Sen. Bob Corker has a problem. As Bill Gertz reported in his “Inside the Ring” column, Mr. Corker, Tennessee Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, objects to President Obama’s intention to seek a evade the need for Senate “ratification” of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) by seeking its approval by the United Nations Security Council.
The CTBT is a creature of the U.N. It sets up an enforcement authority that lacks the power to verify nations’ actions. It would, as so much the U.N. does, cost a lot and deliver almost nothing. In 1999, the Senate rejected ratification of the treaty precisely because of the lack of verification powers.
A letter from the State Department informed Mr. Corker that the president was going to seek a Security Council resolution that would provide that any U.S. nuclear test would defeat the “object and purpose” of the CTBT.
In an Aug. 12 letter to Mr. Obama, Mr. Corker reportedly wrote that by seeking passage of such a U.N. Security Council resolution, Mr. Obama would circumvent the Senate’s constitutional power over ratification of treaties. A National Security Council spokesman, parsing words in the Clintonian manner, denied that Mr. Obama was asking for a “legally binding” resolution from the Security Council and was only seeking members’ support for existing moratoria on nuclear testing.
(U.N. Security Council resolutions are supposed to have the force and effect of international law but, as we discovered in the Saddam Hussein era, such resolutions are only followed by nations such as ours. Nations such as North Korea and Iran regularly ignore them.)
If this seems vaguely familiar, it should. What Mr. Corker objects to is a version of the same mechanism Mr. Obama used — with Mr. Corker’s enthusiastic cooperation — to pave the way for U.N. “ratification” of Mr. Obama’s nuclear weapons deal with Iran.
When Secretary of State John Kerry signed the Iran nuclear weapons deal, and on many occasions since, Mr. Obama proclaimed it a comprehensive success. But there were — and still are — many substantive reasons to doubt him, not the least of which is the regime’s track record of never having changed its behavior as the result of any international agreement.
Success or no, Mr. Obama refused to submit his Iran deal to the Senate for ratification under Article 2, Section 2 of the Constitution, which is the only way such agreements can become treaties binding on the United States.
Under Article 2, Section 2 the president must get a two-thirds vote in favor of any treaty to make it a part of the law of the land. Instead, Mr. Corker’s provision required opponents of the deal to muster a two-thirds vote — 66 senators — to vote against it. It was a pretense to conceal another Republican cave-in to Mr. Obama.
Mr. Corker’s provision passed the Senate by a vote of 98-1, Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, being the only negative vote. In an entirely predictable result, when the time came for a disapproval vote, Republicans couldn’t even overcome the Democrats’ filibuster to get a final vote on disapproval.
After that, it was a small matter for the president to take the Iran deal to the U.N. Security Council, which eagerly approved it. What Mr. Corker had done was to enable Mr. Obama to claim Senate approval of his deal even though the Senate hadn’t done anything of the sort.
Mr. Corker taught Mr. Obama the lesson the president is adapting now to suit his desire to bind America to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. This time, Mr. Obama is just eliminating the Senate middleman. Mr. Corker, having made the Senate irrelevant, is now grousing about its irrelevance. In obvious retrospect, it would have been better if the Senate had done nothing rather than pass Mr. Corker’s measure.
Nothing the U.N. Security Council can or will do substitutes for Senate ratification. No future president is bound by the Iran nuclear weapons deal, nor would a U.N. Security Council resolution be binding with respect to CTBT.
Donald Trump has often condemned the Iran agreement as a bad deal, but he hasn’t said that he’d revoke it. Mrs. Clinton has praised the deal and is certain to retain it.
Whatever he does on the CTBT, it’s pretty clear that Mr. Obama isn’t done with respect to nuclear weapons, including ours. There are credible reports that he may declare a “no first use” policy for nuclear weapons.
Since 1978, it has been the announced policy of the United States that use of nuclear weapons will be considered in any conflict. The reason for this policy is that deterrence will only be effective if enemies cannot be sure that we won’t use nuclear weapons in a sufficiently dangerous conflict. During the Clinton administration in 1996, then-Secretary of Defense Bill Perry said that if America were attacked with chemical weapons, “We could have a devastating response without nuclear weapons, but we should not foreswear that possibility.”
Deterrence by not foreswearing the first use of nuclear weapons has served us well since the Soviet Union obtained nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them. There is no reason to change that policy now, especially in light of the threats we face from nations such as Iran.
To maintain the credibility of our nuclear deterrent force, future underground tests of nuclear weapons may soon be necessary to ensure they work. Mr. Obama’s actions on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in the U.N. Security Council notwithstanding, we will have the legal right to perform such tests when they are necessary and should not hesitate to do so.
• Jed Babbin served as a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration. He is a senior fellow of the London Center for Policy Research and the author of five books including “In the Words of Our Enemies.”
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