In my April Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists column, I examine the recently released National Academy of Sciences report on the technical and security issues related to the CTBT. Here’s the headline intro graf:
In 1996, the United States was the first country to sign the CTBT, but in 1999, the US Senate rejected the treaty. That year, Republicans who opposed the test ban did so largely on the grounds that the US nuclear deterrent cannot be maintained without testing and that the treaty is unverifiable. While the NAS report does not take a position on whether the United States should ratify the CTBT, it does conclude that the “United States is now better able to maintain a safe and effective nuclear stockpile and to monitor clandestine nuclear-explosion testing than at any time in the past.” In other words, in this day and age, concerns about the maintenance of the stockpile and verification of the treaty are no longer compelling arguments. In short, the United States should ratify the CTBT as soon as possible: It has nothing to lose and everything to gain.
I’ve always believed that the national security case for the CTBT rests on three core foundations:
- The CTBT would make it more difficult for nuclear-armed states to improve their nuclear arsenals via nuclear testing. For example, a global ban on testing would make it more difficult for China, India, and Pakistan to develop the smaller warheads necessary to arm their ballistic missiles with multiple warheads. States could produce simple, less complicated nuclear weapons in the absence of testing, but the NAS report concludes US leaders “could respond equally well whether or not the CTBT were in force.”
- The United States has conducted 1,030 nuclear tests – more than all other nations combined – the last of which was in September 1992. Given the knowledge it has gleaned from this testing history, a permanent test ban would provide the United States with an enormous advantage relative to other nuclear-armed states.
- The CTBT would strengthen the US ability to deter and detect clandestine nuclear explosions.
The case for the CTBT is furthered strengthened by the fact that not only does the United States have no technical need to resume explosive testing, it has not conducted a nuclear test in 20 years and is unlikely to do so in the future. Thus, the United States must invest in the capabilities to sustain the stockpile in the absence of testing with our without the treaty. The same goes for US monitoring capabilities: it must remain vigilant about the possibility of foreign nuclear tests with or without the treaty.
Sounds like a pretty good deal, no?