Argument: Test ban helps stop nuclear states from testing new weapons

Issue Report: Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty


Samuel Berger, Sam Nunn, and William Perry. “Case for ratifying Nuclear Test Ban Treaty”. Politico. June 2nd, 2009: “it would limit the ability of current nuclear powers to develop new types of nuclear warheads.”

“The Test Ban Treaty”. New York Times Editorial. May 24, 2009: “A formal ban on testing would make it harder for nuclear-armed states to build new weapons.”

“Prospects for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty”. Arms Control Association: “2. New nuclear weapons research and development

The Bush administration has also initiated new nuclear weapons research on the basis of the erroneous notion that new nuclear weapons capabilities are useful and necessary to fulfill future U.S. military needs. If this research advances into the development phase, the next step could be a proposal to conduct a series of proof-tests to confirm the designs and induct them into the arsenal.

The Pentagon’s January 2002 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) calls for the development of new nuclear weapons capabilities to provide a wider range of options to defeat “hardened and deeply buried targets” and chemical and biological threats. That year, the President asked Congress for $15.5 million for fiscal 2003 for research on a robust nuclear earth penetrator, or RNEP.

The following year, the Bush administration proposed that Congress should repeal a ten-year old law prohibiting research leading to development of new, low-yield nuclear weapons. The administration requested another $15 million for research on the RNEP and an additional $6 million for research on new nuclear weapon designs. Congress narrowly approved the repeal and the research monies, but stipulated that work beyond the research phase for any new type or modified type of nuclear warhead would require explicit congressional authorization. The Bush administration narrowly won approval for these programs on the basis of the argument that they only wanted to conduct research these weapons.

This year, the administration has upped its budget request for funding for research on the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP) to $27 million and has outlined a five year spending plan for research and development on RNEP that would cost at least $485 million. The FY05 budget request also seeks an additional $9 million to fund “advanced concepts” for new types of nuclear weapons.

The good news is that support for these proposals is steadily eroding and I would predict that Congress will not support or fund the development of a modified or new nuclear weapon. Last month, the House narrowly defeating an amendment to the defense authorization bill that would have cut and transferred monies for RNEP research to nonnuclear munitions research by a vote of 214-204.

In addition, the Republican House chairman of the energy and water appropriations subcommittee, David Hobson of Ohio, will likely succeed in cutting funding for new nuclear weapons research and for additional test site readiness from his committee’s bill. Unfortunately, the Senate and its energy appropriations committee chairman Pete Domenici will likely fund the full request for new weapons research. The final outcome will likely be that the Congress will halve the president’s original request for funding.

The Senate is also scheduled to act this week on the defense authorization bill and there will be an amendment offered by Senators Feinstein and Kennedy aimed at cutting funding for research on new or modified nuclear weapons. Though I expect the amendment to fail, the vote will likely be close, thus demonstrating that support for actual development of new nuclear weapons will be even more difficult to sustain.”