US Should Agree to Ban Underground Nuclear Testing

Article excerpt

THE Bush administration will soon be caught in a contradiction of its own making: On the one hand, it has argued that Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program poses such a danger that it may justify the use of force against Iraq. On the other, it promises to block an attempt by the rest of the world to prohibit underground nuclear testing, a move that may jeopardize extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which bans Iraq's acquisition of nuclear weapons.

At a conference beginning Jan. 7 in New York, the overwhelming majority of NPT member countries will seek an amendment to the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963 to end all underground nuclear testing - the only type of testing that still continues. The Bush administration has vowed to block this proposed amendment, arguing that continued US testing is necessary.

There are both technical and political reasons why the amendment should be supported. A comprehensive test ban would erect yet another barrier against the development of sophisticated nuclear weapons for nuclear-threshold NPT member countries like Iraq and North Korea.

The amendment would also extend its barriers to non-NPT countries that happen to be signatories to the Limited Test Ban, including Israel, Pakistan, South Africa, Brazil, and Argentina.

If the US blocks the proposed test ban, some third world NPT signatories have said they may refuse to go along with a longterm extension of that treaty when it comes up for renewal in 1995. Instead, these NPT countries suggest that, if the superpowers fail to end underground testing by 1995, they might vote for only a short extension of the treaty, and even that would have to be linked to an end to testing.

The number of NPT members considering this position is cause for taking them seriously. Already, about two-thirds of the more than 140 NPT members have lined up in support of the January conference to consider the amendment on testing. Only Britain and the United States voted against the conference.

I served on the US delegation that negotiated the NPT in the late 1960s, and I attended the 1990 review conference representing the Lawyers Alliance for World Security. At that meeting and at previous review conferences, the attendance has averaged about two-thirds of all members. …