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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 24, March 1998

Remarks by ACDA Director: Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;
US-China Non-Proliferation Policies

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

Prepared statement by John Holum, Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, to the Senate Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation and Federal Services, 18 March 1998


"I am pleased to join you to discuss the national security benefits of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). ... Your first hearing last October helped focus on the issues. I trust this hearing will further the process of rendering Senate advice and consent.

As you know, the President has called on the Senate to provide its advice and consent this year. As soon as the Senate has approved NATO expansion, it should act expeditiously to consider and approve the CTBT. These agreements, individually and together, will ensure that the next century brings us a safer and more secure world. But continued US leadership is required. Just as the United States led the successful effort to negotiate the CTBT among the 61 members of the Conference on Disarmament and was the first State to sign the Treaty, we should be among the initial States to ratify it as well. The CTBT overwhelmingly serves our national interest. Let me describe how it does so.

First, by constraining the development of more advanced nuclear weapons by the declared nuclear powers, the CTBT essentially eliminates the possibility of a renewed arms competition such as characterized the Cold War. Without the ability to conduct nuclear explosive tests, none of the weapon States will be able to develop, with high confidence, new, more advanced weapons. For prudent military planners, this means that advanced new types of nuclear weapons will be precluded.

With all five declared nuclear-weapon States effectively frozen at current levels of weapons development, a 50-year spiral of escalation will be ended. The United States is currently in a position to reap maximum benefits from such a freeze. ... We have no plans and no military requirements to test. All the more reason, then, to hold others to the same standard we already observe.

The CTBT and the strategic nuclear arms reduction process are mutually reinforcing. The test ban provides confidence that neither side is making significant qualitative improvements in its arsenal, thus fostering a stable environment for further reductions. The CTBT will not eliminate a single nuclear weapon. But it will enhance the START process and help us further reduce the roles and risks of nuclear weapons.

Second, the CTBT also is a non-proliferation Treaty. It will erect a further barrier to the development of nuclear weapons by States hostile to our interests, and others. Even if a non-nuclear-weapon State were able to assemble sufficient nuclear material to produce a simple fission weapon, the CTBT would force it to place confidence in an untested design (which military leaders might find unacceptable), and it would constrain the development of nuclear weapons beyond simple fission designs. Without access to testing data, a would-be proliferator cannot develop with any degree of confidence a compact boosted weapon. Design of a two-stage thermonuclear weapon is even more complicated, and confident development even more dependent on test data.

Some observers point out that the bomb used in Hiroshima was never tested. True enough, but we had to dig a hole under a B-29 to load it aboard. It would be a challenging task for an emerging nuclear-weapon State, likely requiring nuclear explosive tests, to design nuclear weapons in the sizes, shapes and weights most dangerous to us - compact weapons deliverable in long-range airplanes and missiles, or very small, low-yield, nuclear weapons to be used as terrorist devices or in regional conflicts.

Third...the Treaty will strengthen international non-proliferation standards and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime, and give the US a stronger hand to lead the global non-proliferation effort.

The nuclear-weapon States' commitment to conclude a CTBT in 1996 was instrumental in achieving the indefinite and unconditional extension of the NPT in 1995. ...

Largely due to US initiatives, agreement on the CTBT text was reached on schedule, and the Treaty has now been signed by 150 countries, including the five nuclear-weapon States. The next step is ratification by the US and the other nuclear-weapon States, and concerted efforts to bring the Treaty into force.

Ratification is also critical to our ability to effectively enforce the NPT regime, which is no easy task. The NPT, now with nearly universal membership at 185 States, has established a global norm of non-proliferation which discourages most States from even considering nuclear weapon programs. ... However, as recent history demonstrates, not all States feel bound by norms or Treaty obligations. Even States that appear to be complying with the legal obligations of the NPT may go quite far in pursuit of nuclear weapon capabilities without clearly violating it. Thus, a challenge for the US is to insist on strict compliance by the non-nuclear-weapon States with both the letter and the spirit of the NPT obligation to forego nuclear weapons. That requires a united world, with the means to isolate and sanction those who do not respect the law. It requires a strong global political commitment to the NPT, so countries will be prepared to negotiate new agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency incorporating the strong new safeguards we finally achieved last year.

Think about the potential proliferation consequences of an extended delay in US ratification, accompanied, as would probably be the case, by such a delay in ratification by Russia and China. ... It could send the message that the weapon States are unwilling to ever break with their Cold War reliance on nuclear arms - exactly the wrong signal to send. Under these circumstances, we would have significantly harmed US efforts to persuade the international community to join us in insisting on strict compliance with the NPT and to use the 'strengthened review process' agreed to at the 1995 NPT Review Conference to advance our non-proliferation goals.

The fourth reason to ratify the CTBT is that it is effectively verifiable. ... What do we mean by this term? Let me begin with what it does not mean, effective verification does not mean that the US has a guarantee that it would be able to detect and attribute all tests worldwide, under all circumstances, should violations occur. Effective verification involves political judgments as well as technical ones; it involves determinations of acceptable levels of uncertainty. To make a judgment about what is acceptable, we need to weigh the benefits of the treaty compared to the likelihood of violations and the potential costs to the US.

Thus, our judgment that the Treaty is effectively verifiable reflects the belief that US nuclear deterrence would not be undermined by nuclear testing that the United States might fail to detect. It further reflects our belief that the Treaty will effectively deter violations in light of the significant possibility of detection in combination with the high political costs if a violation is detected. Moreover, the Treaty's verification regime, along with our national intelligence means and diplomatic efforts, will limit an evader's options and provide us with the means to take prompt and effective counter action should we suspect a violation has occurred. In sum, we believe that the benefits of the Treaty to US national security clearly outweigh the potential costs and likelihood of undetected violations.

We would be concerned about the possibility of any violation, even a test with a nuclear yield of a few pounds. Quite apart from the potential military significance of such a test, it would have serious political consequences and, moreover, could provide us important information about another States' weapons program. With or without a CTBT, monitoring the nuclear-related activities of the nuclear powers and potential proliferators will continue to be a high priority job of the intelligence community. This brings me to a fifth reason to ratify the Treaty: it will improve our nuclear test monitoring capabilities.

The CTBT augments the current national technical means for monitoring worldwide nuclear testing with additional tools and data not previously available to the United States. It is a net plus. The CTBT establishes global networks of four different types of sensors - seismic, hydroacoustic, radionuclide and infrasound - that can detect explosions in different physical environments. These networks, comprising 321 monitoring stations, are called the International Monitoring System (IMS). Data will be coming in continuously from the IMS. Some of this data will be recorded at stations in sensitive parts of the world to which we would not otherwise have access. Consider, for example, that the IMS includes 31 monitoring stations in Russia, 11 in China and 17 in the Middle East. ...

We had a demonstration of some of these capabilities last summer. In the Kara Sea, near a former Soviet nuclear testing facility where there had been ongoing activity, seismic sensors detected an event. This raised red flags about a potential tests in the area and we began collecting and analyzing data. The event, with a seismic signal equivalent to about one-tenth of one kiloton, was detected by several IMS stations in Russia, Norway, Sweden and Finland. Our intelligence community could confidently locate the event in the Kara Sea even though a major seismic station in the region was out of commission.

After analysis, we were satisfied that there was no nuclear explosion, based solely on remote sensing and study. If the Treaty were in force we could, of course, choose to use its on-site inspection regime or consultation and clarification procedures if there are similar incidents. Sixth, the CTBT will allow us to maintain a safe and reliable nuclear deterrent.

As a condition of US support for a zero-yield CTBT in the summer of 1995, President Clinton announced safeguards which collectively recognize and protect the continued important contribution of nuclear weapons to US national security. The first safeguard mandated the conduct of a Stockpile Stewardship program - for which there must be sustained bipartisan support from Congress - to ensure a high level of confidence in the safety and reliability of our nuclear weapons stockpile.

Such a program to maintain our nuclear deterrent under a CTBT was established in 1993 by the Department of Energy (DOE) in close collaboration with the Strategic Command and the Joint Staff at the Department of Defense. ... Its point of departure is a rich database from over 1,000 past nuclear weapon tests that characterize the operation of our weapons and will serve as a benchmark for analyzing the operation of our weapons in the future. ...

If, in the unlikely event doubts about our ability to maintain the arsenal under a CTBT arise at some point in the future, the Treaty provides for withdrawal from the Treaty if a party decides that its supreme interests are jeopardized. President Clinton has decided (and stated as one of the safeguards that condition US support for the Treaty) that the safety and reliability of our nuclear weapons is a supreme national interest. ...

Some may ask, why should we act now to ratify? The condition for the Treaty's entry into force is ratification by 44 identified countries - members of the Conference on Disarmament possessing nuclear power or nuclear research reactors. Of the 44, North Korea, India and Pakistan have not even signed, although Islamabad voted to adopt the Treaty at the United Nations General Assembly.

If the Treaty is in our interests - as I believe it is - and especially if we are going to comply with it anyway, then we should work to bring it into force as soon as we can.

US ratification will encourage further ratifications, just as US ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention facilitated ratification by Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran. The most effective means of moving reluctant States is to make them feel the sting of isolation on this issue and not to provide them with the 'cover' of US inaction. US delays in ratification would compromise our efforts to encourage others. In particular, with regard to India and Pakistan, it is important that when the President travels to the subcontinent later this year he does so with US ratification in hand.

In addition, if the CTBT has not entered into force by September 1999, that is, three years after it was opened for signature, the Treaty provides for an annual conference of countries that have ratified to consider how to facilitate early entry into force. The US should be there. But, to participate, the US must ratify. ...

Lastly, it is essential that the US continue to demonstrate leadership with regard to the crucial treaties and regimes that strengthen our global non-proliferation effort, as it did during the CTBT negotiations. The US needs to promote the CTBT's entry into force, not complicate it. ...

At its very core, here is what the CTBT issue comes down to, what the Senate must consider when making its decision: the nuclear arms race is over; arsenals are shrinking; our dramatically fewer remaining weapons can be kept safe and reliable by other means; we don't need tests; proliferators do; the American people overwhelmingly want testing banned."

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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