Testing The Treaty

By John Liang / January 14, 2010 at 5:00 AM

With the Obama administration planning on submitting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to the Senate for ratification before the end of this year, more than one think tank has begun to examine the pact's pros and cons.

The EastWest Institute today released a report calling for a fresh U.S. debate on the CTBT, calling the pact "a critical step that will reflect the U.S. commitment to nuclear nonproliferation." According to an institute statement:

The report, The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty: New Technology, New Prospects?, is the result of discussions between a bipartisan group of 30 technical and policy experts about Senate ratification of the CTBT in light of recent technological advances. The CTBT is unanimously considered a key component of the global nonproliferation regime. The U.S. Senate rejected it in 1999, in part because of concerns that it would not ensure compliance by other states and that it would prevent the U.S. from maintaining the safety and reliability of its nuclear arsenal.

EWI's report suggests that ten years later, technological developments have changed that picture. It investigates how technical advances affect the debate and identifies concerns the Obama administration must address if it wants to pursue Senate ratification of the CTBT.

"Barack Obama laid out a promising and exciting agenda in Prague in April," said W. Pal Sidhu, Vice President of Programs at the EastWest Institute. "Now it's time to deliver."

The CTBT cannot come in to force until the U.S. and eight other countries, including China, India and Pakistan, ratify it. Many countries, including key nuclear powers such as Russia, see the U.S. Senate's failure to ratify the CTBT as a major hurdle to renewed U.S. leadership on nuclear nonproliferation.

"The Senate has had valid concerns about the CTBT, and the administration must address these concerns," said Sidhu. "If the Obama administration is serious about leading the world towards nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, it's got to get serious about the CTBT."

Additionally, the National Academy of Sciences is due to release an update to its 2002 analysis of the treaty within the next 90 days.

An "ad hoc committee" is reviewing and updating "aspects of the analysis in the 2002 National Academies’ report, Technical Issues Related to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty," according to the NAS Web site. The committee is examining the following areas:

1) Maintaining the safety and reliability of the U.S. stockpile. The committee will assess, including information developed for and produced by the Nuclear Posture Review, the Administration’s plan to manage the risks in ensuring, over the longer term, a safe and reliable nuclear weapons stockpile absent underground nuclear testing. The experience of the U.S. stockpile stewardship program, particularly in the last decade, will also be taken into account.

2) Nuclear explosion detection, location and identification. The committee will assess present nuclear explosion detection capabilities, taking into account the totality of assets accessible to the United States, including: (a) any improvements in U.S. national technical means in the last decade, and (b) operating experience of the international monitoring system. The committee might also consider how these capabilities are expected to improve over time.

3) Sustainability. The committee will assess what commitments are required to sustain: (a) America’s nuclear stockpile; (b) the U.S. monitoring system; and (c) an adequate international verification regime, including On-Site Inspection.

4) Technical Advances. The committee will assess the potential technical advances to nuclear weapon capabilities for other countries: (a) that result from evasive and non-evasive testing at levels below the U.S. detection capability; and (b) that result from returning to full-yield testing in a non-test-ban environment.