Published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Online on April 9, 2012
Article summary below; read the full text online.
In his April 2009 speech in Prague, President Barack Obama outlined a vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and pledged to “immediately and aggressively” pursue approval of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which prohibits any nuclear test explosions that produce a self-sustaining, supercritical chain reaction and creates a robust international verification regime. Now, within days of the second Obama-initiated global Nuclear Security Summit, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has released its much-anticipated report on the technical and security issues related to the CTBT. It provides ample evidence that the case for the test ban has never been better.
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.