RL34394 - Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty: Issues and Arguments
12-Mar-2008; Jonathan Medalia; 78 p.
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Abstract: The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty would ban all nuclear explosions. It was opened for signature in 1996. As of March 2008, 178 nations had signed it and 144 had ratified. To enter into force, 44 specified nations must ratify it; 35 have done so. The Senate rejected the treaty in 1999; the Bush Administration opposes it. The United States has observed a nuclear test moratorium since 1992.
There have been many calls worldwide for the United States and others to ratify the treaty. Many claim that it would promote nuclear nonproliferation; some see it as a step toward nuclear disarmament. Several measures have been introduced in Congress regarding the treaty; it might become an issue in the presidential election.
The U.S. debate involves arguments on many issues. To reach a judgment on the treaty, should it come up for a ratification vote in the future, Senators may wish to balance answers to several questions in a net assessment of risks and benefits.
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. 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.
Are monitoring and verification capability sufficient? “Monitoring” refers to technical capability; “verification” to its adequacy to maintain security. Supporters hold that advances in monitoring make it hard for an evader to conduct undetected tests. They claim that any such tests would be too small to affect the strategic balance. Opponents see many opportunities for evasion, and believe that clandestine tests by others could put the United States at a serious disadvantage.
How might the treaty affect nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament? Supporters claim that the treaty makes technical contributions to nonproliferation, such as limiting weapons programs; some supporters believe that nonproliferation requires progress toward nuclear disarmament, with the treaty a key step. Opponents believe that a strong nuclear deterrent is essential for nonproliferation, that nonproliferation and disarmament are unrelated, and that this nation has taken many nonproliferation and disarmament actions that the international community ignores.
This report presents a detailed, comprehensive discussion of the treaty’s pros and cons from a U.S. perspective. It contains an appendix outlining relevant history. It will be updated periodically with views from protagonists. CRS Report RL33548, Nuclear Weapons: Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, by Jonathan Medalia, tracks current developments.