The United States and the CTBT: Renewed Hope or Politics as Usual?

The United States and the CTBT: Renewed Hope or Politics as Usual?

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Sean Dunlop

The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies

Jean du Preez

The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies


President Barack Obama has stated clearly that he intends to work with the Senate to secure the ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) at the earliest practical date and "then launch a diplomatic effort to bring onboard other states whose ratifications are required for the treaty to enter into force."[1] Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made similar statements, both on the campaign trail and during her State Department confirmation.[2] Though leadership from the executive branch will play an important role in the new push for ratification and will be invaluable once the U.S. does ratify, the real question will be how treaty supporters can marshal 67 affirmative votes in the Senate. It will be a challenge to ensure that nonproliferation issues are accorded priority status in light of the other pressing matters of the day, and Senate democrats will continue to be cautious in restarting a policy process that led to a major political defeat a decade ago.

Ratifying the CTBT is unmistakably in the U.S. national security interest. Lawmakers can be confident that the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile will remain safe and reliable without explosive nuclear testing far into the foreseeable future. Today the technology to verify treaty compliance is largely in place and is exceeding performance expectations. U.S. leadership on the CTBT will be crucial for gaining the international support that is needed to tackle other nonproliferation problems, and it comes at a low cost, since the U.S. has been voluntarily complying with the provisions of the Treaty since 1992 and there is no political support for a return to explosive nuclear testing in the near future. As CTBT advocates work to provide senators with the best scientific evidence on the Treaty issues, the administration can send important signals to the international community by continuing to publicly convey its support for the Treaty. The May 2009 NPT PrepCom and the September 2009 Article XIV Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the CTBT offer timely opportunities for the U.S. to send positive messages about its intention to ratify the Treaty.

Over the past ten years the CTBT has gained wide international support, with 180 countries now having signed it. In 1999, when the U.S. Senate voted against ratification, only 51 States had ratified the Treaty, but today, 148 States have done so. Only eight more Annex II States[3] besides the U.S. still need to ratify before the Treaty can enter into force. These countries are China, the DPRK, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, and Pakistan. In an ironic twist of history, the United States, once the principal proponent of a comprehensive test ban, joined this group of "the bad and the ugly"[4] states holding hostage the entry into force of the Treaty. Even Russia, once a staunch opponent of such a ban, joined the Treaty in 2000, in the face of U.S. skeptics who argued in 1999 that Moscow would not ratify.[5] While ratification of all 44 Annex II States is required for entry into force, U.S. opposition is widely considered to be the primary obstacle standing in the way of the Treaty's entry into force. It is unlikely that any of the remaining holdout States will ratify until the U.S. does so.

Though lessons can be drawn from the 1999 failure to secure the Senate's consent for U.S. ratification of the CTBT, the political landscape is very different today. It is, however, important to consider the conditions under which the Republican leadership decided to oppose the Treaty in 1999 and to what extent the picture has changed over the past ten years.

Key Issues

Whether or not the Republican leadership's principal motivation in voting down the treaty in October 1999 was to deny President Clinton a political victory in the midst of an embarrassing scandal, opponents, led by Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Trent Lott (R-MS, ret.), the late Jesse Helms (R-NC), and the late Paul Coverdell (R-GA), put together a detailed, well-researched case that raised questions about the Treaty's verifiability and what effect U.S. ratification would really have on nonproliferation. Perhaps the most serious concern raised was the risk involved in entering into a zero-yield treaty of infinite duration, given that the Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP) was still relatively nascent. Treaty opponents carefully plotted their strategy well in advance, with Senator Kyl holding meetings of staffers as early as February 1999.[7] Over the summer, he used former defense secretaries and former national laboratory staff to quietly lobby undecided Republicans so that by the end of September when Senator Lott made the deal with Democrats to hold a vote, "Kyl had 42 solid votes against the CTBT—a reserve of 8 more than were needed to stop Senate approval of its ratification."[8]

Senate Democrats were perhaps too eager to force a vote on an obstructionist Republican majority, and because of the procedural parameters that Democrats were forced to accept, moderate Republicans ended up being placed in a situation where it became impossible to stop party leaders who were committed to defeating the treaty outright. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) planted himself in the Senate chamber for the duration of the debate in order to object to any unanimous consent request seeking to delay the vote. [9] The resolution of ratification came to the senate floor with far fewer days of hearings devoted specifically to the Treaty than previous arms control agreements.[10] It is significant that the Foreign Relations Committee spent only one day on CTBT-specific hearings and that no testimony was heard from scientists on the verification capabilities of the Treaty, in particular on the International Monitoring System (IMS).

It is also important to recall that amendments to the resolution of ratification were limited to one per side. Since Senator Helms had reported the Treaty out of committee before the day of hearings, Democrats were forced to use their amendment on the "safeguards package" upon which defense officials and lab directors conditioned their support. This agreement would have made it legally binding for a future administration to withdraw from the Treaty if at any point certain conditions regarding the U.S. stockpile were not met.

A number of moderate Republicans disappointed with the process signed onto a bipartisan letter drafted by Senators Warner (R-VA) and Moynihan (D-NY) urging the majority leader to delay the vote until after the issue had been more carefully examined,[11] but the vote went forward, and the resolution failed, 19 votes short of the 67 needed. While President Clinton has been criticized for failing to play a more active role promoting the Treaty in the days leading up to the 1999 vote, it is clear that senate Democrats did not anticipate the level of Republican preparation and the extent of Senator Kyl's lobbying campaign. The votes needed in favor of the Treaty simply were not there, so presidential leadership ultimately could not have changed the outcome so late in the process.

Senator Kyl is likely to play a similar role when the next push for ratification comes. He continues to publicly advance the same arguments against the Treaty[12] and suggests that the U.S. nuclear deterrent is gravely compromised by the political decision not to test or build new warheads.[13] In October 2007, he led the opposition to an effort by Democrats to include a section of text in the 2008 defense authorization bill expressing a sense that the Senate should ratify the CTBT.[14] On the senate floor, he pointed out that the Treaty had not been the subject of any deliberations in over 9 years and claimed that in 1999 the Senate "…ultimately concluded that its ratification was not in the Nation's interests. There were numerous objections that proved determinative then and remain true today."[15] Senator Kyl sent a strong message to the new Democratic majority by collecting signatures from 41 Republican senators opposing the language. Undoubtedly, some took more issue with the process than the policy, but with only 34 votes needed to defeat a treaty, the message was clear: even with a Democratic majority, any vote on the CTBT will continue to go down party lines.

Senator Kyl continues to build his case, despite the publication of several nonpartisan analyses that refute a number of the claims that continue to be made (see below). In 2007, he requested answers to questions on CTBT verification from the State Department.[16] His opposition to the Treaty also continues to influence one of the strongest Republican advocates for arms control and disarmament, Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN). In October 2007, Senator Lugar was asked how he viewed the prospects for U.S. ratification of the CTBT. He replied, "Well, I think they are not good, in large part because I have not seen a change in constituencies that debated the issue the last time." [17]

Despite Senator Kyl's continuing opposition to the Treaty, there have been significant changes in attitude among several highly influential former Republican secretaries of defense and state who opposed the Treaty in 1999 but support it today. Two of the most frequently cited pieces of evidence from opponents during the 1999 debate were letters making a case against ratification—one from Brent Scowcroft, Henry Kissinger, and John Deutch,[18] and one from former defense secretaries James Schlesinger, Richard Cheney, Frank Carlucci, the late Caspar Weinberger, Donald Rumsfeld, and Melvin Laird.[19] The influence of these leaders on senate Republicans in 1999 cannot be underestimated. Senator Lott has said that a 1999 presentation by Schlesinger "cemented his opposition to the CTBT."[20] However, in 2007 and 2008, Henry Kissinger along with George Shultz, William Perry, and Sam Nunn published influential op-ed pieces in the Wall Street Journal which called for CTBT ratification.[21] Frank Carlucci and Melvin Laird have both associated themselves with this view.[22] The opinions of former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will likely not carry the same credibility as in 1999, given the central roles they played in what has become the most unpopular administration in recent history.[23]

Many of the moderate Republicans in the Senate today who voted against ratification in 1999 might be convinced that ratifying the CTBT is now in the national security interests of the U.S. For this reason, it would be important for advocates of Treaty ratification not to focus only on the basic arguments in favor of the Treaty, which are not much different today, but strong emphasis should be placed on new research and technological developments that have taken place in the past ten years. Proving that these developments strengthen the case for the CTBT in terms of U.S. national security interests could swing the pendulum toward ratification.

The January 2008 Wall Street Journal op-ed from Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn called for the creation of a bipartisan review to examine improvements in the capabilities of the treaty's IMS) and to evaluate the progress made in assuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. Much of the technical work has already been completed and well-documented by non-partisan research teams such as the National Academy of Sciences and the JASONs. In addition to providing the necessary political cover for senators deciding to vote differently than in 1999, such a review could provide a forum to examine issues of deterrence touched upon in the CTBT debate such as:

  • What can nuclear weapons deter that cannot be deterred by reasonable substitutes?
  • What level of confidence in the U.S. arsenal is sufficient for credible deterrence?
  • What conditions or actions would prompt nonnuclear allies to withdraw from the NPT to build their own nuclear deterrent?

Arguments in favor of ratification

Effective Verifiability

Most opponents and supporters agree on Paul Nitze's[24] definition of effective arms control verifiability, which is that "if the other side moves beyond the limits of the treaty in any militarily significant way, we would be able to detect such violation in time to respond effectively, and thereby deny the other side the benefit of the violation."[25] Many CTBT opponents tend to exaggerate the military significance of certain hypothetical scenarios. Treaty opponents frequently claimed, and continue to claim, that countries can easily "decouple" nuclear tests, reducing the measurable yield by a factor of 70. This is the upper limit of what is mathematically possible assuming the most favorable geologic conditions, but the NAS concluded that a decoupled test could not be hidden if its yield was larger than 1 or 2 kilotons.[26] Tests of this yield would be of little use to countries with no testing experience, and the utility for a state that has tested nuclear weapons would not be sufficient to alter the strategic balance vis-à-vis the U.S.[27] In this regard, it is interesting that in 1992 the Senate agreed with a similar strategic analysis regarding the effect of potential Soviet cheating on the START I and ultimately ratified it.[28]

Furthermore, no country could be confident that a low-yield test would not be discovered. The IMS is designed to detect and identify with high confidence any test over 1 kiloton; however, in most of Europe, Asia, and North Africa, the system can detect tests as small as .03-.06 kilotons in hard rock.[29] During the floor debate Sen. Kyl quoted from a Washington Times article claiming that IMS seismic stations could not adequately monitor Russian and Chinese testing sites;[30] however, the NAS points out that by incorporating a technique called threshold monitoring, explosions at Novaya Zemlya .01 kT (and in some cases smaller) can be detected and identified, depending on the level of background seismic noise.[31] At Lop Nor, the IMS can detect tests as small as .06 kilotons in hard rock.[32] Countries would also have to account for the real risk of accidentally obtaining a higher-than-expected yield, a problem which has confounded advanced nuclear weapons states and was therefore incorporated into the threshold test ban treaty.[33]

This combination of uncertainty will act as an effective dissuasive factor for countries that wish to test clandestinely. A country that chooses to carry out a clandestine test has obviously decided that there will be negative consequences from testing openly that are worth avoiding, which seems at odds with opponents' claim that the Treaty and the normative constraints against testing have no teeth.

The NAS report concluded that:

"Very little of the benefit of a scrupulously observed CTBT regime would be lost in the case of clandestine testing within the considerable constraints imposed by the available monitoring capabilities. Those countries that are best able to successfully conduct such clandestine testing already possess advanced nuclear weapons of a number of types and could add little, with additional testing, to the threats they already pose or can pose to the United States. Countries of lesser nuclear test experience and design sophistication would be unable to conceal tests in the numbers and yields required to master nuclear weapons more advanced than the ones they could develop and deploy without any testing at all.

The worst-case scenario under a no-CTBT regime poses far bigger threats to U.S. security—sophisticated nuclear weapons in the hands of many more adversaries—than the worst-case scenario of clandestine testing in a CTBT regime, within the constraints posed by the monitoring system."[34]

Officials in the Bush administration chose to disregard scientific analysis and further exaggerated the potential for cheating. For example, Assistant Secretary Paula DeSutter of the State Department's Bureau of Verification, Compliance, and Implementation recently claimed that "evasion techniques can easily reduce the signature of a nuclear explosion by factors of 50 or 100."[35] The implication is that a 50 or 100 kiloton test might not be detected, a premise which the 2002 NAS report categorically rejects.

Much progress has been made since 1999 in the area of radionuclide and noble gas monitoring, and it is extremely challenging to completely contain venting from any underground nuclear explosion.[36] It took the U.S. and the Soviet Union many years and many attempts to effectively contain underground explosions, and even after some successful operations, a significant number of tests accidentally vented, including a U.S. test as late as 1986[37] and a Soviet test as late as 1988.[38] Since 1999, the CTBTO Preparatory Commission has operationalized three new radionuclide noble gas measurement systems: ARIX, SAUNA, and SPALAX.[39] These monitoring technologies provide the equivalent of a smoking gun in the detection of nuclear explosions. When abnormal levels of noble gases are recorded, atmospheric transport modeling can identify possible times and locations of the source which can then be compared to waveform data.

This integrated system has proved its mettle, detecting and identifying the 2006 DPRK nuclear test, which was well under the treaty's kiloton threshold. At the time only two-thirds of the IMS was operational. Today 80% of stations are either certified or in the testing phase.[40] The CTBTO's seismic system pinpointed the origin of the test to an area considerably smaller than the 1000 square kilometers allowed for in an on-site inspection. The radionuclide monitoring station in Yellowknife, Canada, detected an anomalous presence of Xenon-133, which atmospheric computer modeling found to be consistent with the time and location of the seismic event.[41]

Finally, additional scientific studies and research projects are already underway to provide an in-depth, independent assessment of the CTBT's verification regime. Over 100 experts from 33 countries met in March 2008 to identify relevant areas of research including system performance, seismology, hydroacoustics, infrasound, radionuclides, atmospheric transport modeling, on-site inspections, and data mining. Experts will present their findings at an International Scientific Studies (ISS) conference in June 2009.[42] While these findings are likely to strengthen the commonly held argument that the CTBT is verifiable, it will be very important to frame the findings of the ISS conference in terms of the national security value of the verification regime. It will be equally be important to channel these findings to decision-makers on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. It should however, be borne in mind that Republican Senators are more likely to seek technical advice from U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories, tasked with maintaining the reliability of the U.S. weapons stockpile.

Stockpile safety and reliability issues

As the NAS report indicates, the historical role of testing has been to verify new warhead designs, while confidence in stockpiled weapons has been assured by systematically inspecting the integrity of each individual component.[43] Nuclear testing is inappropriate for assessing confidence because it cannot practically be carried out on a statistically significant scale. Under the current surveillance system, over 20 warheads of each type in the enduring stockpile are disassembled and completely examined every two years. In addition, one per type is destructively disassembled each year.[44]

Treaty opponents often point out that a number of warhead problems have only been discovered through testing. This is true but fails to account for the actual role of nuclear testing in the design life-cycle, which was for research and development and the verification of new designs. According to the NAS, these "failures all occurred within three years after entry into the stockpile."[45] Today's enduring stockpile is comprised of thoroughly proven designs that have moved well beyond the stage where initial production anomalies may have existed. Furthermore, weapon safety and reliability are primarily affected by the aging of the non-nuclear sub-systems, meaning that any rebuilds of these components can be fully tested without violating the CTBT. According to a 2007 JASON study, most plutonium pits used in warhead primaries have credible minimum lifetimes in excess of 100 years,[46] meaning that the Stockpile Stewardship Program can ensure reliability far into the foreseeable future, provided it is fully funded.

Both Democratic and Republican congresses under Democratic and Republican presidents have consistently funded the Stockpile Stewardship Program, which is currently at a level of about $6.6 billion per year. The national nuclear laboratories continue to make scientific advances, which make the program increasingly robust and draw talented young scientists into the nation's nuclear infrastructure. In 2008, the Roadrunner supercomputer at Los Alamos National Laboratory became the first in the world to break the petaflop barrier, meaning it can process more than a quadrillion calculations per second.[47] The National Ignition Facility, often referred to as the linchpin of the science-based stockpile concept, will come online at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in March 2009. Though treaty opponents claim that without designing and testing new warheads, the capacity of the labs will atrophy to an unacceptable level, Dr. Raymond Jeanloz argues that during the testing moratorium, the labs have actually increased their technical competency, since researchers have been able to study weapons physics in greater depth without the heavy demands imposed by an explosive testing program.[48]

Opponents of the CTBT argue that the United States must reserve the right to test in order to develop new weapons to counter new threats, and that the current Cold War arsenal may be ill-suited for important new missions, especially in the war on terror. But despite claims to the contrary, the United States has continued to modernize its arsenal even after it began its testing moratorium in 1992. Leaving aside the contentious debate over what role nuclear weapons can play in countering threats from non-state actors, this argument ignores the fact that the B-61 Mod-7 warhead was modified for a new earth-penetrating mission for both tactical and strategic use against hardened targets. This new modification, the B-61 Mod-11, was initiated in 1995, entered into service in 1997, and did not require nuclear testing.[49]

In sharp contrast to Senator Kyl, who claimed in September 2008 that "other states are modernizing their nuclear weapons and the United States is not,"[50] analysts Keir Lieber and Daryl Press point out that since the Cold War, the nuclear balance of power has dramatically shifted to the brink of U.S. primacy. They claim that this is due to "the decline of Russia's arsenal," "the glacial pace of modernization of China's nuclear forces," and significant improvements to U.S. weapons. Some of these improvements include replacing the ballistic missiles on SSBNs with the highly accurate Trident II D-5 missiles, shifting more SSBNs to the Pacific to exploit weaknesses in Russia's radar network, outfitting B-52 bombers with nuclear-armed cruise missiles, improving the avionics on B-2 stealth bombers, installing the higher yield W-87 warheads and more advanced Mk-21 reentry vehicles from the retired Peacekeeper missiles onto Minuteman III ICBMs, and updating the Minuteman's guidance systems.[51] The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has initiated a 20-year Life Extension Program for the B-61 warhead and a 30-year Life Extension Program for the W-76 warhead, which began in 2000. New safety and security features such as improved permissive action links may be incorporated into this program.[52]

The value of the CTBT as a cornerstone of the international nonproliferation regime

Treaty opponents question the value of the CTBT alongside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), claiming that countries that sign the CTBT are merely promising not to test weapons that they already promised not to acquire under the NPT. This argument fails to account for the three countries that have not signed the NPT: India, Pakistan, and Israel. To join the NPT, these countries would have to do so as non-nuclear-weapon States (NNWS), which is extremely unlikely. This argument also ignores the destabilizing prospect of NPT nuclear weapons States (NWS) making qualitative improvements to their arsenals (today the U.S. and China are the only de jure NWS that have not ratified the CTBT). Finally, the argument also assumes an enduring commitment to the NPT by the NNWS, even though these states have predicated that commitment on a bargain with the NWS which includes, among other things, entry-into-force of the CTBT. As such the CTBT offers a "down-stream" confidence building measure (IAEA safeguards being the "up-stream" measure). For this reason, CTBT ratification by a country such as Iran would serve to build confidence in the peaceful nature of its nuclear activities.

Leaders of both U.S. political parties believe the NPT needs to be strengthened so that countries cannot acquire the technology to make nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian power program and subsequently withdraw from the treaty.[53] This will be politically impossible unless the United States and the other NWS demonstrate good faith efforts to fulfill their part of the bargains made at the NPT Review and Extension Conference in 1995 as well as the Review Conference in 2000. The CTBT is widely viewed as a critical test of U.S. commitment to its Article VI obligations, as outlined in the Principles and Objectives document as well as the 13 practical steps. As the interim report from the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States points out, the U.S. needs to gain broader international support to meet its nonproliferation objectives.[54] Ratifying the Treaty and pressing other countries to do so would go a long way in gaining this international support and at little cost, since the U.S. has been voluntarily complying with the Treaty's provisions since 1992.

The CTBT, which is mentioned as an important goal in the preambles of the NPT, the Partial Test Ban Treaty, the Threshold Test Ban Treaty, and the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty, has long been envisioned as an important complement to the international nonproliferation regime. One key aspect of the CTBT is that its obligations are imposed universally on its members. Unlike the NPT, there is no discrimination between nuclear haves and have-nots, an imbalance that is unsustainable in the long term.

Aside from ensuring that critical countries have been incorporated into the regime, entry into force will offer several advantages to the status quo. First, states will be able to take advantage of the Treaty's full verification regime which consists not only of the IMS, but also the ability to request on-site inspections. Second, although the IMS may be fully completed and certified prior to entry into force, the International Data Centre in Vienna will not be staffed on a continuous basis, meaning that if a suspicious event takes place or a station goes offline during off-hours, there will be an inevitable delay before an analyst is able to process the information.

The current political landscape and the way forward

Though CTBT ratification may have once been viewed solely as a liberal goal, today a growing number of realists in the defense, policy, and scientific communities recognize that ratification is in the U.S. national interest. A December 2008 report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Physical Society (APS), and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) recommended CTBT ratification as part of a "new centrist package of nuclear initiatives."[55] Working group participants were specifically chosen to represent "a diversity of views across the political spectrum."[56]

Treaty supporters are right to be cautious, but to a point. After the past two election cycles, they are undoubtedly in a much stronger position in the Senate. Since 2007, the Democrats have chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the committee tasked to consider ratification and provide political oversight over the implementation of the treaty. Though some Republicans concluded in 1999 that the process was fair and the Treaty failed on its own merits, many believe that if Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms had agreed to hold comprehensive hearings, the outcome would have been different. Senator John Kerry (D-MA), the new chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, is well-versed in the details of the Treaty, and democratic control of the committee means that the hearings can be scheduled in such a way to raise public awareness, involve NGO advocacy groups, and build broad support for the Treaty. In addition, President Obama's campaign built a social network of unprecedented scale that can be put to use for this purpose.

President Obama will want to avoid the political quagmire in which President Clinton found himself, and should not be pressed to lead a public charge until a core bipartisan coalition has been identified. Two things that President Clinton could have done earlier that had helped the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) ratification process two years prior would have been (i) to appoint a senior staff member with the sole responsibility of coordinating ratification efforts and (ii) to secure support from prominent Republicans.[57]

Compared to 1999, political support within the Beltway in favor of the Treaty has shifted significantly. During the September 2008 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on U.S.-India Nuclear Cooperation, Committee Chairman John Kerry said that "the new president should urge the Senate to ratify a treaty banning nuclear weapons testing…there needs to be a massive, new commitment to the counter proliferation and testing ban efforts…the nuclear issue has to be much more front and center in the next administration."[58] Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, whom Obama has asked to stay on, said in October 2008 that the U.S. "probably should" ratify the CTBT "if there are adequate verification measures."[59] Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently called the CTBT "a critical non-proliferation tool," pointing out that U.S. ratification is "essential to restoring American leadership."[60] It should also be recalled that Vice President Joe Biden led the senate fight for the CTBT in 1999, and as a presidential candidate he promised to push for U.S. ratification in 2009.[61]

Moreover the 2008 Democratic Party platform promised that Democrats "…will work to create a bipartisan consensus to support ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which will strengthen the NPT and aid international monitoring of nuclear activities."[62] As opposed to 1999, when ratification required 22 votes from outside of the Democratic caucus, that number today is likely to be only eight. Twelve Republican senators who sought to delay the vote remain in the Senate, and five of them did not sign Senator Kyl's 2007 letter opposing the pro-CTBT language in the defense authorization bill. Treaty advocates must reach out to these veteran senators whose voices will hold sway with the 18 Republican senators who have taken office since the 1999 vote.

Among these veterans, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) is likely to vote in favor of ratification as he did in 1999. Senator McCain (R-AZ) has indicated that he may no longer be opposed to ratification, provided he could be convinced that doing so will not undermine the security or viability of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.[64] Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) has a strong interest in nonproliferation issues and has argued for more committee hearings to consider the virtues of treaty ratification.[65] Though Senator Snowe and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) both voted against ratification, they had previously come out publicly in support of the Treaty.[66] Senators Robert Bennett and Orrin Hatch represent the state of Utah, which has suffered health and environmental problems as a consequence of explosive nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site. Advocates of principled foreign policy such as Senators Richard Lugar, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and George Voinovich (R-OH) might be persuaded that CTBT ratification serves the national security interests of the U.S.

Presenting senators with concrete evidence about the CTBT's merits could persuade them to support the Treaty. To this end the national security aspects of the treaty should be strongly emphasized. It should also be emphasized that while the United States already bears approximately a quarter of the financial cost of the IMS, it does not yet reap the political and security benefits of ratification.


While it is important for the Administration and CTBT advocates in the United States to actively seek the Senate's consent for ratification, great care should be taken to ensure that the Treaty does not yet again become a victim of partisan politics. Although the Obama administration has strong popular support, congressional Republicans have already demonstrated that they will not hesitate to vote along party lines on serious issues. Since many Senators who voted against the CTBT in 1999 could easily be provoked into reiterating their opposition, pushing too soon and too hard for an affirmative vote in support of U.S. ratification could very well be what Republican leaders need to consolidate their party in the aftermath of devastating losses in the 2006 and 2008 elections. This does not mean that the Administration and the Democratic leadership should avoid initiating the process until all the stars are in line. They should schedule hearings and brief senators and staffers on how the Treaty and its verification mechanisms enhance U.S. national security.

Despite the confidence of scientists and policy analysts, legitimate questions could be raised in 1999 about the reliability of the SSP and the technology of the IMS, since these systems were relatively untested. Ten years later, this is no longer the case. These systems have been tried and tested, and their success has been analyzed and well documented. What needs to be done with finesse is for treaty advocates to translate this into political support from moderate Republican senators. As Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn have suggested, this could be achieved by initiating a bipartisan review of treaty issues, especially the developments over the past ten years. In this regard important lessons should be learned from 1999. As Secretary of State Clinton pointed out during her confirmation hearing, "we (the Administration) need to work intensively with Senators so that they are fully briefed on key technical issues on which the CTBT votes will depend, especially the issues of how well the treaty can be verified and how well the reliability of the U.S. stockpile can be maintained without testing. The Secretary of State also emphasized that it "will be crucial to make sure that the Senate receives the best scientific evidence available on these two issues as well as on other questions relevant to the merits of the CTBT."[67]

It will clearly take time and carefully orchestrated efforts to ensure that the vote on U.S. ratification does not break evenly down party lines. In the meantime, President Obama and his foreign policy team can send a positive message to the international community by publicly affirming their support for the Treaty. Starting at the May 2009 NPT PrepCom, the Obama administration should make positive statements — along the lines of Secretary of State Clinton's testimony during her confirmation hearing — that it is "strongly committed to Senate approval of the CTBT and to launching a diplomatic effort to bring on board other states whose ratifications are required for the treaty to enter into force."[68]

The Obama administration should also send a U.S. delegation to the 2009 Article XIV Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the CTBT, scheduled to be held in New York in September. The United States has been conspicuously absent from the biennial Article XIV Conferences since the first one held in 1999. The Obama Administration can use the 2009 NPT PrepCom and the Article XIV Conference as platforms to prove that the United States is resolved to reclaim its mantle as an international leader in nonproliferation, disarmament and arms control. In doing so, it will not only reaffirm its NPT Article VI commitments and promises in time to make a positive impact on the outcome of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, but the positive international reaction to the Administration's intent to actively seek U.S. ratification could in turn be used to convince undecided senators of the Treaty's value.


[1] Arms Control Today 2008 Presidential Q&A: Barack Obama, September 24, 2008,
[2] Hillary Clinton, Nuclear proliferation statement, Chicago Tribune, January 18, 2008,
[3] The CTBT will enter into force 180 days after all 44 states listed in the Treaty's Annex II have deposited their instrument of ratification.
[4] Kaegan McGrath, Stephanie Bobiak and Jean du Preez, The Future of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, CNS Feature Story, March 7, 2008,; Kaegan McGrath, Entry into Force of the CTBT: All Roads Lead to Washington, A Report from the Fifth Article XIV Conference, NTI Issue Brief, April 2008,
[5] 106th U.S. Congress, Congressional Record, Vol. 145, see for example Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT), p. S12342; Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), p. S12285; Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) p. S12271.
[6] This number assumes that Al Franken's lead over incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman (MN) will hold. All Democrats can and should be expected to vote in favor of CTBT ratification, as the 2008 party platform promises that they "…will work to create a bipartisan consensus to support ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which will strengthen the NPT and aid international monitoring of nuclear activities." Renewing America's Promise: Democratic Party Platform, 2008, p. 32,
[7] Terry L. Deibel, "Inside the Water's Edge: The Senate Votes on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty," Pew Case Studies in International Affairs, Case 263, Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Georgetown University, 2003, p. 10.
[8] Ibid., p. 10-11.
[9] 106th U.S. Congress, p. S12310.
[10] 106th U.S. Congress, p. S12507.
[11] 106th U.S. Congress, pp. S12548-S12549.
[12] Senator Jon Kyl, "Why the Senate Rejected the CTBT," Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Roundtable, June 5, 2000,; U.S. Congress, Congressional Record, October 24, 2007, p. S13357-S13358.
[13] Senator Jon Kyl, "Facing a Long-Ignored Problem: Reviving America's Nuclear Deterrence," George C. Marshall Annual Awards Dinner, September 15, 2008,
[14] Section 3122 of the National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1547)
[15] 110th U.S. Congress, Congressional Record, Vol. 153, October 24, 2007, p. S13357.
[16] Letter cited in Jonathan Medalia, Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty: Background and Current Developments, CRS Report for Congress, RL33548, updated May 28, 2008.
[17] Richard Lugar at the Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, October 8, 2007,
[18] 106th U.S. Congress, p. S12283.
[19] 106th U.S. Congress, pp. S12281-S12282.
[20] Deibel, p. 23.
[21] George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons," Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2007, p. 15,; George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, "Toward a Nuclear-Free World," Wall Street Journal, January 16, 2008, p. 13,
[22] Shultz, et al., "Toward a Nuclear-Free World."
[23] CBS News Polls, October 23, 2008,
[24] Paul Nitze served as President Ronald Reagan's chief negotiator for the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and was appointed as Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State on arms control.
[25] 100th U.S. Congress, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on the INF Treaty, January 1988, p. 289.
[26] National Academy of Sciences (NAS), Technical Issues Related to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, Washington, D.C., National Academy Press, 2002, pp. 46-48.
[27] Ibid., p. 9-10.
[28] David Hafemeister, "The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: Effectively Verifiable," Arms Control Today, October 2008,
[29] NAS, p. 57.
[30] 106th U.S. Congress, Congressional Record, Vol. 145, October 12, 1999, p. S12369.
[31] NAS, p. 50.
[32] Ibid., p. 57.
[33] Gregory E. van der Vink and Christopher E. Paine, "The Politics of Verification: Limiting the Testing of Nuclear Weapons," Science and Global Secuirty, 1993, Vol. 3, p. 263.
[34] Ibid., p. 10-11.
[35] 110th U.S. Congress, p. S13357.
[36] Hafemeister.
[37] James Carothers et al., "Caging the Dragon: The Containment of Underground Explosions," Lawrence Livermore national Laboratory, June 30, 1995, pp. 565-570.
[38] Wm. Robert Johnston, "Database of nuclear tests, USSR: part 3, 1979-1990,
[39] CTBTO Preparatory Commission,
[40] CTBTO Preparatory Commission,
[41] CTBTO Preparatory Commission, "The CTBT Verification Regime Put to the Test — the Event in the DPRK on 9 October 2006,"
[42] Yvonne Yew, "A Global Scientific Endeavor: The International Scientific Studies Project," CTBTO Spectrum, September 2008.
[43] NAS, p. 21.
[44] Ibid, p. 26.
[45] Ibid, p. 21.
[46] R.J. Hemley et al., "Pit Lifetime," The MITRE Corporation, JASON Program Office, January 11, 2007,
[47] John Markoff, "Military Supercomputer Sets Record," New York Times, June 9, 2008,
[48] Raymond Jeanloz, "Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and U.S. Security," Reykjavik Revisited, Hoover Institution, 2008, p. 156.
[49] Carey Sublette, "The B61 (Mk-61) Bomb: Intermediate yield strategic and tactical thermonuclear bomb," Nuclear Weapon Archive, updated January 9, 2007,
[50] Kyl, "Facing a Long-Ignored Problem: Reviving America's Nuclear Deterrence."
[51] Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, "The Rise of U.S. Nuclear Primacy," Foreign Affairs, March/April 2006,
[52] Elaine Grossman, "U.S. Air Force Might Modify Nuclear Bomb," Global Security Newswire, September 26, 2008,
[53] Stephen Schwartz, "Barack Obama and John McCain on Nuclear Security Issues," CNS Feature Story, updated October 6, 2008,
[54] Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the U.S., Interim Report, December 15, 2008,
[55] Nuclear Weapons in 21st Century U.S. National Security, report by a Joint Working Group of AAAS, the American Physical Society, and December 2008,
[56] Ibid, p. 2.
[57] Deibel, p. 6.
[58] Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on U.S.-India Nuclear Cooperation, September 18, 2008.
[59] Robert Gates, speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, October 28, 2008,
[60] Hillary Clinton, Nuclear proliferation statement, Chicago Tribune, January 18, 2008,
[61] Council for a Livable World, Sen. Joseph Biden on National Security, August 2007,
[62] Renewing America's Promise: Democratic Party Platform, 2008, p. 32,
[63] Floor debate took place on October 8 and October 12-13, 1999. See 106th U.S. Congress, Congressional Record, Vol. 145, pp.S12257-S12316, S12329-S12427, S12465-S12550.
[64] John McCain, "Remarks by John McCain on Nuclear Security," University of Denver, Denver, Colorado, May 27, 2008,
[65] Daryl Kimball, "Holding the CTBT Hostage in the Senate: The 'Stealth' Strategy of Helms and Lott," Arms Control Today, June/July 1998,
[66] American Geological Institute, Update and Hearing Summary on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, May 22, 1998,
[67] See Hillary Clinton, Questions for the Record, Nomination for Secretary of State,
[68] Ibid.

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