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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

[CRS Issue Brief for Congress]

92099: Nuclear Weapons:
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and Nuclear Testing

Updated June 4, 1998

Jonathan Medalia

Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division


A comprehensive test ban treaty, or CTBT, is the oldest item on the nuclear arms control agenda, one that Congress has debated for decades. Three treaties currently limit testing to underground only, with a maximum force equal to 150,000 tons of TNT. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the United States has conducted 1,030 nuclear tests (excluding 24 joint U.S.-U.K. tests), the Soviet Union 715, the United Kingdom 45, France 210, and China 45. The FY1999 request for maintaining the capability to resume testing is $133.2 million, vs. $144.1 million (adjusted) for FY1998.

In 1997 and 1998, the United States conducted three "subcritical experiments" at the Nevada Test Site to study the behavior of plutonium under pressures generated by explosives. More such experiments are planned. Russia plans such tests as well. Russia has not conducted nuclear tests since 1991, though the Administration suspected that Russia may have conducted a low-yield nuclear test on August 16, 1997, a claim it subsequently withdrew. The last U.S. test was held in 1992; the last U.K. test, in 1991.

CTBT negotiations were held at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva from 1994 to 1996. The CD operates by consensus; India vetoed the CTBT in the CD on August 20, 1996, ongrounds that it did not include a commitment by the nuclear weapon states to nuclear disarmament by a set date, a condition they reject. As a result, the draft treaty was not sent to the U.N. General Assembly as a CD-approved document. On September 10, 1996, though, the General Assembly voted 158-3 to adopt the treaty. President Clinton and others signed it on September 24, 1996. As of April 1998, 149 states had signed the treaty; 13 had ratified it. On April 6, 1998, Britain and France became the first declared nuclear weapon states to ratify it. President Clinton linked his position on testing to several safeguards, "strengthen[ing] our commitments in the areas of intelligence, monitoring and verification, stockpile stewardship, maintenance of our nuclear laboratories, and test readiness." He would be prepared to exercise U.S. supreme national interests and conduct nuclear testing despite a CTBT "if the safety and reliability of our nuclear deterrent could no longer be certified."

On September 22, 1997, President Clinton transmitted the CTBT to the Senate. The Senate Committees on Governmental Affairs and Appropriations held hearings on the treaty in October 1997 In 1997, Congress also continued its consideration of the budget and program for Stockpile Stewardship, the Administration's plan for maintaining U.S. nuclear weapons under a CTBT.

India stated that it tested three nuclear devices on May 11, 1998, and two more on May 13. As a result of these tests, Prime Minister Vajpayee declared on May 15, "India is now a nuclear weapons state." Pakistan announced five tests on May 28, and one on May 30, and likewise declared itself a nuclear weapons state.

President Clinton, in his 1998 State of the Union address, asked the Senate to approve the treaty this year. On January 21, 1998, however, in a letter to President Clinton, Senator Helms stated, "the CTBT is very low on the [Senate Foreign Relations] Committee's list of priorities." Pakistani and Indian nuclear tests appear to further weaken prospects for Senate approval in 1998.


India said it conducted three nuclear tests, of a fission device, a low-yield device, and a thermonuclear device, on May 11, 1998, and two more low-yield tests on May 13. These were the first by India since 1974 and the first by any nation since July 1996. Pakistan said it conducted five tests on May 28, and a sixth on May 30. Many nations condemned the tests, and the United States and Japan imposed sanctions.



A ban on nuclear testing is the oldest item on the arms control agenda. Efforts to curtail nuclear tests have been made since the 1940s. In the 1950s, the United States and Soviet Union conducted hundreds of tests of hydrogen bombs. The radioactive fallout from these tests spurred worldwide protest. These pressures, reinforced by a desire to reduce U.S.-Soviet confrontation in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, led to the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963, which banned nuclear explosions in the atmosphere, in space, and under water. This was followed by the Threshold Test Ban Treaty, signed in 1974, which banned underground nuclear weapons tests having an explosive force of more than 150 kilotons, the equivalent of 150,000 tons of TNT. For comparison, the Hiroshima bomb had an explosive force of 15 kilotons. The Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty, signed in 1976, extended the 150-kiloton limit to nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes. President Carter did not pursue ratification of these treaties, preferring to negotiate a comprehensive test ban treaty, or CTBT, a ban on all nuclear explosions. When agreement seemed near, however, he pulled back, bowing to arguments that continued testing was needed to maintain reliability of existing weapons, to develop new weapons, and for other purposes. President Reagan raised concerns about U.S. ability to monitor the two unratified treaties and late in his term started negotiations on new verification protocols. These two treaties were ratified in 1990. Meanwhile, in the 1980s, the House amended several defense authorization bills to halt nuclear tests of more than one kiloton for a year if the Soviet Union did likewise and agreed to certain verification measures. These amendments died in conference.

With the end of the Cold War, pressures for a CTBT grew and those against weakened. The need for new warheads with improved military qualities dropped sharply, as evidenced by the Bush Administration's policy of July 1992 to conduct no further tests to develop new warheads for five years. The U.S.S.R. began a nuclear test moratorium in October 1990, and France followed suit in April 1992. In response, in the first half of 1992, many in Congress supported a one-year moratorium on nuclear testing. As the effort progressed, however, it became more complex and more ambitious. The result was an amendment to the FY1993 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill. The Hatfield amendment banned testing before July 1, 1993. It set many conditions and limits on a resumption of testing. Testing would be banned after September 1996 unless another nation tested. President Bush signed the bill into law (P.L. 102-377) October 2, 1992.

National Positions on Testing

United States: Under the Hatfield amendment, President Clinton had to decide whether or not to ask Congress to resume testing. On July 3, 1993, he announced his decision. He noted that "(a) test ban can strengthen our efforts worldwide to halt the spread of nuclear technology in weapons," and that "the nuclear weapons in the United States arsenal are safe and reliable." While testing offered advantages for safety, reliability, and test ban readiness, "the price we would pay in conducting those tests now by undercutting our own nonproliferation goals and ensuring that other nations would resume testing outweighs these benefits." Therefore, he (1) extended the moratorium at least through September 1994; (2) called on other nations to extend their moratoria; (3) said he would direct DOE to "prepare to conduct additional tests while seeking approval to do so from Congress" if another nation tests; (4) promised to "explore other means of maintaining our confidence in the safety, the reliability and the performance of our own weapons"; and (5) pledged to refocus the nuclear weapons laboratories toward technology for nuclear nonproliferation and arms control verification. He extended the moratorium twice more, most recently on January 30, 1995, when the Administration announced his decision to extend the moratorium until a CTBT enters into force, assuming a treaty is signed by September 30, 1996. He, along with representatives from many other nations, signed the treaty on September 24, 1996, (and others signed later), in effect extending the moratorium indefinitely.

United Kingdom: The United Kingdom cannot test because it has conducted all its nuclear tests for several decades at the Nevada Test Site and does not have its own test site. Its last test was held in 1991. Britain and France became the first declared nuclear weapon states to ratify the CTBT, depositing instruments of ratification with the United Nations on April 6, 1998.

France: On June 13, 1995, President Jacques Chirac announced that France would conduct eight nuclear tests at its test site at Mururoa Atoll in the South Pacific, finishing by the end of May 1996.Reports indicated that the armed services had recommended the tests to check existing warheads, validate a new warhead for a submarine-launched ballistic missile, and develop a computer system to simulate warheads to render further testing unneeded. "This decision is of course irrevocable," he said. Nations of Europe and the South Pacific, Japan, and others have sharply criticized this decision, which has spurred demonstrations and official protests. Australia blocked a French firm from bidding on a $360 million contract for jet trainer aircraft for its air force. On August 10, 1995, France indicated it would halt all nuclear tests once the test series was finished and favored a CTBT that "prohibit(ed) any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion." France conducted tests on September 5, October 1, October 27, November 21, and December 27, 1995, and January 27, 1996. On January 29, 1996, Chirac announced the end to French testing. On April 6, 1998, France and Britain deposited instruments of ratification of the CTBT with the United Nations.

Russia: The Russian moratorium continued at least through 1995. The Washington Times reported on March 7, 1996, that Russia may have conducted a low- yield nuclear test at its Arctic test site at Novaya Zemlya in mid-January 1996. This evidence is ambiguous. Secretary of Defense William Perry said that intelligence opinion was split, with "some people saying yes and other people saying maybe." An Administration official said seismic waves were not detected, according to the Times. A Washington Post report of August 29, 1997, however, indicated the Administration had determined the event to be an earthquake.

Another event occurred in August 1997. On August 28, the Washington Times reported Administration officials as saying that Russia may have conducted a nuclear test earlier in the month. As Russia has signed the CTBT, a test would be at odds with an obligation by nations that sign a treaty not to do anything inconsistent with it pending a decision on ratification. On August 16, over 40 seismic stations worldwide detected seismic signals from an event near Novaya Zemlya. The signals had some characteristics of an explosion, notably their sudden onset. The seismic energy released was roughly 100 to 1,000 tons (TNT equivalent). The situation as gleaned from unclassified sources, however, is less than clear-cut. Norway and Britain had seen the seismic data and did not suspect that an explosion caused the signals. The location of the event was said to be some tens of miles offshore, virtually ruling out an explosion. Russia claimed the activities at the test site were in preparation for subcritical experiments. It denied that the event was a test, and said that the event was an underwater earthquake. The Administration has asked Russia to explain the signals. On September 22, Bob Bell, National Security Council Senior Director for Defense Policy and Arms Control, said "The data [on the event] is not conclusive. ... You cannot rule out that it was an explosion; you cannot rule out that it was an earthquake." On November 4, however, the Washington Post reported that the CIA had appointed a panel of four independent experts to review the data. This panel found, according to the Post, "that the seismic event clearly took place in the Kara Sea near Novaya Zemlya and was not linked to activities at the test site." Accordingly, said the Post, "The CIA and the White House have formally dropped their claim that [the] seismic disturbance ... may have been caused by a nuclear explosion."

CTBT opponents claim that this event shows several problems with the CTBT. According to the Center for Security Policy, "Russians and other nations will secretly conduct underground nuclear tests ... By exploiting inherent uncertainties about the signatures of low-yield tests, such nations will almost certainly be able to escape detection." Senator Jon Kyl stated, "if you have a treaty, because of the consequences of declaring a violation, administrations seldom want to pursue actions against treaty partners. In fact, you can have a treaty freeze you into inaction." CTBT supporters counter that the incident shows that the detection network is able to detect very small events, and that the Administration has shown it will call attention to suspicious events. They further hold that, as a Pentagon spokesman said, the event "indicates that we need to have the kinds of transparency that the treaty offers to us," requiring U.S. and Russian ratification. Others point out that on-site inspections of suspicious events could be performed only if the treaty enters into force.

Russia is interested in subcritical experiments (see below) at Novaya Zemlya. The Washington Post of August 29, 1997, stated, "Russian officials have explained that they are conducting or preparing to conduct 'sub-critical' nuclear tests..."

China: China did not participate in the moratorium but conducted a nuclear test on October 5, 1993, that many nations condemned. China countered that it had conducted only 39 tests, vs. 1,054 for the United States, and that it needed a few more tests for safety and reliability. The Chinese government reportedly wrote to U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali after its test that "after a comprehensive test ban treaty is concluded and comes into effect, China will abide by it and carry out no more nuclear tests." China conducted other tests on June 10 and October 7, 1994, May 15 and August 17, 1995, and June 8 and July 29, 1996, bringing its total to 45 tests. Many nations have criticized the post-1992 Chinese tests. The July 1996 test was reported to have a yield of one to five kilotons. In announcing that test, China indicated it would be its last, as China would begin a moratorium on July 30, 1996.

India: On May 11, 1998, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee announced that India had conducted three nuclear tests. A government statement of that day said, "The tests conducted today were with a fission device, a low yield device and a thermonuclear device. ... These tests have established that India has a proven capability for a weaponised nuclear programme. They also provide a valuable database which is useful in the design of nuclear weapons of different yields for different applications and for different delivery systems. ..." India announced two more sub-kiloton tests on May 13.

The research enabling these tests had been underway for years. (1) Projects contributing to a nuclear weapons program include lithium separation; production of uranium, plutonium, and tritium; and an inertial confinement fusion facility that could help develop computer codes critical to developing thermonuclear weapons. (2) India is developing various missiles able to strike Pakistan and China; these programs make much more strategic sense if the missiles are armed with nuclear rather than conventional warheads. (3) India's diplomacy preserved the nuclear option by providing a rationale to avoid signing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the CTBT. (4) Preparations for the test were apparently done covertly (which takes considerable planning and effort), as U.S. intelligence reportedly failed to detect the preparations even though India's 1974 test was done at the same site and the new government indicated before it took office that it would reexamine policy on testing.

A key question is whether India will conduct further tests. India may have gained what it needed from the five tests, including confidence in various weapon designs and knowledge about nuclear explosions and nuclear physics to be used in computer simulations. India might have pushed its work to the point where only a few tests were needed to validate weapon designs. These designs would not need to be as sophisticated as those of the United States, so would require less testing. Several Indian statements support the view that India might not test further. For example, according to a Ministry of External Affairs statement of May 31, "India will observe a voluntary moratorium and refrain from conducting tests."

On the other hand, the five tests might not have met technical requirements for weapon development. The historical experience of the original five nuclear weapon states strongly implies that several tests are needed to turn a design into a deployable weapon, and India said it is developing several weapon types. Thermonuclear weapons have much more explosive force per unit weight than fission-only bombs, so would be of much greater value in arming missiles, but are more complex, requiring more tests. Ensuring that a missile warhead can survive the stresses of launch, the cold of space, and the heat and vibration of reentry takes added work. The tests probably had less value than if they had been conducted several months apart, in which case data from one test could have been used to help design a device tested later. There are thus reasons to question whether the five tests provide sufficient confidence. India needs especially high confidence in thermonuclear missile warheads given their centrality to deterring China. Further tests therefore do not seem out of the question.

Pakistan: Pakistan announced on May 28 that it had conducted five nuclear tests, and announced a sixth test on May 30. Conflicting reports placed the yields of the smallest devices at between zero and a few kilotons, and between two and 45 kilotons for the largest. The number of tests is also uncertain; seismic evidence points clearly to only two tests on May 28, though the signals of smaller simultaneous tests might have been lost in the signals of larger tests. Pakistan made no claims of testing fusion devices. By all accounts, Pakistan's weapons program relies extensively on foreign, especially Chinese, technology. Pakistan claimed that the units tested were "ready-to-fire warheads," as opposed to experimental devices, and that they included a warhead for the Ghauri, a missile with a range of 900 miles, and various low-yield tactical weapons. It is unclear if Pakistan will conduct more tests.

Negotiating a CTBT

The Conference on Disarmament, or CD, calls itself "the sole multilateral disarmament negotiating forum of the international community." It is affiliated with, funded by, yet autonomous from the United Nations. It operates by consensus. While that principle fosters compromise, it gives each member state the power to block a decision. On August 10, 1993, the CD gave its Ad Hoc Committee on a Nuclear Test Ban "a mandate to negotiate a CTB." On November 19, 1993, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously approved a resolution calling for negotiation of a CTBT. The CD's 1994 session opened in Geneva on January 25, with negotiation of a CTBT its top priority.

The priority had to do with extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). That treaty entered into force in 1970. It divided the world into nuclear "haves" -- the United States, Soviet Union, Britain, France, and China, the five declared nuclear powers, which are also the permanent five ("P5") members of the U.N. Security Council -- and nuclear "have-nots." The bargain was that the P5 would be the only States Party to the NPT to have nuclear weapons but that they (and others) would negotiate in good faith on halting the nuclear arms race soon, on nuclear disarmament, and on general and complete disarmament. Nonnuclear weapon states saw attainment of a CTBT as the touchstone of good faith on these matters. The NPT provided for reviews every five years; a review in 1995, 25 years after it entered into force, would determine whether to extend the treaty indefinitely or for one or more fixed periods. The Review and Extension Conference of April-May 1995 extended the treaty indefinitely. Extension was accompanied by certain non-binding measures, including a Decision on Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non- Proliferation and Disarmament that set forth goals on universality of the NPT, nuclear weapon free zones, etc., and stressed the importance of completing "the negotiations on a universal and internationally and effectively verifiable Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty no later than 1996."

The extension decision, binding on the States Party to the NPT, was contentious. Nonnuclear States Party to the NPT argued that the P5 failed to meet their NPT obligations by not concluding a CTBT. They saw progress on winding down the arms race as inadequate. They assailed the NPT as discriminatory because it divides the world into nuclear and nonnuclear states, and argued for a nondiscriminatory NPT regime in which no nation has nuclear weapons. The CTBT, in their view, was the symbol of this regime because, unlike the NPT, the P5 would give up something tangible, the ability to develop new sophisticated warheads. Some nonnuclear states saw NPT extension as their last source of leverage for a CTBT: once they agreed to a permanent extension of the NPT, they could not pressure the P5 to achieve a CTBT. Other nonnuclear states saw the NPT as in the interests of all but would-be proliferators and felt that anything less than indefinite extension would undermine the security of most nations. This position saw the NPT as too important to put at risk as a means of pressuring the P5 for a CTBT. At any rate, the explicit linkage that was finally drawn between CTBT and NPT lent urgency to negotiations on the former.

After two and one-half years of negotiations, Ambassador Jaap Ramaker of the Netherlands, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee, tabled a draft treaty on June 28, 1996, with most of the provisions that made up the final treaty (see below). While no nation expressed unqualified support of the draft treaty, all but India ultimately supported it in the CD. India's difficult strategic position helps explain its opposition. It feels threatened by China, which is far more powerful, is engaged in a military buildup, and is undertaking a more aggressive international role. India has also fought three wars with Pakistan since 1947; relations between the two remain tense. Pakistan's nuclear program depends significantly on purchases from China. India has therefore sought to maintain its nuclear option. It has reportedly taken a number of steps that, in total, are consistent with development of thermonuclear weapon, including work on tritium, uranium, and lithium isotope separation. India's position in the CD negotiations supported its nuclear option by providing a rationale to veto the treaty in the CD. Indian Ambassador Arundhati Ghose stated to the CD on January 25, 1996, that the CTBT "should be securely anchored in the global disarmament context and be linked through treaty language to the elimination of all nuclear weapons in a time-bound framework." India also wants a treaty to bar weapons research not involving nuclear tests, such as computer simulations and laboratory experiments. The June 28 draft did not meet these conditions, which the nuclear weapon states reject, so India vetoed the CTBT at the CD on August 20, barring it from going to the U.N. General Assembly as a CD document.

With India's veto, nations sought an alternate way to open the treaty for signing. Australia took the lead with a new tactic. On August 23, it asked the U.N. General Assembly to begin considering, on September 9, a resolution calling for the General Assembly to adopt the draft CTBT text and the Secretary-General to open it for signing. In this way, the treaty could be adopted by a simple majority, or by the two-thirds majority that India sought, avoiding the need for consensus. A potential pitfall was that the resolution (i.e., the treaty text) was subject to amendment, yet the nuclear weapon states viewed amendments as unacceptable. India did not raise obstacles to the vote, which was held on September 10. The result was 158 nations in favor, 3 against (India, Bhutan, and Libya), 5 abstentions, and 19 not voting. The treaty was opened for signing on September 24. President Clinton signed it on that date, along with representatives of Britain, China, France, and Russia. By April 1998, 149 states had signed it, and 13 had deposited instruments of ratification.

The CTBT: Key Provisions

This section summarizes a few key provisions of the treaty. For the full text and the Administration's detailed section-by-section analysis, see "Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. Message from the President...." (Full cite under For Further Reading.)

Scope (Article I): The heart of the treaty is the obligation "not to carry out any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion." This formulation bars even very low yield tests, as some in the nuclear weapon states had wanted, and bars peaceful nuclear explosions, as China had wanted, but rejects India's concern that a CTBT should "leave no loophole for activity, either explosive-based or non-explosive based, aimed at the continued development and refinement of nuclear weapons."

Organization (Article II): The treaty establishes a Comprehensive Nuclear Test- Ban Treaty Organization, composed of all member states, to implement the treaty. Three groups are under this Organization. The Conference of States Parties, composed of one representative from each member state, shall meet in annual and special sessions to consider and decide issues within the scope of the treaty and oversee the work of the other groups. An Executive Council with 51 member States shall, among other things, take action on requests for on-site inspection, and may request a special session of the Conference. A Technical Secretariat shall carry out verification functions, including operating an International Data Center, processing and reporting on data from an International Monitoring System, and receiving and processing requests for on-site inspections.

Verification (Article IV): The treaty establishes a verification regime. It provides for collection and dissemination of information, and permits States Party to use national technical means of verification. It specifies verification responsibilities of the Technical Secretariat. It establishes the International Monitoring System, provides for consultation and clarification regarding "possible non-compliance," and makes detailed provisions for on-site inspections. A Protocol elaborates on the monitoring system and on-site inspections.

Review of the Treaty (Article VIII): The treaty provides for a conference ten years after entry into force (unless a majority of States Party decide not to hold such a conference) to review the treaty's operation and effectiveness. Further review conferences may be held at subsequent intervals of ten years or less.

Duration and Withdrawal (Article IX): "This treaty shall be of unlimited duration." However, "Each State Party shall, in exercising its national sovereignty, have the right to withdraw from this Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this Treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests." President Clinton indicated his possible willingness to withdraw from the Treaty using this withdrawal provision, which is common to many arms control agreements, in his speech of August 11, 1995, as one of several conditions under which the United States would enter the CTBT.

Entry into force (Article XIV): The treaty shall enter into force 180 days after 44 states named in Annex 2 have deposited instruments of ratification, but not less than two years after the treaty is opened for signature. If the treaty has not entered into force three years after being opened for signature, and if a majority of states that have deposited instruments of ratification so desire, a conference of these states shall be held to decide how to accelerate the ratification process. Unless otherwise decided, subsequent conferences of this type shall be held annually until entry into force occurs. The 44 States are the ones with nuclear power or research reactors that participated in the work of the CD's 1996 session and were CD members as of June 18, 1996. This formulation includes nuclear-capable states, includes nuclear threshold states (in particular Israel, which, along with other States, joined the CD on June 17, 1996), and excludes Yugoslavia, which did not participate in the CD's work of 1996. India, North Korea, and Pakistan are on the list of 44 but have not signed the treaty.

Protocol: The Protocol provides details on the International Monitoring System and on functions of the International Data Center (Part I); spells out on-site inspection procedures in great detail (Part II); and provides for certain confidence-building measures (Part III). Annex 1 to the Protocol lists International Monitoring System facilities: seismic stations, radio nuclide stations and laboratories, hydro acoustic stations, and infrasound stations. Annex 2 provides a list of variables that, among others, may be used in analyzing data from these stations to screen for possible explosions.

Preparing for Entry into Force

The United States and other nations have been intensely active since September 1996 in preparing to implement the treaty, in anticipation of its entry into force. The Preparatory Commission (PrepCom) for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization is working to bring into being the structures and instruments of the CTBT. The first PrepCom met November 20-22, 1996. It was unable to finish work on its agenda, so it met again in March of 1997. The meeting appointed the executive secretary for the provisional technical secretariat and established working groups on technical and legal matters. It approved an interim budget. It signed an agreement with Vienna on housing the CTBT Organization. The second PrepCom meeting was held May 12-16, 1997 to cover details on preparations for implementing the treaty, such as financial and staff regulations, rules of procedure, and onsite inspection processes, and to make progress on completing the International Monitoring System and International Data Center. The third PrepCom, held September 15-19, 1997, considered budget recommendations from working groups and finalized a budget request for FY1998. The fourth PrepCom, scheduled for part or all of the week of December 9, 1997, is to accept, with any modifications needed, the budget recommendations from the third PrepCom and set budget assessments for FY1998. The fifth PrepCom is to meet March 9-14, 1998; its agenda remains to be determined. Parallel to the PrepCom meetings are ongoing discussions by the two working groups.

The Senate and the CTBT

The CTBT will be contentious in the Senate, given the difficulty the Administration encountered in obtaining Senate advice and consent to ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention and the fact that the 1996 Republican platform opposed the CTBT while the Democratic platform supported it. On September 22, 1997, President Clinton submitted the CTBT to the Senate. Two Senate hearings in October focused on U.S. ability to maintain nuclear weapons without testing, a key issue in Senate consideration of the CTBT.

On January 21, 1998, in a letter to President Clinton, Senator Jesse Helms stated, "the CTBT is very low on the [Senate Foreign Relations] Committee's list of priorities." In contrast, President Clinton, in his State of the Union address of January 27, asked the Senate to approve the treaty this year. The Indian and Pakistani tests further cloud ratification prospects. The tests shattered the international "norm" against testing, bringing to the fore the prospect of yet more nations conducting tests. The failure of U.S. intelligence to detect Indian test preparations raises questions about the ability of the CTBT regime to monitor the treaty. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said on May 29 that the tests show "the irrelevance of U.S. action on the [CTBT] ... American policy should shift from a misguided focus on an unverifiable and ineffective treaty that precludes maintaining the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear deterrent to a sustained effort to build international support for de-escalating the nuclear arms race in Asia." Senator Helms said, "India's actions demonstrate that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, from a non-proliferation standpoint, is scarcely more than a sham. ... I, for one, cannot and will not agree to any treaty which would legitimize de facto India's possession of these weapons, just so long as they are not caught further testing them."

Stockpile Stewardship

P5 states want to maintain their nuclear warheads under a CTBT and assert that they need computers and scientific facilities to do so. They also want to retain the ability to resume testing in the event other nations leave a CTBT. Nonnuclear nations fear that the P5 will simply carry on business as usual under a CTBT, designing new warheads without testing. Maintaining nuclear weapons, especially without testing, is termed "stockpile stewardship." This is a contentious issue. This section focuses on the U.S. debate

Stewardship bears on Senate advice and consent to ratification of a CTBT. Beginning with the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963, the United States has implemented "safeguards," or unilateral steps to maintain its nuclear weapons capability consistent with treaty limitations. President Kennedy's agreement to earlier safeguards was critical for obtaining Senate advice and consent to ratification of the 1963 treaty. The safeguards were modified most recently by President Clinton in connection with his August 11, 1995, speech announcing a zero-yield CTBT as a goal. In that speech, he stated:

As a central part of this decision, I am establishing concrete, specific safeguards that define the conditions under which the United States will enter into a comprehensive test ban. These safeguards will strengthen our commitments in the areas of intelligence, monitoring and verification, stockpile stewardship, maintenance of our nuclear laboratories, and test readiness.

These safeguards are: Safeguard A: "conduct of a Science Based Stockpile Stewardship program to insure a high level of confidence in the safety and reliability of nuclear weapons in the active stockpile"; Safeguard B: "maintenance of modern nuclear laboratory facilities and programs"; Safeguard C: "maintenance of the basic capability to resume nuclear test activities prohibited by the CTBT"; Safeguard D: "a comprehensive research and development program to improve our treaty monitoring"; Safeguard E: intelligence programs for "information on worldwide nuclear arsenals, nuclear weapons development programs, and related nuclear programs"; and Safeguard F: the understanding that if the Secretaries of Defense and Energy inform the President "that a high level of confidence in the safety or reliability of a nuclear weapon type which the two Secretaries consider to be critical to our nuclear deterrent could no longer be certified, the President, in consultation with Congress, would be prepared to withdraw from the CTBT under the standard 'supreme national interests' clause in order to conduct whatever testing might be required."

Regarding the stewardship program, the President noted that the Secretary of Energy and the directors of the nuclear weapons laboratories had assured him that the United States could maintain its nuclear deterrent under a CTBT through a program of science-based stockpile stewardship. "In order for this program to succeed," he said, "both the administration and the Congress must provide sustained bipartisan support for the stockpile stewardship program over the next decade and beyond."

On December 22, 1995, the Senate included an amendment to the START II resolution of ratification expressing U.S. commitment to "ensuring the safety, reliability, and performance of its nuclear forces." Specific commitments include a robust stockpile stewardship program, sustaining nuclear weapons production capacity, maintaining the weapons labs, providing for tritium production, maintaining the Nevada Test Site, and reserving the right to resume testing if needed.

In November 1996, DOE released its Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Stockpile Stewardship and Management. The next month, the Secretary of Energy announced a Record of Decision on this impact statement. The main features of this decision are to construct and operate three major experimental facilities (the National Ignition Facility and the Contained Firing Facility, both at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; and the Atlas Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory); to downsize existing weapons industrial plants (Y-12, TN; Kansas City Plant, MO; and Pantex, TX); and reestablish at Los Alamos National Laboratory the capability to manufacture plutonium components for nuclear weapons.

The FY1997 request for Weapons Activities under DOE's Atomic Energy Defense Activities was $3.710 billion; the appropriation was $3.911 billion. The FY1998 request was $4.044 billion (excluding $1.034 billion in budget authority for transition to full funding of construction line items, a change that Congress denied); the appropriation was $4.147 billion. The request for FY1999 is $4.500 billion; that precise amount is also the estimated request for each of the years FY2000 through FY2003, inclusive.

Subcritical experiments: As part of its Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program, DOE plans to conduct "subcritical experiments." CRS has compiled the following definition based on documents and on discussions with DOE and laboratory staff: "Subcritical experiments at Nevada Test Site involve chemical high explosives and fissile materials in configurations and quantities such that no self-sustaining nuclear fission chain reaction can result. In these experiments, the chemical high explosives are used to generate high pressures that are applied to the fissile materials. The only fissile material under current consideration for use in near-term subcritical experiments is plutonium-239." The first, named Rebound, was conducted July 2, 1997. A second, Holog, was held September 18. A third, Stagecoach, was held March 25, 1998. Two to four more are slated through September 1998. They would be held in a tunnel complex about 1,000 feet underground at the Nevada Test Site. The complex could contain explosions up to 500 pounds of explosive, along with the associated plutonium. Plutonium decays radioactively; these experiments are intended to see if aged plutonium would degrade weapon performance. Secretary of Energy Federico Pena said, "Subcritical experiments are essential to our commitments to a world free of nuclear testing and a reliable nuclear deterrent and are fully consistent with the CTBT." According to reports, Rebound used three explosive assemblies with a total of 160 pounds of high explosive. Each assembly was contained in a separate steel canister. Rebound used about two dozen silver dollar-sized plutonium chips weighing in total less than 3.3 pounds. The experiment subjected the chips to 800,000 to 2.3 million times atmospheric pressure. Holog reportedly used two pieces of plutonium about the size of a half-dollar coin, one weighing 2.7 ounces and the other 1.8 ounces, driven by a total of 3.5 ounces of chemical high explosives. Stagecoach used 1 kg of plutonium, driven by 115 kg of high explosives.

DOE had announced plans in late 1995 to conduct six of these experiments, with four to be held in 1996, but they were delayed because of the CTBT negotiations and the need to complete an associated environmental impact statement. In general, critics argue that these experiments would help design new weapons without testing; are unnecessary; may look like a nuclear test if not monitored intrusively; and are inconsistent with the spirit of a CTBT, which, critics believe, is aimed at halting development of nuclear weapons, not just stopping testing. Forty-four Representatives signed a letter to President Clinton in late June urging him to cancel the series of subcritical tests. As noted, 39 groups filed a lawsuit on May 1, 1997, to, among other things, halt these experiments. On June 24, the groups offered to withdraw their objection to the tests, and on June 27, DOE announced the first test. India criticized Rebound as proving that the CTBT was not "genuinely comprehensive" because it "contains loopholes which are exploited by some countries to continue their testing activity, using more sophisticated and advanced techniques." A Chinese spokesman said, "We will certainly pay close attention to this situation."

Cooperative Stewardship: Even if testing ends, nations with nuclear weapons want to be able to maintain them. In the wake of the Cold War, some believe that cooperation on such matters, especially improving weapon safety, benefits all; others counter that cooperation risks releasing information by U.S. providers or foreign recipients. U.S.-British cooperation on nuclear weapon matters is close, going back to World War II. Cooperation with France dates to the early 1970s. On June 4, 1996, France and the United States signed a secret agreement to share information that would aid each other on stewardship, the Washington Post reported. France, for example, would get data from past U.S. nuclear tests and computer simulations; the United States would gain access to a new French laser facility. The Administration is also reported to be discussing cooperative stewardship arrangements with Russia, specifically sharing unclassified nuclear safety data, but not with China.

CTBT Pros and Cons

A CTBT is contentious. Supporters argue it would fulfill disarmament commitments the nuclear weapon states made in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and its 1995 Review and Extension Conference; move away from a discriminatory regime in which nuclear weapon states can test while others cannot; and help nonproliferation efforts by preventing nonnuclear weapon states from developing nuclear weapons of advanced design. Some supporters hold a CTBT would freeze a U.S. advantage in nuclear weaponry and that this Nation could maintain its weapons without testing through a program of science and production. A CTBT, it is argued, would also prevent the development of weapons of advanced design by the P5, reducing future threats to the United States, and impede India's ability to develop a thermonuclear weapon.

Critics counter that testing is the only sure way to maintain confidence in the safety and reliability of U.S. nuclear weapons. Confidence, in this view, is also essential for friends and allies: if they doubt U.S. nuclear capability, they might feel compelled to develop their own nuclear weapons to protect their security. Alternatively, a CTBT, by undercutting confidence in the U.S. deterrent, could lead to nuclear disarmament, thereby exposing the United States and the world to blackmail by a nation or group possessing a few weapons. Critics also charge that nations wanting to develop nuclear weapons would likely not sign a CTBT and in any event could develop fairly sophisticated weapons without testing; that verification would be difficult; and that the United States might need to develop new weapons to meet new threats.

Historical Data: Nuclear Tests and Test Budgets

Table 1. U.S. Nuclear Tests by Calendar Year

1945-49 6 1960-64 202 1980-84 92 1950-54 43 1965-69 231 1985-89 75 1955-59 145 1970-74 137 1990-92 23 1975-79 100 Total 1054

Source: U.S. Department of Energy.

Note: These figures include all U.S. nuclear tests, of which 24 were U.K. tests conducted at the Nevada Test Site between 1962 and 1991. They reflect data on unannounced tests that DOE declassified on December 7, 1993. They exclude the two atomic bombs that the United States dropped on Japan in 1945. On June 27, 1994, Secretary O'Leary announced that DOE had redefined three nuclear detonations (one each in 1968, 1970, and 1972) as separate nuclear tests. This table reflects these figures. She also declassified the fact that 63 tests, conducted from 1963 through 1992, involved more than one nuclear explosive device.

Table 2. Department of Energy Nuclear Weapons Testing Budget

(Operating expenses, $ millions)

	1980 		209.2 		1987 		531.9 		1994 	371.7 
	1981 		288.0 		1988 		508.9 		1995 	166.5 
	1982 		361.4 		1989 		507.6 		1996 	166.8 
	1983 		412.6 		1990 		504.5 		1997 	161.6 
	1984 		485.2 		1991 		457.3 		1998 	144.1 
	1985 		536.2 		1992 		457.5 		1999 	133.20 
	1986 		522.4 		1993	 	375.0 		Total 	7,301.60

Source: U.S. Department of Energy. FY1994-FY1995 figures are from U.S. Department of Energy. Chief Financial

Officer. FY1996 Congressional Budget Request. Volume I: Atomic Energy Defense Activities. DOE/CR-0030,

February 1995. FY1996-FY1998 figures are from U.S. Department of Energy. Chief Financial Officer. FY1998 Congressional Budget Request. Volume I: Atomic Energy Defense Activities. DOE/CR-0041, February 1997


Notes: FY1985 includes Strategic Defense Initiative funding. For the FY1996 request, DOE eliminated Weapons

Testing as a separate decision unit. Instead, DOE uses Testing Capabilities and Readiness (TC&R) as an operating expense category within the Stockpile Stewardship decision unit. This table shows TC&R for FY1996 and subsequent years.


05/30/98 -- Pakistan announced that it conducted one nuclear test.

05/28/98 -- Pakistan announced that it conducted five nuclear tests.

05/13/98 -- India announced that it conducted two nuclear tests.

05/11/98 -- Prime Minister Vajpayee announced that India conducted three nuclear tests.

04/06/98 -- Britain and France became the first declared nuclear weapon states to ratify the CTBT, depositing instruments of ratification with the United Nations.

03/25/98 -- The Department of Energy conducted its third subcritical experiment, named Stagecoach, at the Nevada Test Site. 01/27/98 -- In his State of the Union address, President Clinton asked the Senate to approve the CTBT this year and announced that four former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have endorsed the treaty.

01/21/98 -- Senator Jesse Helms, in a letter to President Clinton, stated that "the CTBT is very low on the [Senate Foreign Relations] Committee's list of priorities."

11/04/97 --The Washington Post reported that the Administration formally dropped its claim that a seismic event of August 16, 1997, in the vicinity of Novaya Zemlya, Russia's nuclear test site, was a nuclear test. A review placed the event in the Kara Sea.

10/29/97 --The Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development held a hearing to examine U.S. ability to maintain nuclear weapons under a CTBT through the Stockpile Stewardship Program.

10/27/97 --The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation, and Federal Services held a hearing, "The Safety and Reliability of the U.S. Nuclear Deterrent," to examine U.S. ability to maintain nuclear weapons under a CTBT through the Stockpile Stewardship Program.

09/22/97 --President Clinton submitted the CTBT to the Senate for its advice and consent to ratification.

08/28/97 --The Washington Times reports Administration officials as saying that Russia may have conducted a nuclear explosion on August 16.

07/02/97 --The Department of Energy conducted the first subcritical experiment, named Rebound, at the Nevada Test Site.

09/24/96 --The CTBT was opened for signing; President Clinton and others signed it.

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