The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and Efforts to End Nuclear Weapons Modernization

by Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers (1) August 1, 1997


Thank you my friends. It is an honor to have been invited to this prestigious event and to have the opportunity to address you on the topic of the test ban treaty and ending the nuclear arms race.

Completion of global nuclear test ban treaty negotiations has been a central nuclear arms control objective for more than 40 years. This long-awaited goal was finally won on September 24, 1996, when the United States and other countries signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

In our effort to eliminate the nuclear threat, it is now the important task of non-governmental organizations in the United States to ensure that the CTBT is ratified by the United States and the task of non-governmental organizations worldwide to secure the ratification of the other 43 other nuclear-capable countries so that it formally enters into force.

We must also work to ensure that Government nuclear weapons laboratories must also be prevented from using their new "Stockpile Stewardship" facilities to develop and deploy nuclear weapons of "new" designs or with new and more destructive military capabilities, which would undermine the spirit of the test ban. We also must work to prevent the production of additional numbers of nuclear weapons that utilize already proven warheads types.

1.The Value of the CTBT

Historically, the test ban has been considered vital to prevent the dangerous and destabilizing modernization and qualitative improvement of superpower nuclear weapons. As such, it is one of the major elements necessary to achieve nuclear disarmament and to help ensure that Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the last cities ever to suffer the effects of a nuclear weapon attack.

The CTBT would establish a permanent ban on all nuclear explosions in all environments for any purpose. Its "zero-yield" prohibition on nuclear tests would help to halt the development and deployment of new, sophisticated nuclear weapons. The Treaty would establish a far-reaching verification regime that includes a global network of sophisticated seismic, hydro-acoustic, radionuclide monitoring stations, as well as on-site inspection of test sites to deter and detect violations. This can be very important to efforts to verify future nuclear disarmament agreeements.

The CTBT would end further radioactive pollution of the environment from testing. Since 1945, six nations have conducted 2,046 nuclear test explosions -- an average of one test every nine days. The 528 atmospheric tests conducted until 1980 spread dangerous levels radioactive fallout downwind and into the global atmosphere. A draft study of the potential effects of atmospheric testing on the American people shows that high-levels of radioactive iodine-131 (up to 10 rads) affected people across the country, especially children. Parts of the study, held back by the U.S. National Cancer Institute, has been sent to the news media by Physicians for Social Responsibility and the anti-nuclear Military Production Network organizations.

Underground testing also poses environmental hazards. Each blast spreads radioactive material underground, each time creating a new high-level nuclear waste site; and many underground nuclear explosions have "vented" radioactive gases. The U.S. Energy Department reports that 114 of the 723 U.S. nuclear tests since 1963 released radioactive material into the atmosphere.

2. Recent History

In 1991, then-President Gorbachev announced a unilateral Soviet nuclear test moratorium. In response, several U.S. disarmament groups, led by Physicians for Social Responsibility and others, encouraged key Congressional leaders to introduce legislation for a one-year U.S. nuclear testing moratorium. In September 1992, the House and Senate passed strengthened legislation (reluctantly signed by President Bush) establishing a nine-month U.S. moratorium, restrictions on the number (15) and purpose of any further U.S. tests, and a prohibition on U.S. tests after September 30, 1996, unless another nation conducts a test.

The legislation required that the President determine at the end of the moratorium whether to resume testing or not. Again, a coalition of U.S. disarmament organizations decided to press for an extension of the moratorium and initiation of nuclear test ban treaty talks.

In May, June and July of 1993, President Clinton--with advice from the Armed Services, nuclear weapons laboratories, and the Energy Department--determined that the United States' nuclear arsenal was "safe" and "reliable" without further testing. In so doing, the President rejected a controversial proposal to resume limited testing. On July 3, he announced that he would extend the test moratorium and agree to begin multilateral test ban negotiations in January 1994.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was negotiated over more than two years at the 61-nation Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Switzerland. A key turning point occurred in 1995, when non-governmental groups and official scientific advisors convinced the U.S. and France (to be followed later by the other three declared nuclear weapon states) that even low-yield tests are unnecessary--even the so-called "safety tests" intended to guard against defects that could lead to accidental warhead detonations.

This outcome resulted both from the independent JASON scientific group's report that the United States nuclear is arsenal "safe" and "reliable" without testing and from the tremendous international outcry when the French resumed nuclear testing after a three year hiatus. Yielding to expert scientific and mass public pressure, President Clinton and President Chirac adopted a "zero-yield" test ban position in the CTBT talks.

By August of 1996, the difficult negotiations produced final Treaty text supported by all countries except India--which sought to include in the Treaty a timetable for eliminating all nuclear weapons, and which would find its own nuclear weapons development program limited by a ban on testing. To overcome India's opposition, Australia proposed--and more than 100 other countries supported--a resolution endorsing the CTBT, which was submitted to the United Nations General Assembly and which passed by the overwhelming margin of 158-3 (with 5 abstentions) on September 10.

For the CTBT to formally enter into force, it must be ratified by 44 named signatory nations, including the five declared nuclear weapon states and the three undeclared nuclear weapon states (India, Israel, and Pakistan). Japan, to its credit, has taken the lead in ratifying the CTBT. As you know, the Japanese government submitted its articles of ratification to the United Nations on July 8.

If all 44 countries do not ratify the Treaty before September 1999, a conference may be convened to explore ways to accelerate the Treaty's entry into force. Until the CTBT enters into force, all signatories are bound by Article XVIII of the Vienna Convention on Treaties not to undertake any action that violates the purpose or intent of the Treaty.

Last year I met with India's Ambassador Arandati Ghose in Geneva on three occassions. I understand and share the frustration of India and other nuclear weapon states regarding the slow progress of nuclear disarmament by the five declared weapon states. The call for disarmament according to a fixed timetable is a praiseworthy goal, but it is not practical and will not, unfortunately be agreed to by the declared nuclear weapon states. India's leaders are smart enough to know this. The solution to this impasse lies in the realization of tangible progress for disarmament from the nuclear weapon states and supportive measures from India and Pakistan.

The non-aligned states as well as the Japanese government, given their strong support for and end to testing and to disarmament, can and should encourage this "tangible progress on disarmament." In addition to the many important initiatives that we have heard about from other speakers, it is my view that it is important to simultaneously: 1) persuade India to and Pakistan to sign and ratify by 1999, and if they do not, to persuade these two nations to declare nuclear testing moratoria, which might allow implementation of the CTBT to proceed; and 2) encourage the U.S. and its allies to express their commitment to complete nuclear disarmament and agree to nuclear disarmament discussions at the Conference on Disarmament. The Russian Federation and the United States must also accelerate the stalled START nuclear weapon reduction process.

3. Prospects for Ratification of the CTBT in the United States

Although President Clinton has supported and signed the Treaty, substantial obstacles to CTBT ratification loom ahead.

* Strong Opposition from CTBT Critics: In June 1996, U.S. Senators John Kyl (R-AZ) and Harry Reid (D-NV) introduced an amendment that would have eased U.S. testing restrictions, making it simpler for the President to order a nuclear weapons test. The amendment was defeated by the narrow margin of 53-45, an indication that Senate ratification of the CTBT will be difficult. Kyl is certain to lead an energetic effort to defeat the CTBT.

* Republican Party Officially Opposes a Test Ban: Despite a long history of bipartisan leadership for a nuclear test ban, at its August 1996 convention, the Republican Party adopted a platform that included opposition to the CTBT. The party argues that to deter "rogue states" from using weapons of mass destruction "will require the continuing maintenance and development of nuclear weapons and their periodic testing."

* The U.S. Senate is Controlled by the Republicans: If Senate Majority Leader Lott (R-MS) and Foreign Relations Committee Chair Helms's (R-SC) recent opposition to the Chemical Weapons Convention is any indication, the path toward CTBT ratification will be difficult, despite the fact that many Republicans, like Pete Domenici (R-NM) support the CTBT.

Senate ratification of the CTBT requires: 1) President Clinton must formally transmit the Treaty and related reports on verification to the Senate; 2) hearings on the Treaty by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; 2) scheduling of time for a debate and a vote on the CTBT. In the U.S., ratification requires a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate. (Sixty-seven of one-hundred senators.)

To overcome these ratification challenges, President Clinton must make Senate support for the CTBT a major priority this year. To improve the chances of success, the administration should submit the CTBT for ratification immediately and press for a CTBT vote before March 1998. It is expected that the President will formally submit the Treaty to the Senate in early September and hold a major press conference to announce his support and the support of key Republicans for ratification.

The Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers and our 17 member organizations as well as hundreds of local citizen groups across the country are preparing for the the Senate debate on the CTBT. The CTBT will likely be the major nuclear disarmament issue in the U.S. in early 1998. In the end I believe that the CTBT will be ratified. The Treaty is supported by more than 80 percent of the American public and it will be difficult for the Senate to reject this Treaty in the face of strong support from the President and the public.

4. "Stockpile Stewardship" and the CTBT

Even as we prepare for the CTBT ratification effort, another obstacle to the decades long effort to end the arms race is emerging. As part of its 1993 decision to extend the nuclear test moratorium and its 1995 decision to seek a "zero-yield" test ban, the Clinton administration decided to launch a Department of Energy (DOE) "stockpile stewardship" program to "maintain the safety and reliability of the enduring nuclear stockpile in the absence of underground nuclear testing." Stockpile stewardship is not really all that "new." It is an expanded set of nuclear weapons research, development and experimental activities and facilities, many of which were already underway before the end of nuclear testing. The President hopes to use the Stockpile Stewardship program to convince Senators the nuclear arsenal can be maintained without nuclear testing.

However, in addition to maintaining the current arsenal, the stockpile stewardship program--estimated to cost $40 billion over ten years--could provide weapons scientists with the capacity to design, develop, and deploy new nuclear weapons, albeit with less confidence in their performance. The DOE has yet to demonstrate that all of the extensive operations proposed are essential for stockpile "reliability" and "safety," nor has the DOE thoroughly evaluated the program's impact on nuclear arms control and proliferation.

Extremist critics of the CTBT, like Senator Kyl, also oppose the stockpile stewardship program because it is based on unproven technologies and it cannot be relied upon to "ensure America's nuclear deterrent," and therefore the U.S. should be able to conduct nuclear weapons tests.

What is the solution to this problem? Most nuclear disarmament organizations in the United States recommend that the Congress and the Clinton administration should more thoroughly examine alternative stockpile maintenance approaches that do not require the construction of the elaborate, new facilities for nuclear weapons research and development that are being proposed by the DOE.

Alternative approaches should focus either on remanufacturing warhead components as needed (rebuilding today's warhead parts to current technical specifications and with the same materials used in their original production) or on a more passive form of stewardship involving ongoing maintenance without rebuilding or replacing warheads. Such approaches would not require or allow warhead improvement or modification and would not require the use of the Nevada Test Site for subcritical experiments, or the construction of the National Ignition Facility -- a 2 billion dollar laser-fusion facility.

However, few Congressmen are now aware of these alternatives and it will be very difficult to prevent the funding of the new Stockpile Stewardship facilities. Disarmament organizations in the United States will have to work hard for many years to reduce the size and scope of this program.

Earlier this year, dozens of non-governmental organizations including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Military Production Network and Physicians for Social Responsibility, filed a lawsuit against the DOE charging that it has failed to thoroughly evaluate alternative approaches to stockpile stewardship that have a less negative impact on nuclear proliferation and on the environment. The outcome of the lawsuit has not yet been determined.

5. New Weapons Capabilities Under the CTBT

The CTBT serves as a severe impediment to new nuclear weapons development and deployment, but it does not completely rule out the possibility of "qualitative" improvements in the U.S. arsenal by means of existing or new stockpile stewardship programs. New weapons, using new nuclear warhead "primaries" (the plutonium core of the weapon), can be designed and built without nuclear weapons testing, but with less confidence in their expected performance.

Current U.S. nuclear weapons policy, set forth in the 1994 Nuclear Posture Review, dictates that there be "no new design warhead production." Despite this, the nuclear weapons laboratories are continuing "Phase I and II" (research and development) activities on new designs. ("Phase III" work involves building prototype weapons and preparing them for testing.)

The nuclear weapons laboratories are "redesigning" the W-88 nuclear warhead, used on the Navy's Trident submarine-launched D-5 missile. Each W-88 warhead possesses an explosive force 30 times greater than the bomb that was used to attack Hiroshima. The DOE and the Navy say that the "redesigned" warhead is being developed to provide a backup design in the event that the W-88 needs to be replaced at some point in the future. The DOE says that the "redesign" is not a "new" weapon.

The nuclear weapons labs are also "modifying" existing nuclear warhead designs to create weapons with new military capabilities--such as the B61 Mod.11, developed for striking underground targets with "minimal collateral damage." The B-61 has already been deployed and is available for use by the B-2 "stealth" bomber. The DOE says that the "redesign" is not a "new" weapon.

Whether these are "new" nuclear weapons or not, these projects demonstrate that the Stockpile Stewardship program is capable of producing "modified" weapons with new military capabilities. There is simply no need for new and more deadly nuclear weapons. It only spurs other nuclear nations to continue to acquire or improve nuclear arsenals .Unless the U.S. adopts new policies that prohibit such arsenal improvements, this problem is only likely to worsen as the United States' Stockpile Stewardship program improves.

President Clinton and the leaders of the other nuclear weapon states should clarify their nuclear weapons development policy to explicitly prohibit further advances (i.e., development or deployment) in the military capabilities of their nuclear arsenals. Furthermore, the laboratories should refrain from modifying the nuclear components of existing warheads, as this could diminish confidence in the weapons' performance, thus fueling arguments for renewed nuclear testing.

6. Subcritical Experiments

One very visible aspect of the Stockpile Stewardship program are the subcritical experiments. As part of its stockpile stewardship program, the DOE conducted a subcritical nuclear weapon experiment underground at the Nevada Test Site in June. It wants to conduct at least five more "subcritical" experiments. Subcritical experiments involve chemical explosives and nuclear material but are designed not to produce a sustained chain reaction (i.e., nuclear explosion). The "subcriticals" do not technically violate the terms of the CTBT, but they are nuclear weapons experiments conducted to gather information about the possible aging of the plutonium metal used in warheads and also to enhance the precision of the DOE's supercomputer-driven nuclear weapon design work.

As I and others warned nearly two years ago when we first learned of the DOE's plans, the subcriticals have reinforced concerns that the United States is not only interested in maintaining existing arsenals--but also wants to keep the Nevada Test Site ready for future testing. Moreover, until the verification system specified under the Treaty is in place, it will be difficult for other countries to determine that these experiments are truly "subcritical."

The subcritical tests were originally scheduled to take place before the CTBT negotiations were concluded, but they were postponed to allow for further environmental impact analysis and out of concern that they would impede the Treaty negotiations. In addition to their possibly negative impact on CTBT ratification by all of the 44 key states, these tests have are not essential to maintaining a "safe" and "reliable" nuclear stockpile. Consequently, the subcritical experiments, which cost approximately $20 million a shot, should be cancelled and the Nevada Test Site closed to further nuclear weapons-related activities.

However, it is unlikely that the next planned subcritical experiment will be cancelled unless there is greater protest from U.S. allies.

7. Conclusion

The CTBT is not yet completed. Though it is far less likely that nuclear testing will resume, there are many pro- nuclear political leaders in the U.S. who propose that the U.S. should resume nuclear testing

The CTBT is a vital to our common struggle to end the nuclear arms race and to eliminate nuclear weapons, but it does not guarantee that entirely new weapons cannot, in the future, be developed without underground testing. Clear policies need to be established to ban the development or production of new or modified nuclear warheads.

I thank you for your attention and look forward to working with you toward our common goals.

(1) NOTE: the views expressed in the paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the member groups of the Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers

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Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers
Council for a Livable World Education Fund
110 Maryland Ave. NE #201
Washington DC 20002
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