THE SENATE'S defeat Wednesday evening of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty dealt a reckless blow to four decades of bipartisan efforts to ensure U.S. national security.
The United States has complied with the terms of this treaty since the end of the Bush administration and will go on doing so. The treaty is an effort to halt nuclear weapons development by the 43 other countries capable of it.
Instead, the Senate message was, go ahead.
The main valid criticism of the treaty is that it seeks to lock in the overwhelming U.S. advantage over other countries.
Why Republican senators want to abandon that and invite rogue countries to catch up is difficult for them to explain.
Until the rejection, the United States stood with China and Russia in having signed but not ratified the treaty. U.S. ratification would pressure the others.
The rejection puts the United States symbolically in the boat of only three countries that have refused even to sign: North Korea, India and Pakistan. From the standpoint of U.S. national interest, that is an absurd place to be.
Some would argue that the Republican majority did this for partisan advantage. Not so. Polls consistently show that the American people favor such a treaty if it has the proper safeguards. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have said this one does. In other words, the Republicans handed the Democrats an exploitable year-2000 campaign issue.
Why they wanted to do that is far beyond their ability to explain.
The Senate has the constitutional duty to reject treaties it deems harmful to the national interest. With hardly any time for national debate, though, lawmakers rejected the treaty in a nearly party-line vote, ending a course of national security pursued by both parties since the Eisenhower administration. It is the greatest repudiation of a major foreign policy since the 1919-1920 rejections of the Treaty of Versailles and U.S. membership in the League of Nations.
This treaty will probably be brought up again, possibly by a Republican president, and ratified. But two years will be lost, during which time some nuclear-hungry power will test nuclear devices it would not have, had the United States ratified the treaty it crusaded for so long to impose on the world.