The US President Obama, in a 2009 speech in Prague, said, “To achieve a global ban on nuclear testing, my administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. After more than five decades of talks, it is time for the testing of nuclear weapons to finally be banned.” Three years have passed since his speech; however, the CTBT have not yet been ratified by the US.
The CTBT, adopted by the UN General Assembly, became open for signature in 1996, and the United States was the first nation to sign the treaty. According to the CTBTO, 183 nations have signed the CTBT, including all US allies in NATO. Among forty-four Annex 2 States, whose signature and ratification are required for the CTBT to enter into force, three states (North Korea, India, and Pakistan) have not signed, and five states (China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, the US) have signed but not ratified the treaty.
According to the Arms Control Association (ACA), there are several myths that keep the US from moving toward the ratification of the CTBT. First, treaty opponents claim that ratifying the pact might actually promote proliferation among US allies by undermining the effectiveness of the US nuclear umbrella. Nevertheless, because all the US allies support the CTBT, US ratification of the pact would not have much impact on their decision making. Moreover, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report, published on March 30, 2012, concludes that, without nuclear tests, “the United States is now better able to maintain a sage and effective nuclear stockpile and to monitor clandestine nuclear-explosion testing than at any time in the past." In fact, the US has not conducted a nuclear test that requires explosion since 1992.
Another myth is that the United States someday needs to test to develop new type of nuclear weapons. Such nuclear weapons, however, would not be necessary because, as the NAS report notes, the US already has the most advanced nuclear arsenal in the world.
Critics also believe that the CTBT allows different interpretations that very low-yield tests are permitted. However, the Article I of the CTBT clearly bans “any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion.”
The fourth myth is that the CTBT is not verifiable so that states can secretly conduct nuclear weapon tests. In reality, the national and international test ban monitoring capabilities have improved significantly over the last decade. “With the combined capabilities of the international monitoring system (IMS), U.S. national technical means (NTM), and civilian seismic networks,” the ACA mentions, “no potential CTBT violator could be confident that a nuclear explosion of any military utility would escape detection.”
Ratifying the CTBT, therefore, would not weaken the US security as the critics say. Rather, it would enhance the US security by encouraging other states to sign or ratify the treaty. For instance, China showed its willingness to ratify the pact if the US does so (ACA).
As to the Iranian nuclear weapon issue, I think it is more effective that the US shows its willingness to ratify the CTBT before condemning Iran’s acquiring nuclear weapons.