US Shouldn't Test Nukes - Even If China Does Many Nonnuclear Weapons States Say the US Position on Testing Will Influence Their Own Policy

By Maurice A. Mallin. Maurice A. Mallin is a national security and defense analyst with Science Applications International Corporation . | The Christian Science Monitor, September 30, 1993 | Go to article overview

US Shouldn't Test Nukes - Even If China Does Many Nonnuclear Weapons States Say the US Position on Testing Will Influence Their Own Policy


Maurice A. Mallin. Maurice A. Mallin is a national security and defense analyst with Science Applications International Corporation ., The Christian Science Monitor


RECENT evidence suggesting that the People's Republic of China (PRC) is preparing to conduct a nuclear test creates difficult dilemmas for the Clinton administration.

On July 3, President Clinton announced that the United States would refrain from nuclear testing "as long as no other nations test." The president reiterated this pledge in Monday's speech before the United Nations. Thus, if the Chinese tested, the US would have a basis for resuming nuclear testing. Yet, actually conducting new tests may not be the best response to a PRC nuclear test.

Most likely, officials in the administration did not expect any resumption of nuclear testing. France and Russia endorsed the US position and reaffirmed their resolve not to test first. Britain conducts its tests in the US and is therefore presently unable to do so.

China did not formally forswear testing, but for many reasons was not expected to test.

First, the PRC has generally (if ambiguously) supported a Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB), and the administration's July announcement was clearly intended to facilitate that objective.

Second, the PRC, in making its failed bid to be awarded the 2000 Summer Olympics, worked hard to cultivate a perception of moderated behavior.

Third, there is no threat to the PRC that justifies new nuclear testing.

Fourth, with worldwide opinion largely supportive of a cessation of testing, it seemed unlikely that China would risk international condemnation and isolation on this issue.

The Chinese reportedly have argued that testing is necessary to improve the safety of their nuclear arsenal. However, alternate approaches may be available to address this concern.

For example, the US could offer to provide assistance to safeguard and enhance the safety of the Chinese arsenal, in exchange for a commitment to uphold the moratorium. Whether such an offer was made is not known.

In any case, a Chinese nuclear test would leave the US with hard choices. In July, the president stated that if another nation tested first, he would instruct the Department of Energy to prepare for additional tests and seek congressional approval for new nuclear testing. These are sensible steps. They leave the US well positioned to resume testing, if it is later concluded that testing is necessary.

The real question is whether a Chinese test justifies conducting new US nuclear tests, as opposed to preparing for them. The answer: Probably not.

The connection between whether we test, and whether another nation does so, has political value but is somewhat tenuous. …

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