By Kirk Bansak and Andrew Riedy
Quibbling with the conventions of op-ed form and style aside, PONI’s critique of our article on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty makes a few points that merit a response.
Chess Not Checkers
Since 1998, no country except for North Korea has tested a nuclear weapon, and other countries have continually reaffirmed their intention not to test. This 11 year period without nuclear weapons testing represents 17 percent of the entire Atomic Age. PONI may think this insignificant, but we believe it says something powerful about the non-testing status quo that exists today among responsible stakeholders in the international community.
We’d like to address the red herring advanced by PONI that ratification of the CTBT would require the United States to “lock itself into permanently forswearing nuclear tests,” as PONI writes. The text of the Treaty states explicitly that “Each State Party shall, in exercising its national sovereignty, have the right to withdraw from this Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this Treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests.”
If a situation developed where national survival was at stake, the United States could give six months advance notice and withdraw from the CTBT. Of course, if a crisis erupted and the United States did not feel it had time to provide six months notice, it could withdraw immediately in violation of the Treaty and take whatever steps it deemed necessary to protect itself.
We do not mean to suggest that U.S. adherence to its CTBT obligations ought to be purely cosmetic. But there is no CTBT Police that is going to put the U.S. nuclear arsenal under lock and key if the Senate approves the pact. Since scientific experts have affirmed repeatedly that the nuclear arsenal can be reliably maintained for decades without testing, doesn’t it make sense for the United States to ratify the CTBT – thus gaining the political and security benefits therein – while remembering that if things get nasty, U.S. leaders are free to do what they need to do?
Our op-ed states that there is a growing bipartisan consensus in support of the CTBT among “experts.” PONI contests this assertion by citing uncertainty within the Posture Commission and the U.S. Senate and goes on to state that the CTBT has become a “lightening rod internationally.” Senators are almost without exception not experts, so that rebuttal is off target. Apropos the international scene, the CTBT may be a litmus test by which non-nuclear weapons states judge the U.S. commitment to nonproliferation (discussed below), but that has nothing to do with the growing consensus amongst U.S. experts to which we were referring (which was clear from the context, we think).
So that leaves the Posture Commission, which did disagree on the Test Ban. Thank God the commissioners are not the only U.S. experts on the block. What about two-thirds of the former secretaries of state and defense and national security advisers? Check mark.
Entry into Force
PONI: “The problem, however, is that even if you get the U.S., China, and Indonesia on board , India and Pakistan will be tough although not impossible to get. Even more difficult is the task of convincing Egypt, Iran, Israel, and North Korea all to ratify which is probably why the Strategic Posture Commission opponents of CTBT concluded there is a ‘near zero’ chance of entry into force.”
While we’d prefer to see entry into force, we still think there is value in having the United States, China, and possibly India and Pakistan ratify the Test Ban even if other holdouts like Iran and North Korea refuse and thus prevent entry into force. Such a result, while disappointing, would put the United States visibly in the nonproliferation camp and array even greater international political pressure against outlaw nations.
As Kingston explained recently, ratification by the United States and China, the only two hold-out nations on the UN Security Council, “would further strengthen the global norm against nuclear testing, encourage other holdouts to ratify, and could activate a provisional entry into force of the treaty (along with the valuable verification and on-site inspection provisions that go with it).”
PONI: “CTBT would, at most, only constitute an ‘effective freeze’ on some qualitative aspects of nuclear arsenals that could be upgraded via testing in countries that have ratified the treaty after it enters into force…the CTBT itself in no way prevents horizontal proliferation.”
Negotiation of the CTBT was a critical quid pro quo in getting non-nuclear weapons states to approve the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995. It is irrelevant for PONI to write that the CTBT “in and of itself in no way prevents horizontal proliferation” because the Test Ban does not operate as a single isolated mechanism. The Test Ban is part of the jumbled, beautiful political morass known as the international nonproliferation regime, which is anchored by the NPT.
Although CTBT ratification by each individual nation was not part of the 1995 quid pro quo, the importance of the Test Ban to non-nuclear weapons states suggests that the continued dormancy of the CTBT may reduce their confidence in both the NPT and the nonproliferation regime writ large. If nuclear weapons states build bigger and better nuclear arsenals (i.e. qualitative improvements), isn’t it clear that non-nuclear weapons states may lose confidence in the NPT and potentially seek to acquire nuclear weapons of their own?
There is a link between vertical and horizontal proliferation – it is the NPT’s grand bargain that nuclear weapons states will disarm in exchange for non-nuclear weapons states promising not to go nuclear. If you think the NPT has achieved even limited success in stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, then you should consider supporting the CTBT, which enhances the nuclear weapons states’ performance of their NPT obligations and thus solidifies the political transaction that underpins the entire nonproliferation regime. There is no guarantee that non-nuclear weapons states will always hold up their end of the bargain, but the international community and individual nations have ways of dealing with that problem.
By ratifying the CTBT, the United States potentially enhances horizontal nonproliferation in exchange for a vertical nonproliferation pledge that will not affect its fundamental ability to protect itself during a crisis. Sounds like a good deal to us.