HNS - Test Ban Treat: A Better Shield Than Missile Defense
History News Service
July 16, 2001
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Test Ban Treaty: A Better Shield Than Missile Defense
By William Lambers
History News Service
This past week's successful missile defense test was a victory for
George W. Bush, who sees such a system as critical to our national security
interests. But buried by the debate over missile defense lies a smaller,
less dramatic, but more vital national security measure. It is ratification
of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
President Bush's proposed defense system would be designed to
shoot down nuclear missiles launched against the United States. It would
act as a shield against rogue nations with smaller weapons stockpiles, not
against Russia or other nuclear superpowers.
By contrast, the CTBT bans all nuclear test explosions. Rejected
in 1999 by the U.S. Senate, this treaty has been signed and ratified by
Great Britain, France and Russia. To take effect, 44 nations with a nuclear
capacity must join; 31 of those 44 nations have already ratified the
treaty, leaving the United States in the missing 13.
The Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations of the 1950s and 1960s
each sought a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing. Both President
Eisenhower and President Kennedy realized that such a treaty was not, by
itself, going to end the threat of nuclear attack or halt nuclear
proliferation. However, they understood a test ban's significance toward
achieving those ends.
Their negotiations did produce a limited test ban treaty in 1963
with the Soviet Union, banning test explosions in outer space, underwater
and in the atmosphere. The Limited Test Ban Treaty came on the heels of the
Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and years of frequent nuclear testing. At that
time the nuclear arms race was a runaway train.
Today, the possibility of nuclear warfare between the United
States and Russia has diminished. Nuclear weapons stockpiles are reduced
from the Cold War days. But now with more nations possessing nuclear
weapons and others on the brink, how can the United States defend itself in
a world full of danger and uncertainty?
One proposed way, which the Bush administration favors, is to
build a missile defense system. Such a system is risky if it jeopardizes
progress on nuclear arms reductions with Russia. The building of a missile
defense system is in violation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM)
Treaty signed with the Soviet Union, Russia's predecessor state. Russia or
other nations are likely to advance weapons development in response to a
disregard of the ABM treaty. Cooperation with Russia is critical, for it is
a key partner in helping to end global nuclear proliferation.
A better way to defend the United States from nuclear attack would
be to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Failure to ratify the
treaty leaves the United States less able to influence other nations to
stop testing or developing nuclear weapons.
Conducting nuclear test explosions escalates world tensions and
increases proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. One only needs to
look to Asia for an example of this. Three nations -- India, Pakistan and
China -- possess nuclear weapons. China's test explosions in the 1960s
prompted India's development of nuclear weapons. Rivals India and Pakistan
each conducted nuclear test explosions in 1998.
The existing stockpile of nuclear weapons can be maintained
without test explosions. Billions of dollars annually are invested in this
program, called Stockpile Stewardship. A former Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, General John Shalikashvili, commented on the ability to
test nuclear weapons under the comprehensive treaty: "Almost all of the
approximately 4000-6000 parts of a nuclear weapon . . . Are outside of the
'physics package,' -- i.e. the subsystem that creates the nuclear
explosion. Under the Test Ban Treaty, these parts can still be thoroughly
But one cannot rely entirely upon military might to defend itself
whether it be building nuclear weapons or missile defense systems. To quote
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, "Let no one think that the expenditure of
vast sums for weapons and systems of defense can guarantee absolute safety
for the cities and citizens of any nation. The awful arithmetic of the
atomic bomb does not permit any such easy solution."
Good faith can go a long way toward achieving national security.
That is why the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is so vital. Is it risk free?
No. Could a nation potentially "cheat" and carry out test explosions
undetected by the treaty's monitoring system? Perhaps. However, President
Kennedy faced risks when signing the Limited Test Ban Treaty. Today, one
can look back at that event and say that it was the right thing to do.
It is a serious mistake not to ratify the CTBT. Without it, there
can be no hope of ending the terror of nuclear weapons. By ratifying the
treaty, the United States can take a step in the right direction toward
ending nuclear proliferation and securing peace for future generations.
William Lambers is the author of "Nuclear Weapons" (2001) and a writer for
the History News Service.
[William Lambers, 9 Stacy Drive, North Andover, MA 01845. Office telephone:
(978) 685-5002; fax: (978)685-1066); e-mail: Blamb303@aol.com.]
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File: 7-16-01 Lambers
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