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Treaty foes ignored science, scholars say

By Dave Paiz
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
October 18, 1999

Scientists last week expressed frustration following Wednesday's senatorial defeat of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, saying that scientific research took a backseat to partisan politics.

The U.S. Senate vote came one week after University of Arizona geosciences professor Terry Wallace and colleagues held a press conference in Washington, D.C., on the capability to successfully monitor the treaty.

Wallace is president of the Seismological Society of America. He and colleagues Jeffrey Park of Yale University and Gregory van der Vink of the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology, issued the statement on behalf of the SSA and the American Geophysical Union.

The statement was drafted because the SSA and AGU felt obligated as scientific societies to express an opinion on the potential verifiability of the test ban treaty that was divorced from any partisan political agenda, Wallace said.

In 1996, the United States became the first nation to sign the treaty, although it wasn't ratified then. Since that time, 152 nations have signed the agreement - which bans all underground nuclear test explosions.

To date, only 51 nations have ratified the accord. The Oct. 13 Senate vote against ratification made the United States the first nation to officially reject the test ban treaty.

" I believe it is a big mistake," Wallace said. "I believe that most of the questions raised about the treaty not being verifiable are facetious."

In an e-mail interview Friday, Park said the AGU represents 35,000 scientists with a diverse range of political views and therefore avoids making political statements. He said despite their diversity of viewpoints, AGU scientists are still able to reach a consensus on the technical questions that surround many national policy issues.

"About a year ago, several seismologists proposed to AGU that such a consensus existed on our ability to monitor the treaty," Park said.

Park said it took AGU and SSA scientists roughly a year to draft the position statement.

The Oct. 6 press conference was held "about 24 hours too late" to have had any real impact on the Senate debate, Park said.

"By the time we held our news conference, the news media were focusing on the political fight between the president and the Senate, and no longer seemed interested in the treaty itself," Park said. "In partisan politics, winning seems to be the only thing that matters."

President Clinton and his supporters had hailed the treaty as an effective deterrent against the global proliferation of nuclear arms, while opponents like Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C. and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., argued that the treaty would not prevent so-called "rogue nations" like Iraq, North Korea or Pakistan from developing and testing such weapons.

Park disagreed with the opponents' claims.

"The evasion scenarios that were proposed in the Senate debate by the treaty opponents are not credible," Park said.

Wallace and Park said the Senate debate became mired in political rhetoric, which prevented a serious discussion of the treaty's monitoring provisions.

Both said the monitoring measures outlined in the treaty are fully capable of verifying compliance worldwide.

"We have had test events in the last few years that have demonstrated the power of the current system of seismic sensors," Park said. "With the treaty, seismic monitoring would be expanded further and augmented by other technologies to sniff out a test."

The statement asserts that treaty compliance would be verified using the intelligence resources of member nations, an International Monitoring System consisting of seismic, hydroacoustic, radionuclide, and infrasound networks, on-site inspections and the combined efforts of scientists and institutions worldwide.

Wallace and Park said that despite the scope of the proposed treaty monitoring system, it would not be able to detect all weapons testing.

"There is always some low level at which testing becomes difficult, but we would nail any nation that tested a serious weapon," Park said.

Although Park and Wallace are optimistic that the treaty debate will be revived sometime after the 2000 election, both scientists said last week's debate showed how easily technical issues can become clouded by political maneuvering.

Park said the Senate's rejection of the test ban treaty contradicts the aims of publicly-funded scientific research.

"The taxpayers pay for scientific research to address issues of importance to the nation," Park said. "It is irresponsible for lawmakers to ignore what the research discovers."

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