By Tom Z. Collina and Daryl G. Kimball
The Obama administration is “committed” to working with Senators of both parties to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), National Security Advisor Tom Donilon said March 29, “just as we did for New START.” This was one of the most significant, high-level statements from a senior administration official on the test ban since April 2009, when President Obama called on the Senate to reconsider the treaty.
Donilon said the administration would stress three essential points as it makes its case to the Senate and the American people. “First,” he said, “CTBT ratification serves America’s national security interests because it will help lead others to ratify the treaty and thus strengthen the legal and political barriers to a resumption of nuclear testing, which would fuel the nuclear build up in Asia.”
Second, he said “more than a decade since the Senate last considered – and rejected – the CTBT, we are in a stronger position to effectively verify the Treaty through the global monitoring system set up under the Treaty and our own strengthened national capabilities.”
And third, Donilon said “our experience with the stockpile stewardship program has demonstrated that the U.S. can maintain an effective and reliable nuclear arsenal without nuclear testing.” He noted that “President Obama has funded, and is committed to continue funding for, the U.S. nuclear laboratories at increased levels to ensure that we have the facilities, resources and personnel needed to retain the nuclear forces to defend the United States and our allies.”
Donilon, speaking at the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference, did not indicate when the administration might bring up the CTBT for a vote in the Senate, where a two-thirds majority is required, saying only that “We have no illusions that this will be easy.”
It certainly won’t, but as demonstrated by the New START ratification effort of 2009-2010, when the Senate carefully reviews the facts and the executive branch pursues a patient, sustained, high-level campaign, even controversial treaties can win enough support to secure a two-thirds majority in the Senate.
Speaking earlier the same day at the Carnegie conference, long-time CTBT opponent Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) tried his best to revive the many myths and misperceptions about the treaty, asserting that: “Today there is even less reason to support the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty… than there was when it was roundly defeated about eleven years ago.”
Sen. Kyl’s facts, however, are as faulty and out of date as his conclusion.
For example, he said that the international community had been unable to verify the North Korean nuclear test explosion in 2009 and that to investigate possible treaty violations would require getting 51 nations to agree, which “beyond a doubt would not be achievable.”
Unlike the 2006 North Korean test, telltale radioactive gases from the North Korean test in 2009 were not detected by the treaty’s International Monitoring System (IMS), but the seismic shockwave produced by the explosion was detected by over 60 IMS stations, as well as U.S. national test monitoring assets. This evidence strongly suggests a nuclear test and would have provided a firm basis for approval of a short-notice, on-site inspection if the treaty were in force.
Contrary to Sen. Kyl’s assertion that all 51 members of the CTBT’s executive council would have to approve a request for an inspection, the treaty requires that such an inspection must be approved by only 30 of 51 members of executive council, a much lower bar.
Sen. Kyl also repeated the erroneous charge United States and Russia do not agree on the definition of a nuclear test under the treaty. Article I of the treaty clearly prohibits “all nuclear test explosions” that and negotiating record shows that all parties understand this to mean “zero-yield.” He and others who repeat this charge overlook the statements made at the time of the negotiation and the official Russian government statement to the Duma on the subject when it ratified the CTBT in 2000: “Qualitative modernization of nuclear weapons is only possible through full-scale and hydronuclear tests with the emission of fissile energy, the carrying out of which directly contradicts the CTBT.”
At the Carnegie conference, Sen. Kyl said that there was “both good news and bad news” about the state of the arsenal. He did not elaborate, but in previous comments in recent months, he has charged that “concerns over aging and reliability [of the U.S. arsenal] have only grown over time.”
Such statements are clearly out of step with the vast majority of military and scientific opinion about the advances made through the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Stockpile Stewardship Program. Today, the directors of our nuclear laboratories tell us they have a deeper understanding of our arsenal from the Stockpile Stewardship Program than they ever had when testing was commonplace. In 2008, Thomas D’Agostino, who was then George W. Bush’s NNSA Administrator, said: “We know more about the complex issues of nuclear weapons performance today than we ever did during the period of nuclear testing.” In 2010, he said: “In my opinion, we have a safe and secure and reliable stockpile…. There’s no need to conduct underground [nuclear] testing.” He noted that the U.S. government conducts an annual review that includes input from multiple sources, including nuclear weapons laboratory directors.
The Obama administration’s robust, $85 billion, 10-year plan for upgrading the nuclear weapons complex should give senators greater confidence that there is a long-term strategy to continue to maintain the effectiveness of the U.S. arsenal in the absence of nuclear explosive testing. All three U.S. nuclear weapons laboratory directors have confirmed the $85 billion funding plan will sustain the U.S. nuclear arsenal without need for additional testing.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted in 2010: “These investments, and the… strategy for warhead life extension, represent a credible modernization plan necessary to sustain the nuclear infrastructure and support our nation’s deterrent.”
As Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz said in April 2009, “[Republicans] might have been right voting against [the CTBT] some years ago, but they would be right voting for it now, based on these new facts…[There are] new pieces of information that are very important and that should be made available to the Senate.”
National security decisions require careful evaluation and a thorough review of the facts. Senators shouldn’t base their decisions on outdated information from the last century. Each senator must review the soon-to-be-released National Academy of Sciences study and all intelligence and defense-related reports on the Test Ban Treaty and form their opinions on the basis of our current science, not outdated information.
For more information and analysis on the CTBT, visit: http://www.projectforthectbt.org