Building the Case for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

To achieve global nuclear disarmament, a treaty banning nuclear weapons testing needs to be in place. However, there are currently eight nations who have yet to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT): China, North Korea, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the United States.

There is strong support for this treaty, but not everyone is on board yet, especially in the United States Senate. Yet, the consequences of returning to nuclear weapons testing would be a disaster. More nations would test their weapons and others would be encouraged to develop them. It would be almost impossible to gain further cuts in nuclear arsenals under those conditions.

The focus is gaining the confidence of those who are unsure of the treaty. Concerns over the ability to detect nuclear explosions in violation of the CTBT is one issue. Another is the ability to maintain current arsenals without testing.

A report from the National Research Council in 2012 showed that the U.S. did not need nuclear test explosions to maintain its nuclear weapons arsenal.

Ellen D. Williams, who led the committee that authored the report said, “So long as the nation is fully committed to securing its weapons stockpile and provides sufficient resources for doing so, the U.S. has the technical capabilities to maintain safe, reliable nuclear weapons into the foreseeable future without the need for underground weapons testing.”

The report also verified that the detection system for nuclear explosions has improved and is reliable. The capability to detect nuclear explosions has been developed little-by-little really since the Cold War. This research has improved and built the international monitoring system that the CTBT now uses. That monitoring system will improve even more once the treaty takes full effect. More detection stations will come online.

Ratification of the treaty by the Senate is huge because U.S. leadership is so vital for building nuclear security and peace worldwide. It’s hard to imagine at this time other nations approving this treaty if the U.S. does not.

The idea of ending nuclear weapons testing has been one historically shared by Democrats and Republicans. It was their cooperation that forged the first limited treaty that banned nuclear weapons testing in the atmosphere, underwater and outer space. In fact, both Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy championed the idea of ending all nuclear testing.

That same cooperation could again rise to the challenge. If it does we would achieve an important step toward reducing the nuclear danger and the massive cost of these weapons. The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is that hurdle that must be cleared first.


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