Argument: Test ban, as a means to abolishing nuclear weapons, is unrealistic

Issue Report: Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty


Harold Brown and John Deutch. “The Nuclear Disarmament Fantasy”. Wall Street Journal. November 19, 2007: “We agree that the strongest possible measures must be taken to inhibit the acquisition of and roll back the possession of nuclear weapons. However, the goal, even the aspirational goal, of eliminating all nuclear weapons is counterproductive. It will not advance substantive progress on nonproliferation; and it risks compromising the value that nuclear weapons continue to contribute, through deterrence, to U.S. security and international stability.

A nation that wishes to acquire nuclear weapons believes these weapons will improve its security. The declaration by the U.S. that it will move to eliminate nuclear weapons in a distant future will have no direct effect on changing this calculus. Indeed, nothing that the U.S. does to its nuclear posture will directly influence such a nation’s (let alone a terrorist group’s) calculus.

Whatever their other merits (and they are significant), it is difficult to argue that a comprehensive test ban treaty, a “no first use” declaration by the U.S., a dramatic reduction in the number of deployed or total nuclear weapons in our stockpile, an end to the production of fissionable material will convince North Korea, Iran, India, Pakistan or Israel to give up their nuclear weapons programs.

True enough, the U.S. ratified the 1968 Nonproliferation Treaty, whose Article Six states: “Each of the parties to the treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

No one suggests abandoning the hope embodied in such a well-intentioned statement. However, hope is not a policy, and, at present, there is no realistic path to a world free of nuclear weapons.

One cannot, for example, make the scientific knowledge and technological know-how that make nuclear weapons possible disappear. Proliferating states, even if they abandoned these devices under resolute international pressure, would still be able to clandestinely retain a few of their existing weapons — or maintain a standby, break-out capability to acquire a few weapons quickly, if needed.”