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President Clinton sent the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to the Senate for ratification two years ago, and there it has languished, except to serve as an occasional foil in the skirmishing between a Democratic White House and a Republican Congress.

Clinton and Senate Democrats signaled last week that they would soon begin a push for ratification. More skirmishing? The 2000 election looms.

Jesse Helms, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, might move the treaty -- if the president withdrew two other treaties he detests. Republican leaders would like to strike a deal: ratification in exchange for Clinton support of a missile defense.

The merits of the test ban? Five current and former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff support the test ban. So do most arms-control experts.

The ban would ensure American nuclear superiority. It would discourage emerging nuclear countries from accelerating the arms race. North Korea launches a long-range missile. China upgrades its nuclear arsenal. These efforts become more difficult when the United States honors a test ban.

Then again, these arguments have been plain for years. They will be more obvious when the next nuclear power emerges. Why wait?

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