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Former Secretary of State Shultz calls for Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty ratification

Last Friday, at a Rome conference entitled “Overcoming Nuclear Dangers,” former Secretary of State George Schulz publicly urged the US to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). In a nuanced statement to gain support for the treaty, he asserted that his Republican colleagues “would be right voting for it now, based on these new facts.”

Shultz’s support for the CTBT, a crucial aspect of the nonproliferation regime, comes at a critical time in the movement for reducing the nuclear threat. He has been part of a group of Cold War statesmen calling for a world free of nuclear weapons through OpEds in the Wall Street Journal. Earlier this month President Obama promised,

To achieve a global ban on nuclear testing, my Administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. After more than five decades of talks, it is time for the testing of nuclear weapons to finally be banned.

Currently, 180 nations, including the United States, have signed the CTBT, and over 140 have ratified it. The United States and 8 other nations (China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan) must ratify the CTBT before it can enter into force. CTBT ratification would have numerous benefits. It would eliminate the testing that facilitates the emergence of new nuclear states. It would help prevent an escalating arms race by cutting off creation of newer, deadlier weapons developed through testing. It would help prevent damage to both our health and the environment. Ratification of the CTBT would help restore the US’ authority in the non-proliferation regime by demonstrating our government is willing to take an active role in preventing the creation of new weapons.

Unfortunately, the road ahead is not likely to be easy, which is one reason why Shultz’s call is significant. As a former high-ranking member of the Reagan administration, Shultz is in a unique position to encourage other Republicans to support the CTBT. When the Senate initially rejected the CTBT in 1999, 48 members voted in favor of ratification while 51 voted against it. The numbers approximated party-lines, with most Democrats falling in the former camp and a majority of Republicans landing in the latter. Given that 67 votes are necessary for ratification, the Washington Post maintains that ratification “could be attained only by keeping all 56 Democrats, the two independents, eight Republicans and whoever wins the second U.S. Senate seat representing Minnesota.”

The 1999 CTBT skeptics had two main concerns. First, that a test ban treaty would fail to prevent the emergence of new nuclear states and second, that a ban on testing would damage the United States’ ability to safely and effectively maintain its own nuclear arsenal. Shultz cites technological advancements which address these concerns as reasons to support the CTBT.

“They don’t have to say they changed their mind,” Shultz told a news conference. “They can say there’s new evidence that we have, and on the basis of new evidence” they can support it.

Scientific American reports on new methods of verifying compliance with the CTBT:

The scientific and technical community has developed a well-honed ability to monitor militarily significant nuclear test explosions anywhere in the world, above ground or below, and to distinguish them from mine collapses, earthquakes, and other natural or nonnuclear phenomena. For example, the yield of the North Korean test conducted underground in 2006 was less than a kiloton (the equivalent of 1,000 tons of TNT). Yet it was promptly detected and identified. Given such demonstrated capabilities, as well as continuing improvements in monitoring, the concerns about clandestine nuclear testing no longer provide defensible grounds for opposing the CTBT.

According to Scientific American, a nuclear test of less than one kiloton is unlikely to have “military significance.” In other words, a small, low yield test is of little use in evaluating a nuclear warhead design, especially for countries new to nuclear weapons testing.

A 2002 National Academy of Sciences report reveals that nuclear testing is not necessary for maintaining our current stockpile. Since 1994, each warhead type in the US nuclear weapons arsenal has been determined to be safe and reliable through a rigorous certification process, without testing.

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