by Kingston Reif
Uncowed by its failure to convince the U.S. Senate and the American public to oppose the New START treaty, the Heritage Foundation is trying to gin up opposition to another international treaty that would greatly benefit U.S. national security: the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
The CTBT prohibits all nuclear test explosions and creates a robust international verification regime to buttress the existing national capabilities of state parties in ensuring compliance with the treaty.
A growing number of military leaders and former nuclear laboratory directors agree that nuclear testing is a dangerous relic of the Cold War and isn’t in the best interests of the U.S.
Because the U.S. does not conduct nuclear tests and has no plans or the need to do so, it should take advantage of the security and political benefits that would come with ratification of the CTBT. A permanent test ban would close off the one reliable avenue – nuclear testing – by which other states might develop new, sophisticated weapons and/or increase the lethality of already existing arsenals.
A legally binding prohibition on nuclear testing is particularly important in South Asia, where India and Pakistan continue to build up and modernize their nuclear forces. A test ban would help lessen the chances of a destabilizing arms race in the region – assuming the two countries agree to ratify the accord.
In a May 10 address in Washington, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher stated that the Obama administration will begin to engage with the Senate on the treaty. The administration put off such a campaign in 2010 because of its focus on New START.
In 1999, those Republicans who opposed the treaty did so largely on the grounds that the treaty is unverifiable and that the U.S. nuclear deterrent cannot be maintained without testing. A critical piece of the Obama administration’s outreach will be to encourage Senators to carefully examine the remarkable improvements that have been made in the last decade in our ability to maintain the arsenal via the stockpile stewardship program and to detect nuclear testing.
In order to assist Senators in their evaluation of the treaty, the administration has commissioned a National Intelligence Estimate and an independent National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report to assess the ability of the U.S. to monitor compliance with the treaty and the ability of the U.S. to maintain, in the absence of nuclear explosive testing, a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal. Both studies have been completed, though they remain classified.
In response to Tauscher’s speech, the Heritage Foundation has published numerous articles attacking the treaty. Rather than grapple with the voluminous evidence in support of the treaty marshaled by Tauscher, the attacks reprise the same arguments against the treaty that were deployed by opponents in 1999.
Although these arguments have been discredited over and over again, the Heritage Foundation keeps making them. So let’s try to set the record straight.
The CTBT does not define what it purports to ban
This assertion, often referred to as the “scope” issue, is false. Article I of the CTBT stipulates that “Party undertakes not to carry out any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion, and to prohibit and prevent any such nuclear explosion at any place under its jurisdiction or control”.
According to the Heritage Foundation, the U.S. interpretation of the CTBT’s core prohibition is that it means a “zero-yield” ban, but other states may not share that interpretation, which could allow them to conduct very low-yield nuclear tests that could not be detected.
During the 1996 G8 Summit in Moscow, Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton were asked if there was any difference of opinion on nuclear testing. President Yeltsin responded “…All, to the very last one, agreed that this year we’ve got to sign the treaty on banning testing in any size of test forever and forever.” President Clinton concurred “….We have all agreed to go with the so-called Australian language which is a strict zero-yield comprehensive test ban treaty.” In June 2009, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev stated that because of the CTBT, Russia can only ensure the reliability of its deterrent “with the use of computer modeling.”
In addition, chief U.S. CTBT negotiators Ambassador Stephen Ledogar, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, and former Joint Chiefs Chairman General John Shalikashvili all testified in 1999 that the treaty contains a zero-yield ban.
Numerous high-ranking Russian officials have echoed the same sentiment, including Ambassador Grigory Berdennikov, Russia’s chief negotiator for the CTBT, Victor Slipchenko, Russia’s deputy negotiator for the CTBT, and Yuri Kapralov, former director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department of Security and Disarmament Issues.
A zero yield ban on nuclear explosive tests remains unverifiable
The CTBT is effectively verifiable. Any state that might consider cheating would run a very high risk of detection. Any cheating that might go undetected is unlikely to be militarily significant. The treaty also provides for short-notice, on-site inspections that can be used to confirm violations detected by the treaty’s International Monitoring System.
The Heritage Foundation conveniently fails to mention that nuclear explosion detecting technology has significantly advanced since 1999. As Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gotemoeller noted in a recent speech, “In 1999, the treaty’s International Monitoring System (IMS) existed only on paper.” Today 254 of 321 monitoring stations and 10 of the 16 radionuclide laboratories are in place. Though it is still not completed, this monitoring system detected the announced North Korean nuclear explosions of 2006 and 2009.
Together with state of the art U.S. national capabilities to detect nuclear testing, the CTBT’s International Monitoring System and provision for on-site inspections would greatly enhance the U.S. ability to both deter would-be cheaters and detect clandestine nuclear explosions.
The U.S. cannot maintain the nuclear arsenal without testing
The U.S. has not conducted a nuclear test explosion since 1992.
Due to technological advances, the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile no longer requires nuclear tests. A 2006 JASON scientific advisory group report concluded that the explosive cores in U.S. warheads will remain reliable for many, many years. A September 2009 JASON report went even further, noting that “lifetimes of today’s nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence by using approaches similar to those employed in [life-extension programs] to date.”
The United States knows more about maintaining its nuclear weapons today than ever before, and its stockpile is more advanced, safer, and stronger than any other countries in the world. Testing nuclear weapons is simply no longer necessary to ensure American security. As Thomas D’Agostino, Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration put it in an interview in April 2011, “In my opinion, we have a safe and secure and reliable stockpile. There’s no need to conduct underground [nuclear] testing.”
As a demonstration of its commitment to maintaining the U.S. nuclear arsenal, the Obama administration in 2010 proposed a ten-year $88 million plan to sustain U.S. nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure. The directors of the three U.S. nuclear laboratories have stated that this plan will allow them “to execute our requirements for ensuring a safe, secure, reliable and effective stockpile.”
By forswearing nuclear testing, the U.S. will inspire other states to forgo nuclear weapons.
Proponents of the CTBT do not argue that U.S. ratification will suddenly convince Iran and North Korea to abandon their nuclear weapons programs.
Former National Security Advisor Samuel Berger, former Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA), and former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry wrote last year “that if the U.S. can move forward on CTBT it would help build and sustain the international cooperation required to apply pressure on nations like North Korea and Iran still seeking the nuclear option, enhance America’s standing to argue that all nations should abide by global nonproliferation norms and rally the world to take other essential steps in preventing nuclear dangers.”
While the CTBT is not a panacea, it will strengthen the U.S. ability to detect, deter, and confront would-be proliferators. The treaty will provide the U.S. with another useful tool with which to constrain the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs.