300 N. Washington St.
Suite B-100
Alexandria, VA 22314

GlobalSecurity.org In the News

Global Security Newswire January 8, 2002

U.S. Testing: Changes to Nuclear Testing Policy?

By David Ruppe

A reported Bush administration plan to allow the United States to implement more quickly a presidential decision to resume nuclear testing is drawing fire from arms control proponents.

The Washington Post today reported that the administration would announce the proposed change in its long-awaited, classified Nuclear Posture Review, which is being sent to Congress today (see GSN, Jan. 7).

The reported proposal is widely viewed by analysts as a significant step toward resuming U.S. nuclear weapons testing currently banned by a 1992 moratorium.

"To actually resume testing, I think personally, would be a serious reversal for U.S. security," said Thomas Graham, president of the Lawyers Alliance for World Security. Such a move would undermine international efforts to curb the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology, Graham said.

"The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) extension in 1995 was based on a commitment to have a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in place, signed by 1996, which it was, and at some point brought into force," said Graham, a former senior arms control diplomat and official.

NPT extension was also premised on the idea that the states currently holding nuclear weapons, including the United States, would work toward ultimately eliminating all nuclear weapons, he said.

Resumed testing "would destroy that bargain and would gravely damage the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and significantly increase the possibility that nuclear weapons would spread to additional countries and terrorist groups and significantly increase the possibility that someday a terrorist group or rogue state would explode a nuclear device in a U.S. city."

Other countries would believe they were less constrained to abide by the NPT, he said, which prohibits the development of nuclear weapons by non-nuclear states.

Opposition Likely

The administration will probably face a major debate within and without the administration over the proposal, said Rose Gottemoeller, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former Energy Department nonproliferation official during the Clinton administration.

It will occur, "not only in the context of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, but in the context of the moratorium on nuclear testing that was put in place by President [George W.] Bush's father," she said.

"Obviously there are those in this administration that want to resume testing, there are others who are cautious or concerned about that prospect, says Graham.

In 1999, when the U.S. Senate was considering whether to approve the CTBT, the Pentagon's top brass weighed in on the treaty.

"The Joint Chiefs were pretty enthusiastic about the treaty," because they perceived it would slow down the development of nuclear weapons in other countries, said John Isaacs, president of the Council for a Livable World arms control organization. Nevertheless, the Senate rejected the treaty.

"The administration may of course take a look at what it has done withdrawing from the [Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty], finding there is not a lot of negative reaction in Congress or around the world, and decide if we can do that we can kill the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and resume nuclear testing," said Isaacs.

"They're putting themselves in a position to do that and taking it one step at a time, he says.

International condemnation of the move, though, will probably be much fiercer regarding the CTBT, analysts say, citing international uproar in 1995, when France conducted tests during the final stages of CTBT negotiations.

"The test ban treaty is nearly universal, and most countries except a few outlaw states including the United States, North Korea, India and Pakistan have ratified the agreement," said Isaacs.


The Post has reported that the Bush administration may be concerned about the Energy Department's ability to ensure the safety and reliability of aging U.S. nuclear weapons without conducting explosive tests (see GSN, Jan. 3).

An Energy Department inspector general report last year warned the department might not in the future be able to unconditionally certify the arsenal, the Post article said.

There also have been controversial proposals voiced within the administration to resume development of low-yield nuclear weapons for specialized war-fighting use, such as striking deeply buried targets and biological weapons.

Washington Times columnist Frank Gaffney, today wrote the absence of underground testing "will likely make such certification little more than educated guesswork."

Gaffney contends the administration's choice on whether to resume testing is really decision about whether the U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities will be allowed to erode away, which would be in accordance with the goals of the NPT.

"The CTBT proponents understood that without actual nuclear testing, it would be ineluctably become impossible to maintain, let along modernize, our arsenal."

So too says Baker Spring, a senior analyst at the Heritage Foundation. "Eventually, the arsenal over an extended period of time, nobody knows precisely when that is, will essentially become unusable, " he said.

In the shorter term, suggests John Pike, executive director of GlobalSecurity.org, a country's nuclear strategy can be a factor in determining the precision of testing needed.

"To blow up the other guy's entire stockpile, [you would need] very high requirements for very high stockpile confidence," he said. "If you need nuclear weapons for credible deterrence, the stockpile confidence required for that is much lower."

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, is skeptical nuclear testing is really needed.

"What are the problems, be specific? All of the weapons in the arsenal are safe. The Department of Energy certified in December the safety of the arsenal," he said.

A shortened notification period from currently two years, to prepare nuclear a test site in Nevada, isn't needed, he said, since it generally takes longer to prepare a test for a problematic weapon.

"The problem isn't preparing a test site to conduct a test," Kimball said. "The problem is preparing a problem."

Further, he cited 1999 congressional testimony by Council on Foreign Relations fellow and scientist Richard Garwin that tests are not needed to maintain full confidence in the stockpile.

"Many, many distinguished scientists have said any problems that develop with the nuclear stockpile in the future can be dealt with without resorting to nuclear testing," Graham said.

Besides, he said, "Which would we rather have, a slightly diminished confidence in our nuclear stockpile or a world full of nuclear weapon states?"

Copyright 2002 The Bradenton Herald