israel. India opposed the EIF condition, and felt that their other concerns had not been taken seriously. They blocked not only consensus on the treaty in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) but even the ability of the CD to transmit the treaty to the UN General Assembly.

The CD By-Passed: But the CTBT didn't die. Australia organized a group of other countries, "friends of the treaty," who brought the text to the UN General Assembly as document that they thought worth supporting. The question was not whether it would be supported by a majority of votes but whether it would be have very strong international support. We ended up getting much stronger support than people had anticipated.

The Ratification Record: Of the 44, only India, Pakistan and North Korea have not signed. Many people see US ratification as the key to what other countries are going to do. As of March 1,1999, there are 152 signatures and twenty-nine ratifications, including 15 of the 44 while a number of other countries are close to ratifying. China has said it plans to expedite their ratification process in hopes of being a ratifier by September 1999. India and Pakistan did say at the UN General Assembly after their nuclear tests that they intended to adhere to the treaty by September 1999, although what they said was very carefully couched. The focus on September 1999 stems from another provision in the treaty for a conference of ratifying states to discuss measures to bring the treaty into force if the treaty has not entered into force by three years after the date it was signed.

What it Does: The CTBT bans the bang, not the bomb. It is not formally a disarmament measure — it doesn't require parties to reduce nuclear weapons at all. It simply bans nuclear weapons explosive testing or any other type of nuclear explosion. It doesn't rule out simulations or subcritical tests or experiments. Activities at test sites are not prohibited. We still have the Nevada Test Site where people are still doing a variety of things. It is an indefinite treaty with the standard clause that if continued compliance with the treaty would jeopardize the supreme national interest, the parties can withdraw.

It is possible to develop nuclear weapons without testing, as countries like Israel have probably demonstrated, but if you are a nuclear weapon state, it is extremely difficult to develop advanced new types of nuclear weapons. If you are a non-nuclear weapon state, you are not going to be able to get very far. You can come up with a simple design that you hope will work, but having the confidence that it will work the way you want it to is another question.

Pros and Cons: Some might say although a CTBT is a good idea in today's world, who can guarantee that we will not need to test again twenty or thirty years down the road? Yet with the end of the cold war, the U.S. currently sees no need to develop new types of weapons. Thus it makes sense to have a treaty that obligates others to do likewise and that locks them into that commitment.

The issue of safety and reliability is another argument made against the test ban. The US government has decided the problem is serious enough to spend $4.5 billion in FY 99 on the Science-based Stockpile Stewardship Program — measures to ensure the safety and reliability of existing weapons without conducting nuclear weapon tests.

Another argument is that the U.S. can't be sure that all the states of concern to it will join the treaty. We will need to monitor nuclear testing regardless, but there will be fewer tests if the treaty is in force. The treaty makes the job a lot easier and gives us much better monitoring tools. We're getting access to countries that wouldn't have granted it before. In the absence of the treaty, we don't have the ability to go to a suspicious site and check it out. Moreover, other countries are more likely to join us in taking action against an Iraq, for example, if they feel invested in the norm, in this case, of no nuclear weapons testing. For all those reasons I think we are in a much better position if we ratify the CTBT and it enters into force.

Edited by International Relations Committee members Sheila Keeny and Susan Rao, March 1999. Single copies may be obtained without charge by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope to the DC League of Women Voters.

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