Monday, June 25, 2007

CTBT - Why Banning All Nuclear Tests is the Right Thing to Do

Today, two prominent conservatives placed ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) — an important treaty signed by 177 countries that would ban the testing of nuclear weapons absolutely — on a list of top 18 threats to western civilization, along with nuclear terrorism and weapons proliferation in rogue states.

Wes Vernon’s alarmist article from Renew America offers a synopsis of former Senator Rick Santorum’s (R-PA) research at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and places the CTBT on a list of 18 threats that are part of a “gathering storm”. On this list of 18 threats to western civilization,

* Twelve threats had to do with terrorism and the rise of radical Islam. Of these, one threat was mainstream Islam: “It is vital to grasp that traditional and even mainstream Islamic teaching promotes violence.”

* Five threats had to do with the actions of other states considered enemies of the United States. He specifically cites Russia, China, Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, and Nicaragua, and Cuba.

* One threat had to do with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

The first 17 threats all had to do with terrorism and foreign states. While some are paranoid at best, others are very real—Santorum includes the truly grave threats of nuclear terrorism and rogue states’ desires to possess nuclear weapons.

However, ratification of the CTBT belongs on the list no more than the threat of an invasion from Mars. Here is the text from the article:

[Santorum said] “Fifteen years have elapsed since the last U.S. underground nuclear test.....This is all the more astounding since, during this period, uncertainty has steadily grown about the actual condition of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. [The U.S. Energy Department's Inspector General sees] growing problems associated with the safety and reliability of the nation's nuclear weapons without nuclear testing..." (Frank Gaffney writing in the Washington Times)

[Vernon’s response] Why then is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin (D-Minn.) [sic] reportedly maneuvering behind the scenes to resuscitate the previously defeated Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) for consideration again on the floor the U.S. Senate? The treaty would tie our hands and make it virtually impossible to resume underground nuclear testing.

Vernon and Santorum have their facts wrong.

The United States conducted more than 1,000 nuclear tests – 1,054 by official count. We have tested more than any other nation. We know more about nuclear weapons than any other nation on earth. After all, we invented them. A program called Stockpile Stewardship has been in place for many years and kept our nuclear weapons stockpile in tiptop shape – and our nation’s leaders during the Bush administration has so certified year after year.

Vernon and Santorum are very wrong to say that ratification of the CTBT is on par with terrorists and rogue state nuclear proliferation. The truth is exactly the opposite: failure to ratify the CTBT is a very dangerous move for the United States and will act as encouragement for other nations to conduct nuclear tests, including Russia and China.

There are many reasons the CTBT is an important treaty for U.S. national security:

* Banning nuclear testing through a binding international treaty is a necessary measure to strengthen the global non-proliferation regime. The United States along with 188 other countries agreed to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons in the world by signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968. Ratifying the CTBT is a positive and necessary step to demonstrate U.S. commitment to this goal.

* A global test ban hinders (although does not prevent) non-nuclear weapons states from building nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons states from building newer, more powerful weapons.

* Ratification of the CTBT was a key promise that the five nuclear weapons states made to the rest of the world in exchange for the indefinite extension of the NPT at the 1995 NPT Review Conference.

* Santorum argues that “uncertainty has steadily grown about the actual condition of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.” If Santorum had done his homework, he would have learned that an independent review of a Department of Energy study on the lifetime of plutonium pits (the core of nuclear weapons) found that the lifetimes of most warheads are at least 85 years, almost twice that of the DOE’s original estimate of 45 years. This means that there is no urgency to test nuclear weapons since the current stockpile has at least another 40 years of reliability to it.

At a time when the greatest threats facing America are nuclear terrorism and nuclear armed rogue states—as Vernon and Santorum aptly pointed out themselves—the U.S. should be doing everything in its powers to limit access to nuclear weapons and nuclear materials in the world. Ratifying the CTBT is an important part of the process that will reduce the role of nuclear weapons, and thereby make the world a safer place for our children and our grandchildren.


Russ Wellen said...

Hey, Mars could attack.

Ratification of the CBTB one of the top 18 threats along with nuclear terrorism and weapons proliferation in rogue states? One can only stand back and gaze in admiration at Wes Vernon and Rick Santorum's ability to hold two contradictory notions in their minds at once.

Of course, by any other name -- schizophrenia.

Just want to thank Kyle and Jeff for making Nukes of Hazard such a critical resource. I check out everything: NTI, Carnegie Center, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Arms Control Today, not to mention other blogs like Arms Control Wonk and Total Wonkerr.

But I always come to Nukes of Hazard first to get the most important issues summed up. If you want to use my testimonial in your cable TV commercials, feel free.

Here's another blog that doesn't get much publicity:

It's run by Ward Wilson, an independent nuclear scholar whose work can be found in the recent issue of MIT's International Security, for example:

He'd probably be very flattered to find himself on your blog roll.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Uncle Sam needs to start testing now, but I also don't think we need to sign the CTBT right this minute. The USG has been observing, and continues to observe, a moratorium on testing. So, too, with Britain, France and Russia. This may suffice.

I am sympathetic to nuclear nonproliferation as one of several important ways of increasing national security. Sure, the CTBT might confer some "moral authority" to our and allied efforts to limit nuclear diffusion. But the treaty, by itself, will not get us very far. What some arms controllers think we'll get out of a CTBT -- we may already be getting those benefits from the current moratorium.

Even if the Senate had ratified the treaty in the late 1990s, I question whether that would have made today's nonproliferation problems any more manageable. Looking forward, I'm somewhat skeptical that the CTBT will do much to stem the actions of today's most problematic proliferators.

If Uncle Sam highlights its and others continuing adherence to the moratorium on nuclear testing, then I think that we can get many of the benefits of a CTBT without need for a formal agreement.

John said...

I have to disagree with your reasoning. I do concur that the test ban treaty is not a panacea. It will not stop all proliferation. However, it will make the task of proliferators more difficult. If the U.S. ratifies, it will put pressure on countries like Pakistan, India, Iran and North Korea to ratify the test ban treaty and to refrain from nuclear testing. Sure, they can maintain or build nuclear weapons without additional nuclear testing, but it will be more difficult to perfect, miniaturize and make more powerful weapons. An international structure, whether arms control treaties or international organizations, cannot prevent all evil in the world but can help lessen the chances for evil. It is like national laws against murder or using cocain: they are not perfect and are ignored by too many people, but they help regulate the system. John Isaacs

Anonymous said...

John, this isn't about the CTBT providing a "panacea" _pace_ proliferation.

You claim that the CTBT will strengthen the "international structure" (whatever that poli-sci term might mean to you), and that we should not expect international law w.r.t. nuclear proliferation to do any better that national laws w.r.t. murder or cocaine-trafficking.

I get your claims, and I'll even grant you them, but I don't think they're all that compelling because, even given those things, I just don't think the CTBT gives Uncle Sam much more than what we already get out of the current nuclear-testing moratorium.

India, Pakistan and North Korea -- none of which are likely to sign (let alone ratify) the CTBT, even if the U.S. Senate were to ratify it -- already face tremendous "pressure" (to use your term) not to explode nuclears again. So would Iran or other non-nuclear-armed States, if they should get nuclear explosive devices.

Might nuclear-testers be sent to the U.N. Security Council more quickly under the moratorium than under the processes of Articles V and VI of the CTBT, which add a few layers to that decision?

On a side note, w.r.t. your domestic/international law analogy: If we lived in a world where the problem of enforcement weren't so difficult -- e.g., one where the U.N. Security Council agreed to certain automatic, country-neutral sanctions against proliferation violations (e.g., NPT Article III violations) that could not be vetoed, à la former IAEA D-DG Pierre Goldschmidt's proposals -- then maybe your domestic law/international law analogy would be more substantial, meaningful and persuasive.

But the analogy isn't persuasive; we don't live in that world.