U.S. Drops CTB 'Early Out' Plan; Test Moratorium May Be Permanent

By Lockwood, Dunbar | Arms Control Today, March 1995 | Go to article overview

U.S. Drops CTB 'Early Out' Plan; Test Moratorium May Be Permanent


Lockwood, Dunbar, Arms Control Today


IN A REVERSAL of earlier policy, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake announced January 30 that Washington had decided to withdraw its highly controversial proposal to allow an "easy exit" after 10 years from the comprehensive test ban (CTB) treaty being negotiated at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva. He also said that, assuming a CTB is signed before September 30, 1996, the current U.S. moratorium on nuclear testing will be extended until a CTB enters into force.

The decision to extend the moratorium probably means that the United States will not test again because even if a CTB is not signed by September 30, 1996, Congress passed legislation in 1992 that prohibits further U.S. testing unless another country conducts tests after September 1996. If the United States signs a CTB before that date, under international law it may not then take actions contrary to the intent and purpose of the treaty, even if the accord has not yet entered into force.

Lake also proposed that CD delegates remain in session until September if work on the CTB is not concluded during the round now scheduled to end in April.

The day after Lake announced the three U.S. initiatives on a CTB, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) Deputy Director Ralph Earle II reiterated them at the first CD plenary session for 1995, where they were received warmly.

When the United States first proposed a special CTB withdrawal provision last August, most CD members, including the other nuclear-weapon states, opposed it. Washington wanted a provision that would allow states to withdraw from the treaty at a review conference held 10 years after a CTB enters into force. At that time, any state electing to withdraw after 180 days' advance notice would not be required to provide a formal written statement of "the extraordinary events" it saw as "jeopardizing its supreme interests."

Last December, the Group of 21 nonaligned countries at the CD sharply criticized the U.S. proposal, calling it "a serious setback to the ongoing negotiations" and maintaining it would undermine the treaty's credibility, effectiveness and its prospects for universal application. In addition, several commentators said the administration's proposal would harm efforts to achieve an indefinite extension of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

President Bill Clinton's decision to withdraw the proposal came after a weekend meeting with key advisers just before the CD reconvened. Informed sources say his national security and science advisers, the Department of Energy and ACDA urged him to drop the easy-exit proposal, while the Defense and State departments wanted to keep it.

During interagency debate, the Pentagon reportedly wanted the president to accept a quid pro qua, and proposed a higher threshold yield for permitted nuclear experiments in return for dropping the easy-exit proposal. Previously, the Pentagon had apparently been willing to limit hydronuclear tests (involving the release of very small amounts of fissile energy) to the equivalent of two to four pounds of high explosives in conjunction with the easy exit provision. …

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