WITH President Clinton's decision in July to extend the current
US halt on nuclear testing, prospects for a permanent, global ban
on nuclear testing look more promising today than they have for
more than a decade. Three other nuclear powers, France, Britain,
and Russia, also have declared a temporary moratorium on tests.
Washington has begun consultations with these nations and with the
fifth declared nuclear-weapon state, China, on starting five-way
talks for a comprehensive test-ban treaty (CTBT).
Despite the end of the cold war, a number of United States
nuclear "hawks" still object to a test ban. They see it as a
senseless restraint on US prerogatives that ultimately will damage
American security and fail to contribute to nonproliferation. In
fact, a CTBT will significantly enhance US security and that of our
friends around the world. It is important, however, for both sides
of this debate to recognize that the terms of that debate have
For many years, advocates argued that a CTBT would reduce the
threat of a catastrophic superpower nuclear exchange by making it
much more difficult to deploy new, more destabilizing arms.
Today, however, the collapse of the Soviet Union has largely
ended the superpower nuclear rivalry and, with it, the threat of
global nuclear war. The security benefits for the US and the larger
international community from this fundamental change vastly
overshadow any added reduction in the likelihood of superpower
nuclear war that a test ban may bring.
Indeed, when he extended the US testing moratorium in July, Mr.
Clinton emphasized the halt's potential contribution to slowing the
global spread of nuclear weapons. Here, the potential security
benefits for the US and its friends are likely to be very
First, although a comprehensive test ban may begin with the five
declared nuclear powers, it is generally assumed that the treaty
also will be adopted by a substantial number of nonnuclear states.
This will give the treaty considerable weight as an international
Today, the three undeclared nuclear powers, India, Israel, and
Pakistan, each could deploy nuclear weapons quickly in wartime. Yet
they are not conducting tests for fear of international criticism.
Among this group, only India is known to have conducted a nuclear
test, one in May 1974.
A CTBT would greatly reinforce existing pressures on these
countries to refrain from testing, even if they did not join the
treaty. In fact, however, both India and Pakistan have declared in
the past that they would join a test-ban treaty. Israel, too, might
take this step.
As a result, a CTBT would slow development of next-generation
weapons. India, Israel, and Pakistan rely on atomic weapons of the
types used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. None has yet developed far
more destructive thermonuclear ("hydrogen") weapons, which would
require full-scale tests. Moreover, while Israel apparently
possesses atomic warheads for its missiles, India and Pakistan have
not yet developed them. Progress toward this goal could be
retarded, perhaps considerably, if full-scale nuclear tests were
Second, a CTBT could constrain states like North Korea, Iran,
Iraq, and Libya that aspire to nuclear weapons. Some CTBT opponents
argue that, like Israel and Pakistan, these states would not need
to conduct tests to develop rudimentary atomic arsenals. A treaty,
they reason, would do little to keep them from crossing the
Most experts agree that testing probably would not be essential.
But it must be remembered that Israel developed its capability in
conjunction with France; many believe that it received data from
one or more French tests. Pakistan is thought to have received a
previously tested design from China. Whether other states that
lacked such help would have confidence in their nuclear weapons
without a test is uncertain. …