The House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs recently adopted a budget blueprint that provides a $30 million voluntary contribution to the Vienna-based Prep aratory Commission for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) Organization. At a time of fiscal constraint, this expenditure is unnecessary. There are better ways for the United States to spend these resources, such as modernization of its obsolete nuclear weapons complex.
In 1999, the Senate refused to give its advice and consent to the CTBT; that would still be a bad idea today. Current members of the Senate should recognize and honor the Senate’s previous action. In fact, problems with the treaty have grown worse over time. Here are a few issues with the treaty:
- Indefinite testing ban. The U.S. will eventually have to test its nuclear weapons to ensure the safety, security, and reliability of its arsenal. Yet the CTBT bans all tests for an indefinite period of time—that is, if you subscribe to the U.S. definition of what constitutes a nuclear weapons “test,” which leads to the second flaw of the treaty.
- Vague wording. It does not define the term “nuclear weapons test.” As the Commission on the Strategic Posture of the U.S. concludes in its final report, both China and Russia are likely conducting low-yield nuclear weapons tests and do not adhere to the same standards as the U.S. It would be virtually impossible to charge them with a material breach of the treaty; however, such tests can still lead to the development of new nuclear weapons capabilities.
- Double standard for the U.S. While it is U.S. policy not to develop new nuclear weapons or give its current ones new missions or capabilities, the Russian Federation is on the brink of launching the largest nuclear buildup since the end of the Cold War. This is particularly significant in light of the recent ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (START) with Moscow. As it turns out, the treaty requires unilateral reductions—on the side of the U.S. During the ratification debate, Obama Administration officials argued that New START was a must because it demonstrated U.S. leadership in nuclear disarmament—and that other countries (and Russia in particular) would follow suit with nuclear weapons reductions.
The argument about moral leadership is likely to be repeated with the CTBT. Yet if history is any guide: Since the U.S. conducted its last nuclear weapons test in 1992, North Korea, India, and Pakistan have conducted their own nuclear tests. In addition, Iran is now closer to developing a nuclear weapons capability than ever before. There is no demonstrated link between countries pursuing nuclear weapons programs and U.S. nuclear weapons testing. The U.S. should spend its resources wisely rather than support a multilateral agency that promotes goals contrary to U.S. national security.
Update: The last U.S. nuclear weapons test was in 1992, not 1993 as was originally reported. This post has been updated.