The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: Still a Good Idea
Nuclear testing may seem a thing of the past: in the last 10 years, only North Korea has conducted any test explosions. The United States, Russia and other countries that have acknowledged nuclear weapons programs have all publicly announced a moratorium on testing.
Yet right now this moratorium depends on good will, not the force of international law. Without the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which is awaiting ratification by the United States and several other countries, testing could begin again.
FCNL is working to lay the groundwork for a Senate vote on the CTBT in the next Congress. In preparation for that vote, please contact your senators about the benefits of the treaty and encourage them to speak out in favor of the testing ban. Senators need to hear that the CTBT is an essential tool in limiting the risk that countries will develop new nuclear weapons.
A Brief History
In the 1960s, the United States agreed to a partial ban on nuclear weapons testing and stopped testing altogether in 1992, when Congress passed the nuclear testing moratorium.
In 1996, the U.S. was the first country to sign the CTBT, which provides for a worldwide ban on all nuclear test explosions, establishes a global system to enforce the ban and sets up an international structure to investigate and punish countries that violate the ban. Under this framework, creating new and viable nuclear weapons would be extremely difficult.
But under the U.S. Constitution, signing a treaty is not enough. Two-thirds of the Senate (generally 67 senators) must also vote to ratify the treaty. In 1999, the only time the Senate has considered the CTBT, it rejected the treaty by a vote of 48-51.
While the international monitoring system established under the CTBT has been operating for more than a decade and has successfully detected all six nuclear tests conducted during that time, the full treaty has not come into force because the United States and seven other countries have failed to ratify it. On-site verification inspections cannot take place until the treaty enters into force.
Building a Case for Ratification
Since 1999, new evidence shows the need for the CTBT and its potential effectiveness. Without the treaty, politicians in India are threatening to resume nuclear testing. This would almost certainly start a new nuclear arms race in Asia and could make the U.S. government feel pressure to resume testing as well. Without U.S. ratification of the test ban treaty, it is difficult to argue that other countries should not test nuclear weapons.
The two main concerns raised by senators against the CTBT have also been addressed. The international monitoring system has proved to be technologically sound, successfully detecting both nuclear tests conducted by North Korea. And a report issued by the National Academy of Sciences in March 2012 shows that nuclear test explosions are not required to maintain the reliability of existing U.S. nuclear weapons.
Ratification of the CTBT has been gaining support from leaders across the political spectrum. In addition to being a priority of the Obama administration, former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Schulz, former Defense Secretary William Perry and former Senator Sam Nunn are among those who strongly support the CTBT.
What You Can Do
With a CTBT vote possible in 2013, your action now is important to help lay the groundwork with your senators. Contact your senators, encouraging them to examine the new support for the CTBT in the National Academy of Sciences report and to speak publicly about their support for CTBT ratification. This treaty is critical to preventing a new generation of nuclear weapons powers from emerging in the world today and getting the United States back on the road toward nuclear disarmament.
Find out more about how you can be part of this work to support a world free of nuclear weapons.