Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Ratifying The 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty: Arms Control Association Vs. The National Review

Posted by K.E. White on June 22, 2011

The 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is back in the news, with some hoping the Obama administration—preferably before possibly losing re-election and thus losing a good arms-control partner—will push the Senate to ratify the treaty.

But after reading two opposing points of view (check out the dueling ACA and TNR editorials), it seems this debate really comes down to two disagreements:

(1) both sides just are operating under very different assumptions and factual assessments,

Or (2) this all comes down to one question:  whether it’s a good deal to trust other nations won’t test in return for the United States not testing.

Yes, the National Review makes arguments about not detecting nuclear tests, and the need to keep our arsenal up-to-date.  But as Daryl G. Kimball at ACA points out, the U.S. has the technology now to detect the test we would likely be looking for; and indirectly argues that the non-proliferation regime would be strengthened (read:  we could push India and Pakistan into the agreement, and sop future nuclear aspirants); and, finally, our nuclear stock-pile is good for decades without testing.

And while The National Review does not refute these arguments, and their underlying analysis, it seems there’s a more implicit thesis:  (1) this treaty won’t factor into other nation’s decisions to test or not; and (2) what happens in 20 years?  If everyone knows the U.S. will break the treaty the minute is become necessary, how much binding force will it have?  (Admittedly, all treaties suffer from this; but at least encourage patterns of behavior and predictability that allow nations to adjust their strategic plans).

That’s why I like Jake Wilson’s blog at Heritage that concludes:

Nuclear weapons testing is essential for keeping the U.S. stockpile safe, secure, and reliable in the years ahead. Ratifying the CTBT would be detrimental to U.S. national security interests, as 30 countries around the world rely on the credibility of U.S. extended deterrence. These countries would be incentivized to develop their own nuclear weapons capabilities if the United States were perceived as weak and its nuclear weapons unreliable.

This is what the debate comes down to:  a simple disagreement into the motivations of countries.  I personally find this analysis shallow.  The greatest motivator to countries to acquire weapons is, I believe, fear that they will be held hostage to a country’s technological wizardry (e.g. North Korea and Iran had no reason to forego getting a nuke after being labeled part of the ‘axis of evil’.).  And, in any case, is not the world reaching a point where shifting flows in global finance and diminishing technology costs will make nuclear weapons available to any nation determined to get them?

If I’m right (and that is a big ‘if’), it then seems the proper course of U.S. action is to show nations nuclear weapons won’t achieve their strategic aims.  Best way to do that: show the world you don’t need further testing to meet your strategic aims.

But my worldview is more concerned with preventing low-budget, small nuclear aspirants—aka more Irans, Indias, and Pakistans—from causing regional headaches, not worries over Russia or China suddenly out-nuking us in some absurdist ‘Strangelove’ scenario.

But, in any case, both the ACA and TNR editorials duck this fundamental disagreement.  Instead, they recite or debunk old talking points.  It’s not that, especially the ACA analysis isn’t well-mapped and thorough, but instead missing what may actually be swaying the vote of particular Senators.

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One Response to “Ratifying The 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty: Arms Control Association Vs. The National Review”

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