It was an idea first broached by former Indian Prime Minister
Jawaharlal Nehru in 1954. Back then the goal seemed impossibly
remote and idealistic. But in coming weeks, President Clinton will
ask the Senate to ratify an international treaty that would ban
nuclear-test explosions for all time.
Although there is wide support for the Comprehensive Test Ban
Treaty (CTBT), strident opposition from conservative Republicans
will likely trigger a full-blown debate over America's
post-cold-war nuclear weapons policies.
Since the end of the cold war, there have been increasing calls
for an overhaul of these policies. The latest came last month from
the National Academy of Sciences, which urged major cuts beyond
those already proposed for the arsenals of the United States and
Russia. The two nations are now reducing their deployed warheads to
about 5,000 apiece and have agreed in March to seek a new treaty
that would slash them to 2,500 each.
The academy also recommended that the former rivals forswear the
use of nuclear weapons in first strikes or in retaliation for
chemical or biological strikes.
Conservatives, however, insist the US must retain a powerful
nuclear arsenal, citing an uncertain international climate and a
possible renewal of tensions with China or Russia. Further, they
argue the CTBT won't inhibit nuclear proliferation and can't be
The treaty would be enforced by means of a globe-spanning
network linking treaty members' seismological systems and other
detection facilities. Shock waves caused by a nuclear test anywhere
in the world could be detected and reported, although even
supporters agree small-scale blasts might escape detection.
CTBT critics also contend the US arsenal's reliability depends
on periodic test explosions to ensure warheads can withstand aging
well beyond their design life spans. The US stopped producing new
weapons in the late 1980s and unilaterally halted test explosions
in September 1992. Russia has observed a moratorium since 1990,
while France and China declared similar halts after conducting
nuclear tests last year.
Earlier this year, the US launched a $40 billion program to
develop, over the next decade, high-speed computers and other means
of simulating test blasts.
As part of the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program
(SSMP), the US today was set to conduct a "subcritical" underground
explosion at the Nevada Test Site - meaning it uses less nuclear
material than is required for an atomic chain reaction. …