August 27, 1995 | Executive Memorandum on Missile Defense
" . .. .. I can foresee a time early in the next century when America will no longer be a nuclear power."
-- Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, June 21, 1994
On August 11, President Bill Clinton announced a ban on all U.S. nuclear tests. This decision is a major step toward making Senator Thurmond's prediction come true. It effectively reverses the policy the Clinton Administration adopted less than a year ago. The September 1994 Nuclear Posture Review found that the U.S. must maintain a stockpile of reliable, safe, and effective nuclear weapons to deter any potential adversaries and fulfill its security commitments. Because such a stockpile cannot be maintained without testing, President Clinton effectively has committed the nation to unilateral nuclear disarmament.
President Clinton's case for a comprehensive nuclear test ban is based on a number of misperceptions about nuclear testing.
Drell now chairs another study group which has reached the opposite conclusion. The JASON group, in a report released on August 4, concludes that tests no longer are required to maintain a stockpile of safe, reliable, and effective nuclear weapons. What accounts for Drell's change of opinion is unclear. However, even the JASON study hedges on the question of adopting an outright ban on testing. Its authors conclude that continuing tests of nuclear weapons below the kiloton level can add to long-term stockpile confidence and that unforeseen problems might require the U.S. to withdraw from a comprehensive test ban treaty.
A new missile will be required simply to replace the aging Minuteman III. But it also will be needed for another reason. New missile designs will be more accurate, and this will make them more lethal against hardened military targets.
Even if a CTB treaty were ratified, it would not impose a global ban on testing. No country would be compelled to sign the treaty, and even those that do could circumvent it by conducting very-low-yield tests that could not be verified. Thus, the Clinton policy will not achieve a comprehensive global ban on testing. However, it will impose a unilateral ban on the U.S.
America's nuclear deterrent is a force for good in the world. Nothing will invite the acquisition and possible use of nuclear weapons by rogue states more than U.S. nuclear disarmament.
President Clinton's decision to bar future tests of U.S. nuclear weapons is short-sighted. It will not help eliminate the world's arsenal of nuclear weapons. However, it could result in unilateral disarmament for the U.S.
The U.S. already has been down a similar road. In the late 1960s, the U.S. unilaterally banned the development and stockpiling of biological weapons. But other countries, including Iraq and the Soviet Union, continued to develop and stockpile such weapons, regardless of the 1972 treaty banning them. The result was that the U.S. ceased to possess a weapon that other countries continued to build. President Clinton has adopted a policy that will lead inevitably to the same sort of inequitable outcome with respect to nuclear weapons. This is a course fraught with risk for U.S. national security.