The Comprehensive Test Ban: an inglorious anniversary
By Damien J. LaVera
Global Beat Syndicate
WASHINGTON--During the presidential debates, both candidates called the spread of nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction the most dangerous threat to our nation's security. They were right: the threat of these weapons falling into the hands of terrorists should keep all of us awake at night.
But what neither candidate has mentioned is the fact that one of the most important tools for confronting that danger has been sitting easily within our reach for the past five years. The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which the U.S. Senate voted not to ratify on October 13, 1999, would ban nuclear testing for all countries, making it harder for terrorists to get their hands on mankind's most dangerous weapons.
We need to bring this treaty into force.
The logic behind this agreement is simple: the more states that possess advanced nuclear weapons, the easier it is for terrorists to get their hands on them.
Take, for example, the case of Iran. The international community has been concerned about activities at Iran's nuclear facilities, and evidence has been mounting that Tehran is pursing nuclear weapons. If Iran were to succeed in this effort, there is a very real danger that extremists could give one to Hezbollah or Al Qaida so these terrorist groups could use it against Israel or United States, or to destabilize Iraq. This nightmare scenario must be avoided at all cost.
One way to make it less likely is to bring the nuclear test ban treaty into force. Doing so would give the international community a crucial tool in its effort to keep Iran from acquiring advanced nuclear weapons. To develop such weapons and have confidence that they would work, Iran would need to conduct nuclear tests. By helping to prevent testing, the treaty and its verification regime would make it harder for extremists in that county to acquire and give those weapons to terrorists.
Certainly, the test ban treaty is not a silver bullet that single-handedly prevents the proliferation of these weapons. No treaty is. But the test ban is a key part of the web of constraints assembled over the last 80 years to keep the world's most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the world's most dangerous nations and groups.
Iran, and other states, could conceivably build simple, Hiroshima-type weapons without testing. But these are large and cumbersome weapons that would be far more difficult for a terrorist to transport and use. Anything that makes it more difficult for terrorists to get their hands on smaller, lighter, more advanced and--most importantly--more powerful weapons is worth pursuing.
This is why the United States has traditionally led the effort to create a web of constraints designed to minimize the number of countries and organizations that have weapons of mass destruction. Since the 1925 Geneva Protocol on chemical weapons, we have led the international community in negotiating more than 30 agreements that together have been indispensable in containing the spread of weapons of mass destruction. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is a key element of this regime.
Our leadership in building this network of agreements has not been an act of altruism. We have led because doing so has enhanced our security at very little cost.
The same is true today with the test ban treaty, which is why the Senate's vote five years ago this month was so dangerous. The candidates for president have acknowledged the nuclear danger. The question now is whether either will embrace the comprehensive test ban as part of the solution.