July 7, 2011

July 7, 2011 | Factsheet on Missile Defense

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: It’s Still a Bad Idea

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)

  • A Decisive Record: The CTBT seeks to outlaw explosive tests of nuclear weapons. U.S. ratification of the CTBT would jeopardize vital national security interests by undermining the U.S. nuclear deterrent. The U.S. Senate rejected the CTBT in 1999 by a vote of 51–48. This was a determinative action and should be treated as such by current Members.
  • Undermines U.S. National Security: The U.S. nuclear arsenal is a holdover from the Cold War and therefore suited for the U.S.–Soviet standoff, not for today’s changing and increasingly proliferated world. A testing prohibition will foreclose the modernization steps necessary to keep the U.S. deterrent effective in the years to come.
  • Dangerous Assumptions: Ratifying CTBT ignores the new security environment and assumes there will never be any circumstance in which the United States would need to modernize its nuclear weapons, assign them new missions, or develop new capabilities.
  • Protect America in the New Missile Age graphic
  • An Aging Cold War Arsenal: As the U.S. reduces its nuclear arsenal, confidence in the remaining stockpile becomes paramount. Yet the U.S. nuclear weapons complex has atrophied considerably since the end of the Cold War. Maintaining a safe, reliable, and militarily effective arsenal absent the option of testing entails real and growing technical risks. Testing is the most efficient and effective way to uncover and address problems with the stockpile and to ensure that problems have been resolved.

Moral Leadership Argument Does Not Stand Scrutiny

  • No Demonstrated Link between Nuclear Testing and Nonproliferation: The U.S. has not conducted an explosive test of a nuclear weapon since 1992, and it has reduced its nuclear stockpile by 75% since the end of the Cold War. During that time, Pakistan, India, and North Korea tested their nuclear devices; Iran continues its nuclear programs; and Russia and China are modernizing their nuclear weapons. The U.S. example has not positively influenced these countries, and there is no proof that ratification of CTBT will, either.
  • No Agreement on What the Treaty Actually Bans: The treaty bans explosive nuclear weapons testing but does not define the term. The strict U.S. interpretation precludes any tests that generate a nuclear yield. Russia and China, however, may interpret the treaty in a way in which low-yield tests are permitted. Low-yield testing could allow countries to develop new nuclear weapons capabilities, potentially outpacing the U.S. nuclear weapons capability, where the U.S. interpretation imposes a “zero yield” standard. Even if there were agreement on what constitutes a test, it is still impossible to verify treaty compliance.

Senate Needs to Prevent Yet Another Vote on the CTBT

  • Institutional Integrity of Senate at Stake: The U.S. Senate should return the treaty to the executive branch. This action would effectively terminate any further consideration of the treaty by the Senate.
  • On the International Front: Senators should ask President Obama to announce that the U.S. has no intention of ratifying the CTBT. This would relieve the U.S. of the responsibility not to take actions that are contrary to the object and purpose of the treaty; it would also prevent the possibility of the CTBT entering into force.
  • Problems with the CTBT Persist: For both procedural and substantive reasons, the Senate should not vote another time on approving the CTBT. The substantive problems that led to the Senate’s considered judgment in 1999 remain relevant today. If anything, they have worsened in the intervening years.

For more information, please visit: http://heritage.org.

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