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Reclaiming the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

Smaller Bangs, but Still Testing the Bomb

Stockpile Stewardship: Nuclear Weapons for the 21st Century

Reclaiming the Comprehensive Test Ban: The Senate CTBT Vote and the Road to the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

         On October 13, 1999, the United States Senate voted down the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). This vote marked a watershed moment in the history of arms control, strongly signaling to the world that the United States has little interest in elimination of nuclear weapons. The intention of the United States to pursue nuclear advantage rather than nuclear abolition was made manifest not only in the vote itself, but in the debate which preceded it. The Clinton administration, and its allies in the Senate, portrayed the CTBT not as a step along the road to nuclear disarmament but as a means to preserve the decisive technological advantage in nuclear weaponry held by the United States and as a means to prevent non-nuclear weapons states from acquiring nuclear weapons.

         But in the view of most of the peoples and nations of the world, the CTBT was supposed to be, first and foremost, a disarmament treaty. It was supposed to cut off the modernization and development of nuclear weapons and lead to their deterioration and eventual elimination. That is why people everywhere have worked tirelessly since the 'Ban the Bomb' days in the 1950's to end nuclear testing. That is why most of the world's countries have made the CTBT their top disarmament priority in international negotiating forums. And that is why the vast majority of Americans support the CTBT today.

         In international treaty forums, the United States has acknowledged that the CTBT is supposed to be a step along the road to elimination of nuclear weapons, rather than a means to preserve the nuclear oligopoly for a few states for all time. In 1995, for example, in a set of "Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non- Proliferation and Disarmament" accompanying the extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the U.S. and other treaty parties reaffirmed their commitment to the Treaty, and set out further steps for implementing its provisions. The "Principles and Objectives" document reaffirmed the NPT Article VI obligation on the part of the nuclear weapons states to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament...," and listed the CTBT first among measures "important in the full realization and effective implementation of Article VI."1

         Yet the Senate debate on the treaty has made clear that the Administration's intent is to 'ban the bang, not the bomb' and that the U.S. plans to maintain and modernize its nuclear arsenal indefinitely, with or without explosive underground testing. The Clinton Administration presented the Treaty to the Senate with a package of "safeguards," including a commitment to maintain an extensive array of nuclear weapons research, testing, and production facilities. These "Stockpile Stewardship" programs, currently funded at over $4.5 billion a year, call for new nuclear weapons facilities of unprecedented sophistication, and for continued nuclear weapons design and production. (See The Stockpile Stewardship Program: Nuclear Weapons for the 21st Century). This 'deal,' deemed necessary by the Administration to win over the nuclear weapons laboratories, the nuclear forces in the military, and their allies in Congress, fundamentally undermines global expectations for the CTBT as expressed in its Preamble: '... the cessation of all nuclear weapon test explosions... by constraining the development and qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons and ending the development of advanced new types of nuclear weapons constitutes an effective measure of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation in all its aspects.' And in the end, we have been left with the worst of all possible outcomes: billions of dollars for intensive innovation in nuclear weapons science and simulation, no test ban treaty, and no international mechanism to monitor and enforce a prohibition on nuclear weapons tests.

         In today's Washington debates, the only permissible vision is of a future dominated by the nation which can perpetually outstrip all others in the deployment of high-tech state violence. That is why the CTBT debate was flawed from the outset: even its advocates refused to mention nuclear disarmament, arguing instead that the Treaty would preserve and enhance the superiority of U.S. weaponry. In a world where this kind of thinking prevails, one kind of catastrophe or another always will be a moment away.

         The fate of the planet is too important to leave it to those who can speak only in terms of the endless accumulation of power. It is time for all of us to start demanding a better future. We can start by bringing the debate over a Comprehensive Test Ban back in line with our international treaty commitment to work towards the elimination of nuclear weapons.


1.  1995 Review and Extension Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, NPT/CONF,1995/L.5, 9 May 1995. (back)

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