The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) bans all nuclear explosions in all environments, for military or civilian purposes. It was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 September 1996 but it has not yet entered into force. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)—described as the “longest sought and hardest fought for arms control treaty in history”—was opened for signature in September 1996. The CTBT obligates countries that sign and ratify “not to carry out any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion.” It provides for an extensive verification regime including an International Monitoring System (IMS) to detect nuclear explosions, a global infrastructure for satellite communications from IMS stations to an International Data Center (IDC) that processes and distributes data to State Parties, and for on-site inspections, which may be requested by any State Party to determine whether suspected cheating has occurred. To implement these verification arrangements, the treaty establishes a Comprehensive Test Ban Organization (CTBTO) located in Vienna. The idea of a nuclear test ban treaty has been met with significant debate. The main questions surrounding the debate include: Can a nuclear test ban help nonproliferation efforts? Does it make it more difficult for countries to develop nuclear weapons? Can the international community effectively enforce a ban on nuclear weapons testing? Is technology sufficient for the detection of nuclear tests? And, even if detection is possible, is this sufficient to prevent countries from testing and developing nuclear weapons? Is it important to the environment? Is it important to human health and safety? Can nuclear deterrence be maintained sufficiently with a nuclear test ban in place? Can rogue powers be contained and deterred from developing nuclear weapons? Overall, is a nuclear test ban a good idea?
“By barring explosive tests, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty severely constrains the way nations have traditionally evaluated changes in bomb designs and confirmed the performance of weapons to be stockpiled for military use. A ban on test explosions cannot alone prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, but it does pose a significant barrier to the development of weapons that rely on fusion reactions, including lighter, more compact and more powerful missile-borne nuclear warhead designs, such as those China has allegedly acquired from the U.S. through espionage and intelligence-gathering.”
Daryl G. Kimball of the Arms Control Association, said in a speech delivered September 22, 2005: “The de facto global nuclear test moratorium and CTBT’s entry into force are crucial barriers to help prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to additional states and are essential to the future viability of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). They are the first two of the 13 practical steps for systematic and progressive nuclear disarmament that were unanimously adopted in the Final Document of the 2000 NPT Review Conference. In fact, the nuclear weapon states’ commitment to the CTBT was vital in securing the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995.”
Test ban helps prevent nuclear arms race Daryl G. Kimball of the Arms Control Association wrote on September 22, 2005: “The CTBT is an essential step towards nuclear disarmament because it helps to discourage dangerous nuclear competition and block new nuclear threats from emerging.Given the series of crises with grave nuclear overtones that have shaken the South Asian sub-continent since the 1998 nuclear explosions, it should be self-evident that another round of tit-for-tat testing would adversely affect regional and international security.”
Daryl G. Kimball of the Arms Control Association wrote on September 22, 2005: “The CTBT is an essential step towards nuclear disarmament because it helps to discourage dangerous nuclear competition and block new nuclear threats from emerging.Given the series of crises with grave nuclear overtones that have shaken the South Asian sub-continent since the 1998 nuclear explosions, it should be self-evident that another round of tit-for-tat testing would adversely affect regional and international security.”
“it would limit the ability of current nuclear powers to develop new types of nuclear warheads.”
“Fast forward 10 years, and nuclear proliferation’s perils have only become more apparent. Pakistan, a new nuclear state, is facing an existential threat that could put its arsenal at risk. Terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda are actively seeking weapons of mass destruction and would not hesitate to use them. North Korea and Iran are pursuing dangerous nuclear programs for themselves, underscored by the May 25 North Korean nuclear test. The world is on the precipice of a new and perilous nuclear era. Threat reduction demands urgent action.”
“One can shrug and say that such treaties are leftovers from the cold war. That is wrong, especially in a world where nuclear appetites are growing.”
A test ban treaty does not directly ban nuclear weapons nor their production. It only limits the testing of these new or existing stockpiles. A ban, therefore, does not make much progress toward nuclear disarmament. If this is the goal, it provides little assistance toward achieving disarmament.
The CTBT is not a solution due to the fact that the information and know-how to build nuclear weapons will remain. And, even a nuclear weapons program that has not benefited from nuclear detonations is a viable one.
Commenting on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in September 1996, India’s former Minister for External Affairs, IK Gujral, said” “It is not a ‘comprehensive treaty,’ (as) it permits the nuclear weapon states to continue their weapons related research and development activity using non-explosive technologies; it lacks any meaningful commitment to nuclear disarmament and instead of being the definitive first step of the nuclear disarmament process, it only serves to perpetuate the existing discriminatory status quo.” This was the keystone of India’s stand on the CTBT in the 1990s.”
Mikhail Gorbachev said on April 17, 2009: “There is no way to unmake nuclear weapons. Like guns, restrictions on them never seem to deter the rogues we fear but only tie the hands of the responsible citizens of the world. While we can certainly try to avoid producing unnecessary numbers of them and pointing them at each other threateningly, we will never see a world rid of them until and unless some new technology makes them obsolete. That is why a functional missile defense system has to be a priority for the US.”
Many see a test ban treaty as a good means to abolishing nuclear weapons. Yet, the objective of abolishing nuclear weapons is not realistic, primarily due to the constant uncertainty among nations as to whether other nations, and particularly rogue nations, will abide by such a ban on nukes. Fears will likely cause countries to keep some nukes “just in case”. Therefore, a test ban, in so far as it is seen as a means to abolishing nuclear weapons, is unrealistic.
The Utopian model suggested by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that it will prevent nuclear war and hazards by stopping nuclear testing is fallacious, primarily because fear of nuclear arsenals will continue, which may lead to wars similar to the War in Iraq, just to see whether a country has nuclear weapons or not. Such fears of countries’ nuclear capabilities will continue to cause conflict, even if nations are unable to test their nuclear capabilities.
“Detecting a test of a nuclear weapon has become so effective and reliable that no nation could expect to get away with secretly exploding a device having military significance.Seismic monitoring can now detect a nuclear explosion with a yield of a kiloton or more anywhere on Earth. In many places, detection is far more sensitive than that.In our view, those concerns about monitoring are groundless—and have been for several years. The scientific and technical community has developed a well-honed ability to monitor militarily significant nuclear test explosions anywhere in the world, above ground or below, and to distinguish them from mine collapses, earthquakes, and other natural or nonnuclear phenomena.”
“the Treaty also would bolster international monitoring of nuclear activities, clarifying the nature of suspicious (or benign) activities which might otherwise exacerbate regional tensions from South Asia to the Middle East.”
“While the treaty calls for a total ban on nuclear testing, there is a threshold beneath which the seismic network will be unable to detect tiny events, Lay says. […] ‘We’d have to be able to look everywhere in the world for a magnitude 2.5 event, detect it, and discriminate between an earthquake, nuclear test, mining blast, or some other event. That’s a staggering objective.'”
While detection is a problem, even if we assume that detection is possible, the main issue surrounds enforcing the treaty after detecting a test. North Korea, for example, will likely simply ignore the treaty. And, what will the international community do in response? Probably nothing.
“As for deterrence, it’s a simple concept: convince others that the cost of taking an action you wish to prevent is far greater than any benefits. At a minimum, violators should not benefit from their violation. The Obama administration’s special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, has been touring the region warning of ‘dire consequences’ if North Korea tests. Strong words, but likely empty of substance.”
Under a test ban treat, any sort of testing, whether civil or military in nature, will be – officially – intolerable. But, how is the world to respond to such an “intolerable” threat? Through military action, sanctions, or by other means? It may be forced to respond militarily simply to protect its legitimacy in upholding the ban, yet with great consequences as a result. Or, more likely, aggressive action will not be taken, and the legitimacy of the United Nations will be further undermined. Either outcome would be an unfortunate result of the CTBT.
“Can the United States maintain deterrence without testing? The treaty’s supporters hold that U.S. programs can maintain existing, tested weapons without further testing, pointing to 12 annual assessments that these weapons remain safe and reliable, and claim that these weapons meet any deterrent needs.”
“Nuclear weapons were essential to maintaining international security during the Cold War because they were a means of deterrence. The end of the Cold War made the doctrine of mutual Soviet-American deterrence obsolete. Deterrence continues to be a relevant consideration for many states with regard to threats from other states. But reliance on nuclear weapons for this purpose is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective.” [Therefore, in so far as the CTBT might damage the nuclear capabilities of a state, it will be irrelevant, as the need for nuclear deterrence is much smaller today.]
“Opponents maintain that there can be no confidence in existing warheads because many minor modifications will change them from tested versions, so testing is needed to restore and maintain confidence. They see deterrence as dynamic, requiring new weapons to counter new threats, and assert that these weapons must be tested.”
The most important way to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons is through nuclear deterrence. That is, by convincing non-nuclear states that developing a nuclear weapons program is futile in the face of significant nuclear powers. Therefore, in so far as a nuclear test ban will diminish the arsenals of nuclear powers, it will will diminish the power of nuclear deterrence to limit nuclear proliferation.
Nuclear warheads are complex devices that cannot just be “shelved” for later. Specifically, their radioactive core can affect others parts of the weapon, making testing necessary. Without testing, therefore, is required to maintain weapons and deterrence.