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Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Event
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen , The White House, Washington, DC , Wednesday, October 06, 1999

President Clinton, Secretary [of Energy, Bill] Richardson, Director [of Central Intelligence, George] Tenet, members of Congress past and present, General [Hugh] Shelton [Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff], service secretaries and chiefs, former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General [John] Shalikashvili, General [David] Jones, and Admiral [William] Crowe, distinguished guests and Nobel laureates, and ladies and gentlemen.

Nearly 40 years ago, President Eisenhower warned that the climate of terror associated with nuclear weapons was in danger of locking the superpowers into an iron cycle of escalation. He called it "an inertia imposed by fear." And one way to shake off that inertia, he said, was for the United States to "devote its entire heart and mind to find a way by which the miraculous inventiveness of man shall not be dedicated to his death but consecrated to his life."

Well, we’re here today because of that miraculous inventiveness that Eisenhower spoke of, which is certainly in evidence by virtue of the presence of so many Nobel laureates who are here with us today. And indeed, we have been given a rare opportunity to overcome that standstill, to replace an inertia that encourages fear and that fuels proliferation with an environment that encourages stability and fosters confidence.

Now, the Senate's consideration of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty raises a critical question: What kind of a world do we want? Is it one with more nuclear weapons or fewer? If you believe, as I do, that we will be safer in a world in which we have fewer nuclear weapons rather than more, then we have to ask ourselves: How are we going to restrain other states from testing and creating and building a nuclear arsenal?

This treaty is an essential part of that answer because it provides an important tool to meet one of our most pressing national security challenges, that of nuclear proliferation. So by banning nuclear testing, this treaty removes a key tool that a state or a rogue group would need in order to acquire a high confidence level in its nuclear weapons design. It also ensures a very high level of international commitment to nonproliferation.

And I might say that notwithstanding this, I simply, as Secretary of Defense, could never recommend to the Senate that it give its advice and consent to this treaty if we didn’t have high confidence that we could maintain our own nuclear deterrent. Although the United States no longer is so dependent upon nuclear weapons as we were during the Cold War, nuclear weapons are going to continue to be an essential element of our national defense strategy for the foreseeable future.

And there are, of course, three pillars that provide a foundation for maintaining a safe and reliable nuclear stockpile: the program for Stockpile Stewardship, the process of annual certification of that program, and, of course, CTBT safeguards.

Today we have high confidence in the safety and the reliability of our enduring nuclear weapons stockpile, and to maintain that assurance it is absolutely essential that we press ahead and we press hard to put in place all of the elements of that stockpile stewardship program.

The Senate has a choice, I think, of monumental consequence. If the Senate rejects this treaty, the proliferation of nuclear weapons is more likely. And if more nuclear weapons are developed by more nations, it may well force the United States to review our own deterrent requirements and, indeed, perhaps even reverse the policy of reducing nuclear weapons.

And moreover, I would submit the following: If more weapon states emerge, it could well cause us to move to a much more technologically demanding defense posture. I don’t suggest that this scene of proliferation, or scenario, is inevitable, but I do suggest it’s a very dangerous possibility, and I believe it’s one that can and should be avoided.

In the same speech that Winston Churchill warned us of the descending Iron Curtain, he said the following, "The Dark Ages may return, the Stone Age may return, on the gleaming wings of science. Beware, I say. Time is plenty short. Do not let us take the course of allowing events to drift along until it is too late." Well, at this stage, I believe the best way to avoid allowing events to drift along is for the Senate to support the Comprehensive Test Ban


Einstein once observed that brilliant scientists are always going to be able to make more weapons that are bigger, more complex and more violent. But he said, "It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction."

And so it’s now my pleasure to introduce one of the many brilliant scientists who’s had the courage and displayed that courage to go in the opposite direction; whose powerful intellect served America’s defense in the dark days of the Second World War, designing radars for our bombers; who today shines a very bright light, like the laser he invented and pioneered, on America’s continuing pursuit of peace and security. Ladies and gentlemen, the 1964 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for Physics, Dr. Charles Townes. [Applause.]