Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
November 1, 1999
America's new view of itself
Following the U.S. Senate's defeat of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, President Bill Clinton commented, "The Senate majority has turned its back on 50 years of American leadership against the spread of weapons of mass destruction."
Residents of a score of countries from Vietnam to Iraq which have been victimized by American weaponry in recent decades might well take a jaundiced view of Clinton's claims of American moral superiority. So might those who remember the not-too-distant past when the U.S. military had 50,000 nuclear weapons at its disposal - enough to wipe out the population of the world many times over.
But the rejection of the nuclear test ban treaty is significant not because the American government has abandoned a highly moral stance which it never had, but because it has abandoned even the illusion that it is morally superior to other leading governments. Rejection of the treaty is a statement to the world that "It doesn't matter what you think, we're going to play by our own rules."
Such an attitude is bad enough when it is found in the leaders of small nations which have never tried to live by ideals of democracy and human rights. In the government of the world's only superpower, it is a truly frightening reassessment of the role that nation plays in the world. It is a self-assessment which cannot but send a jarring, dissonant note into the carefully evolving symphony of nuclear disarmament. It may even spark a new global arms race. If so, the Senate's action will undermine the goal it sought to attain - the safety of the American people.
Some have called the Senate vote a sign of a new isolationism. Alas, there is little prospect of the U.S. retreating from the world scene. It has too may economic interests in too many places and an all-too-well entrenched willingness to use firepower to protect those interests.
This is not isolationism, but unilateralism. What the U.S. Senate appears to be rejecting is not America's place in the world, but its responsibility to determine that place through the negotiation of major treaties with other world nations. U.S. supremacy is now so total that is can delude itself into believing that it decide its own path without negotiating with other nations which also have a stake in the future of this planet.
This was not the direction in which the post-Cold War world was supposed to proceed. The end of 45 years of Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was to produce a peace dividend - new resources for health, education and social programs now that money no longer had to be plowed into the arms race.
The peace dividend never materialized. Over the last 10 years, we have seen, instead, growing human misery in many parts of the world, a steadily increasing number of political and economic refugees, and several instances of mass slaughter. The arms traders are doing as well as ever.
The day after the U.S. Senate vote, the Vatican's man at the United Nations, Archbishop Renato Martino, told a UN General Assembly committee, "While militarism of all kinds must be checked, the abolition of nuclear weapons is the prerequisite for peace in the 21st century." He called for an "unequivocal commitment to their abolition."
In the U.S. Senate that commitment does not exist. But even enlightened self-interest should lead the senators to see that the safety of all people, including Americans, is served by the abolition of nuclear weapons. Instead, they buy into the tattered old belief that more and better nuclear weapons prevents war.
The test ban treaty was a step towards abolition. Now that the U.S. has retreated from that treaty, we may be on the verge of another arms race - one with a lot more players than previously. It doesn't have to be that way. The people of the world deserve a world free of nuclear weapons.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
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