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Ellen Tauscher, The Case for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, 10 May 2011
On 10 May 2011, US Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security spoke at the Arms Control Association Annual Meeting at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington on the case for the CTBT.
Good morning. I want to thank my good friend Daryl Kimball for inviting me to speak today. Daryl, as everyone knows, is one of the world’s most tireless advocates for arms control, especially banning nuclear testing. His work and that of the Arms Control Association, which was recognized by the MacArthur Foundation last year, is tremendously important.
Many of you have heard me speak many times about what this Administration intended to accomplish and what we have accomplished. In the two years since President Obama’s speech in Prague, the Administration has taken significant steps and dedicated unprecedented financial, political, and technical resources to prevent proliferation, live up to our commitments, and to move toward a world without nuclear weapons.
Under the President’s leadership, we have achieved the entry into force of the New START agreement, adopted a Nuclear Posture Review that promotes nonproliferation and reduces the role of nuclear weapons in our national security policy, and helped to achieve a consensus Action Plan at the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference.
The Administration also convened the successful 2010 Nuclear Security Summit, helped secure and relocate vulnerable nuclear materials, led efforts to establish an international nuclear fuel bank, and increased effective multilateral sanctions against both Iran and North Korea.
As for what’s next, our goal is to move our relationship with Russia from one based on Mutually Assured Destruction to one on Mutually Assured Stability. We want Russia inside the missile defense tent so that it understands that missile defense is not about undermining Russia’s deterrent.
Even though this is a bipartisan goal – President Reagan and President Bush both supported missile defense cooperation – it will not be easy. I know that many of you have opposed missile defenses. I have as well when the plans were not technically sound or the mission was wrong. But this Administration is seeking to turn what has been an irritant to U.S.-Russian relations into a shared interest. Cooperation between our militaries, scientists, diplomats, and engineers will be more enduring and build greater confidence than any type of assurances.
We are also preparing for the next steps in nuclear arms reductions, including – as the President has directed – reductions in strategic, non-strategic, and non-deployed weapons. We are fully engaged with our allies in this process.
But let me turn to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. President Obama vowed to pursue ratification and entry into force of the CTBT in his speech in Prague. In so doing the United States is once again taking a leading role in supporting a test ban treaty just as it had when discussions first began more than 50 years ago.
As you know, in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States ratified the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which banned all nuclear tests except those conducted underground. The Cuban Missile Crisis, which was about as close as the world has ever come to a nuclear exchange, highlighted the instability of the arms race. Even though scholars have concluded that the United States acted rationally, the Soviet Union acted rationally, and even Fidel Castro acted rationally, we came perilously close to nuclear war. Luck certainly played a role in helping us avoid nuclear catastrophe.
In the months after the crisis, President Kennedy used his new found political capital and his political skill to persuade the military and the Senate to support a test ban treaty in the hopes of curbing a dangerous arms race. He achieved a Limited Test Ban Treaty, but aspired to do more. Yet, today, with more than 40 years of experience, wisdom, and knowledge about global nuclear dangers, a legally binding ban on all nuclear explosive testing still eludes us.
This being Washington, everything is seen through a political lens. So before discussing the merits of the Treaty, let me talk about this in a political sense for a moment. I know that the conventional wisdom is that the ratification of New START has delayed or pushed aside consideration of the CTBT.
I take the opposite view.
The New START debate, in many ways, opened the door for the CTBT. Months of hearings and debate and nine long days of floor deliberations engaged the Senate, especially its newer Members, in an extended seminar on the composition of our nuclear arsenal, the health of our stockpile, and the relationship between nuclear weapons and our national security. When the Senate voted for the Treaty, it inherently affirmed that our stockpile is safe, secure, and effective, and can be kept so without nuclear testing.
More importantly, the New START debate helped cultivate emerging new arms control champions, such as Senator Shaheen and Senator Casey, who are here today. Before the debate, there was not a lot of muscle memory on treaties, especially nuclear treaties in the Senate. Now, there is. So we are in a stronger position to make the case for the CTBT on its merits. To maintain and enhance that momentum, the Obama Administration is preparing to engage the Senate and the public on an education campaign that we expect will lead to ratification of the CTBT.
In our engagement with the Senate, we want to leave aside the politics and explain why the CTBT will enhance our national security. Our case for Treaty ratification consists of three primary arguments.
One, the United States no longer needs to conduct nuclear explosive tests, plain and simple. Two, a CTBT that has entered into force will obligate other states not to test and provide a disincentive for states to conduct such tests. And three, we now have a greater ability to catch those who cheat.
Let me take these points one by one.
From 1945 to 1992, the United States conducted more than 1,000 nuclear explosive tests – more than all other nations combined. The cumulative data gathered from these tests have provided an impressive foundation of knowledge for us to base the continuing effectiveness of our arsenal. But historical test data alone is insufficient.
Well over a decade ago, we launched an extensive and rigorous Stockpile Stewardship program that has enabled our nuclear weapons laboratories to carry out the essential surveillance and warhead life extension programs to ensure the credibility of our deterrent.
Every year for the past 15 years, the Secretaries of Defense and Energy from Democratic and Republican Administrations, and the directors of the nuclear weapons laboratories have certified that our arsenal is safe, secure, and effective. And each year they have affirmed that we do not need to conduct explosive nuclear tests.
The lab directors tell us that Stockpile Stewardship has provided a deeper understanding of our arsenal than they ever had when testing was commonplace. Think about that for a moment. Our current efforts go a step beyond explosive testing by enabling the labs to anticipate problems in advance and reduce their potential impact on our arsenal – something that nuclear testing could not do. I, for one, would not trade our successful approach based on world-class science and technology for a return to explosive testing.
This Administration has demonstrated an unprecedented commitment to a safe, secure, and effective arsenal so long as nuclear weapons exist. Despite the narrative put forward by some, this Administration inherited an underfunded and underappreciated nuclear complex. We have worked tirelessly to fix that situation and ensure our complex has every asset needed to achieve its mission.
The President has committed $88 billion in funding over the next decade to maintain a modern nuclear arsenal, retain a modern nuclear weapons production complex, and nurture a highly trained workforce. At a time when every part of the budget is under the microscope, this pledge demonstrates our commitment and should not be discounted. To those who doubt our commitment, I ask them to put their doubts aside and invest the hard work to support our budget requests in the Congress.
When it comes to the CTBT, the United States is in a curious position. We abide by the core prohibition of the Treaty because we don’t need to test nuclear weapons. And we have contributed to the development of the International Monitoring System. But the principal benefit of ratifying the Treaty, constraining other states from testing, still eludes us. That doesn’t make any sense to me and it shouldn’t make any sense to the Members of the Senate.
I do not believe that even the most vocal critics of the CTBT want to resume explosive nuclear testing. What they have chosen instead is a status quo where the United States refrains from testing without using that fact to lock in a legally binding global ban that would significantly benefit the United States.
Second, a CTBT that has entered into force will hinder other states from advancing their nuclear weapons capabilities. Were the CTBT to enter into force, states interested in pursuing or advancing a nuclear weapons program would risk either deploying weapons that might not work or incur international condemnation and sanctions for testing.
While states can build a crude first generation nuclear weapon without conducting nuclear explosive tests, they would have trouble going further, and they probably wouldn’t even know for certain the yield of the weapon they built. More established nuclear weapons states could not, with any confidence, deploy advanced nuclear weapon capabilities that deviated significantly from previously tested designs without explosive testing.
Nowhere would these constraints be more relevant than in Asia, where you see states building up and modernizing their forces. A legally binding prohibition on all nuclear explosive testing would help reduce the chances of a potential regional arms race in the years and decades to come.
Finally, we have become very good at detecting potential cheaters. If you test, there is a very high risk of getting caught. Upon the Treaty’s entry into force, the United States would use the International Monitoring System to complement our own state of the art national technical means to verify the Treaty.
In 1999, not a single certified IMS station or facility existed. We understand why some senators had doubts about its future, untested capabilities. But today the IMS is more than 75 percent complete. 254 of the planned 321 monitoring stations are in place and functioning. And 10 of 16 projected radio-nuclide laboratories have been completed. The IMS detected both of North Korea’s two announced nuclear tests.
While the IMS did not detect trace radioactive isotopes confirming that the 2009 event was in fact a nuclear explosive test, there was sufficient evidence to support an on-site inspection. On-site inspections are only permissible once the Treaty enters into force. An on-site inspection could have clarified the ambiguity of the 2009 test.
While the IMS continues to prove its value, our national technical means remain second to none and we continue to improve them. Last week, our colleagues at the NNSA conducted the first of a series of Source Physics Experiments at the Nevada Nuclear Security Site. These experiments will allow the United States to validate and improve seismic models and the use of new generation technology to further monitor compliance with the CTBT. Senators can judge our overall capabilities for themselves by consulting the National Intelligence Estimate released last year.
Taken together, these verification tools would make it difficult for any state to conduct nuclear tests that escape detection. In other words, a robust verification regime carries an important deterrent value in and of itself. Could we imagine a far-fetched scenario where a country might conduct a test so low that it would not be detected? Perhaps. But could a country be certain that it would not be caught? That is unclear. Would a country be willing to risk being caught cheating? Doubtful, because there would be a significant cost to pay for those countries that test.
We have a strong case for Treaty ratification. In the coming months, we will build upon and flesh out these core arguments. We look forward to objective voices providing their opinions on this important issue. Soon, the National Academy of Sciences, a trusted and unbiased voice on scientific issues, will release an unclassified report examining the Treaty from a technical perspective. The report will look at how U.S. ratification would impact our ability to maintain our nuclear arsenal and our ability to detect and verify explosive nuclear tests.
Let me conclude by saying that successful U.S. ratification of the CTBT will help facilitate greater international cooperation on the other elements of the President’s Prague Agenda. It will strengthen our leverage with the international community to pressure defiant regimes like those in Iran and North Korea as they engage in illicit nuclear activities. We will have greater credibility when encouraging other states to pursue nonproliferation objectives, including universality of the Additional Protocol.
In short, ratification helps us get more of what we want. We give up nothing by ratifying the CTBT. We recognize that a Senate debate over ratification will be spirited, vigorous, and likely contentious. The debate in 1999, unfortunately, was too short and too politicized. The Treaty was brought to the floor without the benefit of extensive Committee hearings or significant input from Administration officials and outside experts.
We will not repeat those mistakes.
But we will make a more forceful case when we are certain the facts have been carefully examined and reviewed in a thoughtful process. We are committed to taking a bipartisan and fact-based approach with the Senate.
For my Republican friends who voted against the Treaty and might feel bound by that vote, I have one message: Don’t be. The times have changed. Stockpile Stewardship works. We have made significant advances in our ability to detect nuclear testing. As my good friend George Shultz likes to say, those who opposed the Treaty in 1999 can say they were right, but they would be right to vote for the Treaty today.
We have a lot of work to do to build the political will needed to ratify the CTBT. Nuclear testing is not a front-burner issue in the minds of most Americans, in part, because we have not tested in nearly 20 years. To understand the gap in public awareness, just think that in 1961 some 10,000 women walked off their job as mothers and housewives to protest the arms race and nuclear testing. Now, that strike did not have the same impact as the nonviolent marches and protests to further the cause of Civil Rights.
But the actions of mothers taking a symbolic and dramatic step to recognize global nuclear dangers showed that the issue has resonance beyond “the Beltway,” beyond the think tank world and beyond the Ivory Tower. That level of concern is there today and we need your energy, your organizational skills, and your creativity to tap into it.
If we are to move safely and securely to a world without nuclear weapons, then we need to build the requisite political support and that can only be done by people like you.
Thank you very much and I’m happy to try to answer any easy questions that you might have.
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