Reconsider the Nuclear Test Ban

By Kimball, Daryl G. | Arms Control Today, April 2011 | Go to article overview

Reconsider the Nuclear Test Ban


Kimball, Daryl G., Arms Control Today


Ten years ago, President Bill Clinton asked Gen. John Shalikashvili, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to review issues surrounding the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in the aftermath of the Senate's 1999 rejection of the treaty. His 2001 report concluded that "the advantages of the Test Ban Treaty outweigh any disadvantages, and thus that ratification would increase national security. For the sake of future generations, it would be unforgivable to neglect any reasonable action that can help prevent nuclear proliferation, as the Test Ban Treaty clearly would."

Today, a growing, bipartisan list of national security leaders agrees that it is past time to heed the general's advice and reconsider the value of the CTBT. After 1,030 U.S. nuclear test explosions, there is simply no technical or military rationale for the United States to resume nuclear explosive testing. At the same time, U.S. ratification of the treaty would reduce the risk that other countries might conduct nuclear tests that could improve their nuclear capabilities.

In China's case, a new round of test explosions would allow it to miniaturize warhead designs and put multiple warheads on its relatively small arsenal of strategic ballistic missiles - a move that could allow a rapid increase in its nuclear strike capability.

Without nuclear weapons test explosions, potential nuclear-armed countries such as Iran would not be able to proof-test the more advanced, smaller nuclear warhead designs needed to deliver such weapons using ballistic missiles. Given Tehran's advancing uranium-enrichment and missile capabilities, it is important to establish additional barriers against a sophisticated Iranian nuclear weapons capability in the years ahead.

U.S. action on the CTBT would prompt a chain reaction of ratifications by the eight other holdout states, including China and India, and advance the prospects for entry into force.

Yet, in order to explode the myths and misperceptions that have blocked progress toward U.S. ratification in the past, President Barack Obama must step up his efforts and engage the Senate in an in-depth dialogue on the treaty. For their part, all senators must take their national security responsibility seriously and thoroughly review the new evidence that has accumulated in favor of approving the CTBT.

For instance, in 1992 then-Rep. Jon KyI (R-Ariz.) claimed, "[A]s long as we have a nuclear deterrent, we have got to test it in order to ensure that it is safe and it is reliable." Now it is abundantly clear that this assertion is wrong.

The nuclear weapons laboratory directors report they now have a deeper understanding of the arsenal than ever before. …

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