September 23, 2016

Corker Statement on Obama Administration U.N. Security Council Resolution on Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty

Administration Changes Course After Pushback from Senator, Members of Senate Foreign Relations Committee

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released the following statement today on a resolution offered by the Obama administration at the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) regarding the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which the Senate rejected in 1999.

“In so many cases, the president has tried to circumvent Congress by retreating to international organizations and ‘executive agreements’ in an attempt to unilaterally make significant policy changes,” said Corker. “Fortunately, it appears the administration has heeded the strong warnings so many of us articulated in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing earlier this month and has changed course on the CTBT. Any attempt to circumvent Congress by using a backdoor process to attempt to implement a treaty the Senate has voted to reject would have been wholly inappropriate and set a dangerous precedent, and I am pleased the engagement of the members of our committee in this issue has dissuaded additional executive branch overreach by this administration.”

When the State Department first provided details about the nature of the resolution under consideration in August, Corker actively pushed back against the administration and wrote a letter to President Obama explaining how certain language might impose international legal obligations on the United States by affirming a U.S. commitment against nuclear testing.

Earlier this month, reports indicated the administration would invoke “Article VII of the U.N. Charter to ‘call upon’ nations to refrain from nuclear testing” and include a statement from the UNSC’s five permanent members declaring that “any nuclear explosion defeats ‘the object and purpose of the CTBT’.” Corker expressed concern that such language could bind the U.S. to the CTBT under customary international law.

In a letter to Corker earlier this month, Secretary of State John Kerry attempted to assure lawmakers that the administration would not support a resolution “imposing a legally binding prohibition on nuclear testing”.

Yesterday, Corker responded to Secretary Kerry affirming the State Department’s 2008 legal interpretation that the U.S. has no current obligations under the CTBT.

“This legal position is consistent with my own view and that of a majority of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, namely, that the Senate’s rejection of CTBT in 1999, coupled with the previous administration’s clear declaration that the United States does not intend to become a party to that treaty, has extinguished any legal obligations that might have resulted from signing the treaty and, further, that no such legal obligations would enter into force absent Senate consent to ratification,” the letter stated.

Corker recently convened a committee hearing to examine the legal consequences from such action and the implications for the Senate’s constitutional authority to provide advice and consent prior to U.S. ratification of treaties. Former Assistant Secretary of State Rademaker testified that the Obama administration’s interpretation of existing U.S. obligations related to the CTBT defies the Senate’s rejection of the treaty and the legal judgment of the George W. Bush administration.