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May-June 2012

Vol. 37, No. 3


CTBT: Time to ratify

nuclear explosion On March 30 the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a report on technical issues related to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The report states that the United States is better able to detect clandestine nuclear weapons tests abroad than ever before and that it can ensure the reliability of its own nuclear arsenal without conducting tests. The report has prompted arms control and disarmament advocates to make a new push for treaty ratification, urging senators to support the CTBT when it comes up for consideration.

The CTBT bans nuclear weapons testing and establishes an International Monitoring System to verify compliance. This prohibition on testing would prevent the development of new nuclear weapons and the expansion of current systems.

The treaty has been signed by 183 countries and ratified by 157. However, the U.S. and eight other holdouts (China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan) must ratify for CTBT to enter into force. President Clinton signed the treaty in 1996 but the Senate refused to offer its advice and consent in 1999. The chief objections at the time were concerns over whether treaty violations could be verified and the reliability of the U.S. arsenal in the absence of regular tests.

The report makes clear that these are no longer valid reasons for refusing to ratify. It concludes that U.S. capabilities to detect nuclear tests have improved dramatically. The International Monitoring System established by the CTBT now has over 250 stations around the world, meaning even low level nuclear detonations cannot evade detection.

The report also states that the United States can be confident in the reliability of its nuclear arsenal for the "foreseeable future." The U.S. has conducted over 1,000 nuclear tests, more than any other country. With the information from past tests and technological advances in simulations the safety and security of the weapons can be confirmed. The Obama administration has demonstrated its commitment to continue these efforts by increasing the funding of the National Nuclear Security Administration, which is responsible maintaining the arsenal through the Stockpile Stewardship Program. (In 2009, President Obama pledged to pursue ratification.)

In a recent editorial, Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association stated, "Senators and their staff need to take a serious look at the merits of the CTBT in light of the new NAS findings and not rush to judgment on the basis of old myths and misconceptions."

Pope Benedict XVI has declared his support for the CTBT. In a 2008 statement, Vatican spokesman Archbishop Dominique Mamberti stated, "The Holy See is convinced that, in working together, the signature, ratification, and entry into force of the Treaty will represent a great leap forward for the future of humanity, as well as for the protection of the earth and environment, entrusted to our care by the Creator."

Faith in action:

Ratification of the CTBT – an essential instrument for reducing the dangers posed by nuclear weapons and moving us toward disarmament – is possible with sustained pressure from the general public. Contact your senators today and ask them to support the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Consider using this alert on the Friends Committee on National Legislation's (FCNL) website.

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