The CTB Treaty and President Bill Clinton
By Jerome Grossman
One day in August 1999, my nephew Steven Grossman, then Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, on which I had represented Massachusetts from 1972 to 1980, telephoned with an interesting proposal. “You visit Washington, D.C. regularly to lobby senators on behalf of Council For a Livable World. I visit regularly in connection with my duties on the DNC. Let’s meet there for a leisurely dinner away from family and business responsibilities to catch up.” I accepted and set the date, Sept. 11.
Right after Labor Day, Steven called again. “There is a problem with that date. The President is dining with a group of billionaires and I must attend. But wait. Why don’t you come to the dinner? We can talk afterwards.”
I refused. Yes, I had voted for Clinton but had not made a political contribution. As a relentless liberal, I regarded him as too centrist for my politics. But, hey, if I can attend without paying, if I can ask him a question, why not? The matter was checked and cleared at the White House.
About 5:30 pm, I made my way to the Sheraton-Carleton Hotel and found at least 30 billionaires milling on the street. The hotel was being “cleaned” for the President’s visit, every inch of the building inspected, panels, closets, ducts taken apart and put together again.
Drinks and dinner were served at a large rectangular table. We were halfway through the filet mignon when the President appeared and began to work his way around the table, not spending much time with his old friends beyond greeting them warmly. When he got to me, I realized that this was my opportunity to ask my question without involving the other guests.
“Mr. President, your achievement in 1996 negotiating the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty worldwide was historic and will be long remembered, particularly because the predecessor Bush administration declined to participate when in power. However, you have not submitted the Treaty to the Senate for ratification so it will go into effect without U.S. participation in setting up the seismic and other technological capabilities to maintain confidence in the system. I urge you to send the Treaty to the Senate at once.”
The President agreed with the importance of the Treaty in discouraging the proliferation of nuclear weapons. He knew that the technical concerns raised, particularly that low yield tests could not be measured, had been effectively rebutted. But he said the main problem was insufficiency of votes, that there were not 67 votes for passage.
“Mr. President, I know that. But we must begin the process of educating the nation on the seriousness of the dangers of nuclear weapons. If you start the debate, the scientific community will back you up, raising public consciousness on this all important issue of planetary and human survival. You may not win the vote but you will have begun a process that must be completed for our country and the world.”
The President said that I was right and that he would submit the Treaty promptly. And he did so within two weeks. After debate, after much testimony, the Treaty failed.
The system set up by the CTB is working effectively at all levels but without U.S. participation. Today the Senate has before it more than two dozen treaties submitted for approval by President Bush and his predecessors – as far back as the Eisenhower administration. Action on the treaties is needed to repair America’s image as a responsible nation.
“President Clinton was gracious and interested throughout our conversation, even though I was not a billionaire and an uninvited guest. He did not rush the conversation but allowed it to run its natural course. In my enthusiasm for my subject, I took hold of his arm while making my point. How do I know this? His staff took our picture at that moment and mailed it to me. The Secret Service must have flinched.”
“ The unwillingness of the United States to conform to treaties leads other nations to believe that we regard ourselves as an exceptional country uninhibited by international law.”