PDF _ RL33548 - Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty: Background and Current Developments
28-May-2008; Jonathan Medalia; 50 p.

Update: Previous Releases:
March 4, 2008
November 30, 2007
January 18, 2007
July 10, 2006
August 28, 2006

The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization held its 26th session June 20-23, 2006. On March 10, Vietnam became the 132nd nation to ratify the CTBT. On February 23, the United States and United Kingdom jointly conducted a subcritical experiment at the Nevada Test Site. On December 22, 2005, an Indian government official said, “India has stated that it will not stand in the way of the Entry into Force of the [Comprehensive Test Ban] Treaty.” On December 8, the U.N. General Assembly adopted, 168-2, a resolution sponsored by Japan, “Renewed Determination Towards the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons,” that, among other things, urged nations to ratify the CTBT and continue nuclear test moratoria. The fourth conference on facilitating CTBT entry into force was held September 21-23, 2005, at U.N. Headquarters in New York.

Abstract: A comprehensive nuclear-test-ban treaty (CTBT) is the oldest item on the nuclear arms control agenda. Three treaties currently bar all but underground tests with a maximum force equal to 150,000 tons of TNT. The Natural Resources Defense Council states the United States conducted 1,030 nuclear tests, the Soviet Union 715, the United Kingdom 45, France 210, and China 45. The last U.S. test was held in 1992; Russia claims it has not tested since 1990. In 1998, India and Pakistan announced several nuclear tests. Each declared a test moratorium; neither has signed the CTBT. North Korea conducted a nuclear test in 2006.

Since 1997, the United States has held 23 “subcritical experiments” at the Nevada Test Site, most recently on August 30, 2006, to study how plutonium behaves under pressures generated by explosives. It asserts these experiments do not violate the CTBT because they cannot produce a self-sustaining chain reaction. Russia has reportedly held some since 1998, including several in 2000.

The U.N. General Assembly adopted the CTBT in 1996. As of March 4, 2008, 178 states had signed it; 144, including Russia, had ratified; and of the 44 that must ratify the treaty for it to enter into force, 41 had signed and 35 had ratified. Five conferences have been held to facilitate entry into force, most recently in 2007.

In 1997, President Clinton sent the CTBT to the Senate. In October 1999, the Senate rejected it, 48 for, 51 against, 1 present. It is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s calendar. It would require a two-thirds Senate vote to send the treaty back to the President for disposal or to give advice and consent for ratification.

The Bush Administration opposes the CTBT, adheres to the test moratorium, has not ruled out resumed testing, and has no plans to test. It has reduced the time needed to conduct a nuclear test. Critics raised concerns about the implications of these policies for testing and new weapons.

At present, Congress addresses nuclear weapon issues in the annual National Defense Authorization Act and the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act. Congress considers the Stockpile Stewardship Program (listed as Weapons Activities), which seeks to maintain nuclear weapons without testing. The FY2008 appropriation for it is $6.356 billion; the FY2009 request is $6.618 billion. Congress also considers a U.S. contribution to a global system to monitor events that might violate the CTBT. The FY2008 appropriation was $23.8 million; the FY2009 request is $9.9 million. U.S. voting rights in the CTBT Organization Preparatory Commission were suspended on January 1, 2008 for not paying enough dues. The United States paid $23.8 million on February 25, restoring its voting rights.

This report will be updated. For a detailed analysis of pros and cons, see CRS Report RL34394, Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty: Issues and Arguments, by Jonathan Medalia.

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Topics: Risk & Reform, Legislative, International

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