Obama to push for test ban treaty

The Obama administration said on May 10 it was preparing a push for approval of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, arguing that the United States no longer needs to conduct nuclear tests but needs to stop other countries from doing so. Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher said a legally binding global ban on testing would help pressure states like Iran from engaging in illicit nuclear activities and discourage an arms race in Asia, where rivals India and Pakistan have conducted nuclear explosions.

There is widespread international support for the test ban treaty, which already has been ratified by more than 140 countries, but it cannot come into effect because some nuclear powers like the United States and China have not ratified it. Proponents say U.S. ratification could help get other countries with nuclear programs to sign on. Opponents argue that a permanent end to testing could erode the reliability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and some question whether cheaters on a test ban treaty could be detected.

The United States has not conducted a nuclear weapon test in nearly 20 years, Tauscher said, and no longer needs the testing option, so that “we give up nothing by ratifying the CTBT.” Meanwhile, there have been advances in systems that can detect tests that may be conducted by countries hoping to develop nuclear weapons or advance their nuclear capabilities, she said.

Support of two-thirds of the Senate is required for ratification of the treaty. President Bill Clinton failed to get the CTBT approved in 1999 because of Republican opposition. His successor George W. Bush never resubmitted it. President Obama has made clear he sees the test ban treaty as a step toward his vision of a world without nuclear weapons, like the New START arms reduction treaty that the Senate approved in December by a vote of 71-26. However, he has not specified a time when he would seek a Senate vote on the CTBT.

Democratic Senator Bob Casey told the Arms Control Association that he favors the test ban treaty and thought the Senate should act on it before the 2012 election, “but I don’t have a high degree of confidence that we will.” Republican Senator Jon Kyl, who led opposition to the test ban treaty in 1999, told reporters that he was still firmly against it. Kyl also voted against New START.

– edited from Reuters, May 10, 2011
PeaceMeal, May/June 2011

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Test Ban Treaty only half a loaf

Half a loaf is supposedly better than none, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) signed by Pres. Clinton on Sept. 24 delivers only half a loaf. Those who get the half a loaf are the United States and other nuclear weapons powers. Those who get nothing are the nuclear weapons "have nots."

The heart of the matter is that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), does not address the crucial problem of nuclear disarmament. The NPT commits the nuclear weapons states to conduct "good faith" negotiations toward nuclear disarmament, but it contains no objectives or deadlines. Neither does the CTBT. Together, the two treaties serve to deter new countries from joining the nuclear weapons club; but they do not outlaw the club with its present members.

The situation is highlighted by the refusal of India to sign the CTBT because it does not establish any schedule for the nuclear powers to get rid of their arsenals. India is one of the "threshold states" that must sign the treaty for it to become law.

The CTBT is marred by the hypocrisy of the nuclear weapons "haves," whose seeming sincerity hides an ulterior purpose. Although it will never be admitted officially, the clear effect of the CTBT as written is that the nuclear powers retain their edge over the rest.

This is especially true of the United States which has launched a huge new program to continue nuclear weapons development without nuclear testing. Under the guise of certifying the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, the Energy Department's newly established Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship (SBSS) program includes major new experimental facilities at both nuclear weapons labs and a huge computing project to study warhead components and more accurately model nuclear explosions.

The Energy Department says this multi-billion-dollar program is critical to maintain the stockpile, which alone gives credence to India's stance. The SBSS program, however, is much more. Official documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) show that the SBSS program is designed to maintain nuclear warheads and weapons designers indefinitely (i.e., beyond the year 2025), increase the capability to conduct experiments that could be used in designing new warheads, and perhaps insure the reliability of the stockpile for possible use in a nuclear first strike.

The far-ranging agenda of the SBSS program could have serious repercussions. Since neither Russia nor China has the funds to greatly expand their nuclear design facilities, their inability to compete with the United States in weapons experimentation may lead them to resist progress toward disarmament and ultimately resume nuclear weapons tests.

According to The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (September/October 1996), this prospect is given credence by a 1994 review by the JASONs, a group of nuclear experts that advises the Defense Department. The JASONs' review states that the "U.S. nuclear infrastructure under the SBSS will retain a capability to design and build new weapons, which could be deployed should the need arise and lead to the resumption of nuclear testing."

- Jim Stoffels, chairman and editor
September/October 1996