Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

Should the United States ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty?

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

Yes because... No because...

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty would help to prevent the proliferation (spread to new countries) ...

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty would help to prevent the proliferation (spread to new countries) of nuclear weapons by making it more difficult for nations that do not already possess nuclear weapons to develop them. Although it is possible to build a nuclear bomb without testing, it is hard to have any confidence that an untested nuclear device will work. Testing played a vital role in the development of nuclear weapons for 7 out of the 9 states that are known to possess them (China, France, India, Pakistan, Russia, The UK, The USA). In addition, there is some evidence that Israel and South Africa conducted a joint nuclear test in the Indian Ocean in 1979.

The CTBT would do little to prevent proliferation. It may have been true that testing was a vital part of nuclear weapons development in the 1940s and 1950s, but advances in technology have made the manufacture of a nuclear bomb a much less demanding task. Even if Israel and South Africa did test (and that is highly questionable), it is absolutely certain that Israel had a working bomb by 1979 and highly probable that South Africa did too. Furthermore, it is not even necessary to have a bomb that is guaranteed to work in order to gain some of the benefits of having nuclear weapons. It is currently very unclear whether North Korea has a working nuclear bomb (Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice have made contrasting statements on this point). But even that uncertainty is enough to make the US more wary in its dealings with North Korea.

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

Yes because... No because...

There are good reasons to suppose that the CTBT would be obeyed if it came into law. First, any tes...

There are good reasons to suppose that the CTBT would be obeyed if it came into law. First, any test would almost certainly be detected (see point 3), and a transgressor would likely face economic or even military sanctions from a Security Council united in the face of a new nuclear nation. Second, the CTBT would codify an accepted moral standard) against testing or, to put it another way, would create a taboo against nuclear testing. The taboo against the use of nuclear weapons has helped to prevent their use for over 60 years (even to accomplish limited tactical objectives against military targets). This demonstrates that norms do play an important role where nuclear weapons are concerned.

In addition, the CTBT is unlikely to be obeyed. First, states might be able to test a bomb without being caught (see point 3). Second, the lack of an enforcement mechanism in the CTBT means there is no deterrent to potential law-breakers. Even if a rogue nuclear test were detected, there is no guarantee that the Security Council would take action. Convincing sceptical diplomats of scientific data is no easy task and with the possibility of potential proliferators on the Security Council (Syria has had a seat recently) firm, unanimous action is unlikely.

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

Yes because... No because...

All the scientific evidence suggests that the CTBT is verifiable. The IMS is already largely in pla...

All the scientific evidence suggests that the CTBT is verifiable. The IMS is already largely in place and working. It is so sensitive that it was able to detect the explosion that destroyed the Kursk submarine and the disintegration of the space shuttle Columbia. Indeed a recent independent report by the US National Academy of Sciences concluded that the IMS can almost certainly detect any nuclear explosion bigger than 1kT so the figure of 70kT bandied around in the 1999 Senate debate as a verifiable level of testing has no scientific basis at all. Moreover, the CTBT allows for on-site inspections to investigate any suspicious event. This would be a valuable tool in the fight against proliferation, but it will only be available once the CTBT comes into force; and that requires US ratification.

There are serious question marks over the verifiability of the CTBT. It is still far from clear whether the IMS could reliably detect a nuclear test. In particular, underground tests inside big cavities, which produce no fall out and limited seismic disturbances, are particularly tricky to detect. Given that verifying the treaty is at the heart of its effectiveness, it would be reckless to ratify this treaty until the ability to detect a test has been proven beyond any doubt.

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

Yes because... No because...

American accession to the CTBT would help strengthen the existing non-proliferation regime by demons...

American accession to the CTBT would help strengthen the existing non-proliferation regime by demonstrating that America is committed to international law. America is currently trying to combat nuclear proliferation by working outside the framework of international law, either by itself or with a small coalition of the willing: the invasion of Iraq, the Proliferation Security Initiative, and President Bush's proposal to deny nuclear fuel cycle technologies to states that do not already possess them are all examples of this approach. Even if this approach is successful in the short term (and that is far from certain), in the long term it will make proliferation more likely because if America does not live up to its obligations under international law, then other states are less likely to live up to theirs. In contrast, if America is seen to be committed to international law – and ratifying the CTBT would be an excellent demonstration of this – then other states are, in turn, more likely to commit and stick to non-proliferation treaties. China, for example, has publicly stated that its ratification of the CTBT depends upon the US doing the same.\
As a concrete example of this consider the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which is the cornerstone of international law as far as nuclear weapons are concerned. Under the NPT, China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA – the nuclear weapon states or NWS – are recognised as having the right to possess nuclear weapons. All other signatories have promised not to develop nuclear weapons. One of the obligations that the NWS have in return (article VI) is to work towards nuclear disarmament and the USA is widely seen as being in breach of its Article VI obligations by failing to ratify the CTBT. If America does ratify the CTBT, then it more likely that other states will obey the NPT in return.

It is wrong to believe that other states will sign up to and ratify the CTBT if the USA does. Ultimately, states will choose to accede to the CTBT if it is in their interests to do so. For the majority of states, American ratification of the CTBT would not affect this calculation. India and Pakistan, for example, have acquired nuclear weapons to combat one another, so whether the USA ratifies will not change their minds on the CTBT (or the NPT for that matter). Similarly, it would be Iran's decision to ratify the CTBT that would be most likely to influence Israel. Furthermore, states such as North Korea and Iran, which have not ratified the CTBT precisely because they want to develop a nuclear deterrent to America, are highly unlikely to sign the CTBT if America does. After all, it is America's existing conventional forces, not future American nuclear weapons, which threaten them. China, which has stated that it will ratify the CTBT only if America does, is therefore the exception rather than the rule. (Of course, the reason that China has adopted this position is because it believes that the CTBT will ultimately weaken America).\
Using international law to combat proliferation is a nice theory but in practice it doesn't always work. The NPT, for example, has failed to stop the North Korean or Iranian nuclear programmes. For this reason America must sometimes take unilateral action and the CTBT may make this more difficult. As discussed in point 5, America may need to conduct nuclear tests in order to develop new sorts of nuclear weapons, which could themselves act as a deterrent to other states seeking weapons of mass destruction. The CTBT may also create complacency among the international community and lead to a gradual reduction in the scrutiny of rogue states and their weapons programmes. In these ways the CTBT may actually hurt non-proliferation efforts.

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

Yes because... No because...

The CTBT is in the American national interest because it will help preserve America's current milita...

The CTBT is in the American national interest because it will help preserve America's current military superiority. The US's current nuclear arsenal is the most sophisticated in the world. While it is true that a ban on testing would prevent the United States from developing new nuclear weapons it would also prevent any other state from developing them, thereby ensuring that America's nuclear forces remain the most potent in the world. In fact, the opposite – the widespread testing of nuclear weapons – would not only compromise America's nuclear superiority, it would compromise America's conventional dominance as well. The United States currently enjoys an unprecedented degree of military superiority. The widespread development of tactical nuclear weapons would compromise this; given that there is no effective defence against them, they would act as a deterrent to American military action. Fortunately for America, a ban on testing would make the development of such weapons much harder.

The changing security threat faced by the United States may require it to develop new nuclear weapons. America should not compromise the development of these weapons now by agreeing to a ban on testing. There are various threats that the US is facing now, or will face in the future, that cannot be combated using conventional weapons. Bunkers, for example, can be buried so deep that they are invulnerable to conventional bombing and could therefore be used to shelter enemy leaders or hide weapons production and storage facilities. They could be destroyed, however, using nuclear weapons such as the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator. Such tactical nuclear weapons would result in no more civilian casualties than conventional bombing or an invasion, would certainly result in fewer military casualties and would probably lead to very limited fallout (since the explosion would be contained deep underground.) Another application of new nuclear weapons is in destroying factories which make chemical or biological weapons. Conventional bombing may result in the release of toxins and extensive civilian casualties, whereas a clinical nuclear strike could do a more efficient job.

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

Yes because... No because...

America is able to maintain its current nuclear stockpile without testing. About 10 years ago Ameri...

America is able to maintain its current nuclear stockpile without testing. About 10 years ago America created the Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP) to ensure that its arsenal remains reliable, safe and effective. The SSP is “science-based”, i.e. it uses lab-based techniques such as computer modelling instead of testing. Since the foundation of the SSP, confidence in the viability of the US arsenal has increased dramatically. In fact, the SSP is actually a better method of assessing the state of the arsenal than nuclear testing. This is because the type of data required to assess the viability of the stockpile (information about the microscopic structure of the warheads themselves) is much easier to obtain through computer simulations than nuclear tests. It is true that the SSP will require considerable funding over the long term, but it is a bargain when compared to the cost of the alternative: a series of nuclear tests.

Nuclear testing may be necessary to ensure that America's arsenal remains safe and reliable. Many weapons in the stockpile should have been taken out of service by now. The warheads used in Trident, for example, were built between 1976 and 1982 and were designed to have a lifespan of 20 years. It is not known what effects ageing will have on these warheads. Changes in the crystal structure of the warheads, for example, may compromise their operation. There are, therefore, serious question marks over whether these weapons will work as intended, or even (in extreme cases) whether they will work at all. Although the SSP has a role to play in ensuring the viability of the existing arsenal, the science-based approach on which it is based has limits and ultimately nuclear tests may be required in future.

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

Yes because... No because...

Nuclear tests are incredibly damaging to people and the environment. The Office of Technology Asses...

Nuclear tests are incredibly damaging to people and the environment. The Office of Technology Assessment estimates that the atmospheric tests carried out in Nevada between 1951 and 1963 released 148 times more radioactivity into the environment than the Chernobyl accident. Soviet tests almost certainly released a lot more than this. Some of this radioactivity has entered the food chain. For example, the amount of strontium-60 found in milk in 1963 (just after the height of atmospheric testing in 1962) was about 30 times higher than in 1996. It will never be known how many people have been affected by nuclear testing, but International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War estimates that up to 2.4 million people will die as a result of cancers induced by the fallout from nuclear testing. \
Nuclear testing also has serious environmental impacts. In 1951, the first US test of a hydrogen bomb destroyed the entire island of Elugelab, part of the Enewetak Atoll, annihilating an entire ecosystem. The cumulative effects of American, British and French tests in the Pacific have been similarly devastating. Although underground testing is less harmful, such tests cannot be totally insulated from the surrounding environment. A US Department of Energy report from 1988 estimates that over half of all underground tests have leaked radiation into the environment.\
Then there is the possibility of an accident. The underground 'Might Oak' test in 1988 released 200 times more radioactivity than the Three Mile Island accident due to subsidence caused by the explosion. In 1954 the unexpectedly high-yield 'Castle Bravo' test blanketed local inhabitants in the fallout plume. Without a ban on nuclear testing, not only will the NWS conduct damaging nuclear tests, but new states, conducting their first tests, are likely to repeat the same mistakes. Since surface tests are cheaper than underground ones, they are likely to be used by states testing their first bomb. Furthermore, without experience of estimating the yield of nuclear weapons, accidents like 'Castle Bravo' are also inevitable in such tests.

The proposition's argument is based upon the assumption that the CTBT will actually stop nuclear tests. However, as we have argued above (points 1, 2 and 3) it is likely that countries will ignore the ban. On the other hand, what will prevent states from testing is preventing them from acquiring nuclear weapons in the first place. In fact, the CTBT may act counter to this aim. As argued above, America may need to test in the future so it can develop new nuclear weapons which will serve as a deterrent against other states going nuclear.\
Of course, by refusing to ratify the CTBT, the USA would be reserving the right to conduct its own nuclear tests. However, such tests would probably cause very limited environmental impact. The US has now acquired massive experience of underground testing; experience which can be employed to ensure that there is virtually no fallout. Most of the proposition's horror stories about nuclear testing come from the 1950s and 60s. Fortunately, it is inconceivable that we will return to those dark days of atmospheric testing. The Cold War has ended and with it the need to use atmospheric nuclear tests as a means of signalling strength and intent to the Soviet Union. Furthermore, increased scientific understanding and new computer modelling techniques mean that only a small number of tests would be needed in future.\
In the final analysis, however, the environmental effects of tests must be weighed up against the positive effects of developing new nuclear weapons if they were ever needed. Nuclear weapons that could destroy underground bunkers or chemical and biological weapons factories without releasing toxins could prevent war and save lives. This is a small price to pay when compared to the limited environmental damage caused by well-managed, occasional nuclear tests.

Debates > Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty