Arms control advocates are pressing the Senate to
reconsider its 1999 decision not to ratify the Comprehensive Test
Ban Treaty (CTBT), which President Bill Clinton signed in 1996. They point to
recommendations in a report released in January by retired U.S.
Army General John M. Shalikashvili, the former Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff appointed by President Clinton to examine the
concerns over the treaty.
Reason #1: The Shalikashvili report
fails to acknowledge that testing existing nuclear weapons is
necessary to ensure their safety and reliability.
report mentions that the CTBT restricts testing on new nuclear
weapons, such as weapons to destroy hardened or deeply buried
targets, and asserts that parties to the treaty would "be free" to
keep their nuclear stockpile "safe and reliable
through...testing...up to the point where the core nuclear
explosive package would go critical." In fact, the
treaty's supporters claim that testing up to this point will be
Maintaining high levels of safety and
reliability for weapons in the U.S. nuclear stockpile is necessary
to keep them operational. Currently, strategic systems that fail to
meet safety and reliability standards are withdrawn from active
inventory until the problems are fixed. But discovering the
problems frequently requires that weapons be tested. As of 1987,
one-third of all nuclear weapons in the U.S. stockpile had
undergone post-deployment testing to resolve problems. In 75
percent of these cases, the problem was discovered as a result of
explosive testing beyond the point where the weapon would "go
Periodic explosive testing of weapons in
the stockpile yields information that scientists, engineers, and
technicians at the nation's nuclear laboratories may not have known
or reveals problems they otherwise would have no reason to suspect.
A permanent ban on testing would deny them complete knowledge and
thereby degrade the safety and reliability of weapons in the
stockpile. Worse, the extent of degradation would be unknown.
1995, to assure that a high level of safety and reliability would
be maintained after the CTBT entered into force, the Clinton
Administration established the Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship
(SBSS) program. Today, however,
scientists in the national laboratory system have begun to suggest
that the goal of the SBSS program is not achievable. In the words
of Dr. Merri Wood, a senior weapons designer at the Los Alamos
National Laboratory, stewardship of the U.S. nuclear weapons
stockpile without testing is "a religious exercise, not science."
Shalikashvili report recommends a number of management and
budgeting improvements for the SBSS program. For example, it
recommends that SBSS program leaders focus on near-term
reliability, enhanced weapons surveillance and monitoring
activities, multi-year budgeting, and a mechanism for consulting
with scientists outside the program. While these recommendations
might improve the SBSS program to some degree if implemented,
however, they cannot answer the fundamental question of whether it
is possible to assure the safety and reliability of nuclear weapons
in the stockpile absent explosive testing.
Reason #2: The report includes no
specific proposal for designing new weapons to meet future military
SBSS program was not designed to maintain militarily effective
weapons in the face of changing military requirements. Both
proponents and opponents of the CTBT in the United States have
acknowledged that a permanent ban on testing would block the entry
of new weapons into the U.S stockpile. The best that can be hoped
for is that an existing weapon could be repackaged to meet a new
requirement. Ratifying the CTBT
would make it virtually certain that the nuclear arsenal's
effectiveness would decline over time and result in a serious
military requirement's going unmet in the future.
his cover letter accompanying the report, General Shalikashvili
states that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is "able to meet all stated
military requirements." He goes further and asserts that "For as
far into the future as we can see, the U.S. nuclear deterrent can
remain effective [under the CTBT] assuming prudent stockpile
stewardship." His assumption of
a static military environment, however, is seriously flawed. By
this logic, somebody could say that it will not rain tomorrow
because it is sunny today: in other words, that the best indication
of tomorrow's weather is today's. The repeated application of this
assumption would lead to the absurd assertion that it will never
rain because each prior day was sunny. This kind of illogic
essentially assumes that new military requirements will never
Though the report does state that a
circumstance might arise that would lead the United States to
withdraw from the CTBT and resume testing, such a statement in
effect urges the Senate to ratify a deficient treaty from which, by
objective standards, the United States would likely find a reason
to withdraw in the future. Such a proposition undermines the
international standing and reputation of the United States.
Finally, just the presence of treaty
obligations undermines objective military decisions. The CTBT would
act as a quiet force driving the military both to avoid finding new
requirements for nuclear weapons and to put off recommendations to
build new weapons in order to avoid the possibility of treaty
withdrawal. Military decisions regarding new weapons requirements
and modernization should not be made in a vacuum. Regrettably,
under the CTBT, the final decisions would be the result not of an
objective process, but of a politically sensitive one.
Reason #3: The Shalikashvili report
does not satisfactorily address the problem of aging missile
bulk of the U.S. land-based missile force consists of 1970s-vintage
Minuteman missiles. Their age should be a concern. Aging rockets
will become more difficult and expensive to maintain, and this will
raise questions about their safety, reliability, and military
United States in the past would modernize its nuclear missile force
by replacing existing missile systems as they aged with new ones.
In this process, a warhead would be designed and built specifically
for a missile, and the missile specifically for the warhead.
Under the CTBT, however, the process for
modernizing missiles at the point that existing missiles must be
retired will depend on building a missile to the requirements of
existing warheads. This approach will severely constrain or, as a
practical matter, bar outright the procurement of more modern
missiles and result in an atrophying nuclear deterrent.
CTBT will make it difficult to replace aging nuclear missile
systems. The omission of any discussion of this problem leaves open
serious questions about what strategic missile systems the United
States would deploy when the currently deployed Minuteman,
Peacekeeper, and Trident missiles are retired. Barring the
replacement of existing systems as they retire will result in a
continuous reduction in the size of the U.S. deterrent force until
there are no missiles left. Maintaining a more modern strategic
missile force at an established size by building new missiles
designed around the warheads in the stockpile would be difficult.
Far from ideal, this approach would undermine the overall
effectiveness of the U.S. strategic nuclear force.
the U.S. government, neither alternative is acceptable. The U.S.
strategic missile force should be modernized with entirely new
missiles and with warheads designed and built for those missiles as
necessary, which requires testing.
Reason #4: While the report recognizes
problems with the aging warhead stockpile, it proposes no effective
the past, old warheads could be replaced with new ones. Curtailing
modernization of U.S. nuclear weapons will only exacerbate the
problems that accompany an aging stockpile. The fissionable
materials at the core of nuclear weapons are highly volatile; their
key properties change over time, even to the extent that questions
could be raised about whether a warhead will reach critical mass at
the time of detonation. Left unanswered, such questions could lead
to the withdrawal, or "stand-down," of a particular class of
warheads from the active inventory, as has been done in the past.
With a smaller strategic arsenal that depends on fewer classes of
warheads, a future stand-down could undermine the U.S. deterrent
problems of an aging weapons stockpile would not be present if the
United States continued to conduct nuclear tests. The Shalikashvili
report recommends addressing these with the same management reforms
it recommends for the SBSS program, such as focusing on near-term
problems and adopting multi-year budgeting. The SBSS program faces
daunting technical hurdles in detecting and solving its problems,
not merely management hurdles, and the proposed management reforms
will not solve technical problems with the program. Similarly, the
report offers no substantive remedy for the problem of aging
Reason #5: The report provides only
general explanations for how the United States could clear the
scientific hurdles and maintain a nuclear deterrent under the
Clinton Administration's program for maintaining the U.S. nuclear
deterrent under the CTBT faces serious scientific hurdles. In 1997
testimony before a Senate subcommittee, one nuclear weapons
designer portrayed the major goals of the SBSS program as
significant scientific achievements, were they to be reached. For example, some
of the machines being designed to monitor nuclear weapons in the
stockpile must create pressure and temperature environments that
previously were associated only with nuclear weapons and stellar
objects. Failure would not be the result of a lack of effort or
management problems; it would result from the fact that science had
not advanced far enough to achieve these goals.
report provides only the most general explanations for how such
scientific hurdles could be cleared. General Shalikashvili states
in the report that
my judgment, the challenges facing the [SBSS] Program can be
managed, and the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear
deterrent can be maintained indefinitely, so long as future
administrations and congresses provide high standards of
accountability and sufficient resources to keep uncertainty at an
report had already stated that nothing about the annual SBSS
certification process for confirming the safety and reliability of
nuclear weapons in the stockpile was "sugar-coated." In reality, the
report includes neither a detailed list of the scientific hurdles
the SBSS program must clear nor any explanation of how those
hurdles would be cleared. The report, in other words, sugar-coated
the likely success of SBSS by resorting to generalities.
Reason #6: The report offers no
detailed assessment of the risks associated with decreasing
diversity in the nuclear weapons stockpile.
1985, the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile contained 30 kinds of
warheads; today, it contains nine. The discovery of an unexpected
problem in one kind of warhead could result in the temporary
withdrawal of a large portion of the total warheads from the
useable inventory. One way to address that shortcoming would be to
develop and manufacture new warheads to diversify the stockpile,
but the CTBT permanently bars the development and manufacturing of
new warhead designs. The test ban increases the risk of
catastrophic failure in the overall nuclear posture by decreasing
the stockpile's diversity.
Shalikashvili report does not address the diversity question.
Indeed, it acknowledges that moving forward with the construction
of a facility for remanufacturing existing nuclear weapons designs
must await the determination of the
composition of the long-term stockpile. The report should have
included a specific recommendation for diversifying the stockpile
by adding new types of warheads.
Reason #7: The report inadvertently
admits that the temptation to "fudge" facts about the state of the
nuclear stockpile will be greater under the CTBT.
President Clinton acknowledged in 1998
that his Administration would "fudge" findings of fact relative to
the activities of foreign governments in order to avoid the
triggering of economic sanctions. Senators were
concerned in 1999 that the mere presence of the treaty obligation
and the Administration's desire to preserve it in the future could
result in a similar fudging of facts about the state of the U.S.
nuclear stockpile. Problems with weapons in the stockpile could be
swept under the rug rather than confronted. Such a policy of
ignoring problems would undermine the U.S. nuclear deterrent over
time and lead ultimately to functional nuclear disarmament.
Shalikashvili report inadvertently makes clear that the temptation
to fudge facts about the nuclear stockpile will be greater under
the CTBT. It does this by arguing that the non-proliferation costs
of even ending the current voluntary U.S. moratorium on testing are
too high. By recommending that the United States not resume nuclear
testing now--something that has been barred by unilateral policy
since 1992--it in effect justifies the concern that problems with
weapons in the stockpile will be ignored under the CTBT. The
reason: The non-proliferation costs of resuming testing following
ratification of the CTBT, which would require abrogating the
treaty, will be exponentially higher than the costs of ending the
the Shalikashvili report cannot find justification for resuming
testing under current circumstances, the presence of the treaty
obligation will all but guarantee that such a justification will
never be found following ratification. Problems with nuclear
stockpiles will be ignored even more assiduously than the existing
problems with the stockpile are ignored in the Shalikashvili
Reason #8: The report includes an
inadequate proposal for preventing political pressures from
undermining the stockpile stewardship program.
foreign and domestic governments and policymakers who favor U.S.
nuclear disarmament see the CTBT as a vehicle for achieving that
outcome. They argue that essential elements of the SBSS program are
contrary to the spirit and intent of the CTBT and, in the context
of U.S. ratification, violate a treaty obligation.
report merely revives an earlier Clinton Administration proposal on
how to protect the stockpile stewardship program against political
pressures. That proposal, presented in 1995, established safeguards
that could be used to trigger a decision by the United States to
exercise its right to withdraw and resume testing. The Senate in
1999 correctly judged these safeguards to be inadequate to protect
the U.S. nuclear deterrent, because the United States has rarely
withdrawn from arms control treaties. The Shalikashvili report
recommends that the Administration and the Senate agree to an
intensive joint review of the treaty's value to national security
at 10-year intervals (following its entry into force) as a way to
assuage Senate concerns about the effectiveness of safeguards.
assumption is that the mere presence of this joint review will
serve to discipline the SBSS program and the certification process,
and allow for a more serious examination of the abrogation option.
But it will fail to ease political pressures in favor of nuclear
disarmament, particularly if such pressures emanate from inside the
Senate and the Administration. Indeed, ratification of the CTBT
will increase the legitimacy of the arguments advanced by advocates
of U.S. nuclear disarmament and enhance their ability to achieve
the one hand, the report states unequivocally that preservation of
the U.S. nuclear deterrent is essential. On the other hand,
its specific proposals either will do nothing effective to preserve
the deterrent against the forces that want to undermine it or will
actually strengthen those forces. CTBT ratification will decisively
change the balance of power in favor of those who want to eliminate
the U.S. nuclear deterrent.
REJECTING THE REPORT'S INTERIM
The Shalikashvili report compounds its errors by proposing two
interim steps, both of which are inimical to U.S. security and
legally questionable: (1) continue the U.S. moratorium on testing
and (2) take steps to implement provisions of the CTBT prior to