Recently the Clinton administration and proponents of the
Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) kicked into high gear an
aggressive public relations campaign designed to pressure the Senate to
ratify the treaty. The treaty currently is locked in the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, chaired by Sen. Jesse Helms, who does not believe
the treaty to be in the best interest of America’s national security.
Ultimately, U.S. national security is indeed the core moral issue by
which to consider the treaty.
In the foreseeable future, the United States needs safe and reliable
nuclear weapons for national security. These weapons are critical in
deterring nuclear and biological warfare, which would employ weapons of
mass destruction and mass casualties, respectively.
The United States has no ability to shoot down nuclear-armed
ballistic and cruise missiles or to ensure that nuclear devices are not
brought into major U.S. airports or seaports. Neither do we have a
multivalent vaccine capable of protecting all its citizens from the
effects of all known biological agents. Instead, the United States
relies heavily upon the efficacy of its nuclear arsenal to deter nuclear
or biological attack upon itself and its friends and allies.
In 1972, the United States tried the arms control route to enhance
national security against the threat of biological warfare. It signed a
multilateral treaty along with the Soviet Union, pledging to ban the
development, production and stockpiling of biological weapons. By the
time the treaty entered into force in 1975, the United States had closed
down its biological weapons program, feeling safe and secure behind its
robust nuclear weapons program for continued deterrence.
The Soviet Union claimed that it too had closed its biological
weapons program. Instead, the Soviet Union clandestinely expanded the
program, unbeknownst to U.S. intelligence agencies. Recent testimony by
Dr. Ken Alibeck, former first deputy chief of the Soviet biological
weapons program, has revealed that the Soviet Union even went on to
equip some of its intercontinental ballistic missiles with biological
agents targeted at individual American cities the Soviets wanted to
capture intact. Russia may continue to this day maintaining a covert
Even though deceived by the former Soviet Union, the United States
will remain compliant with the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972
(BWC). For the moment, we still have safe and reliable nuclear weapons
for deterrence. America’s political leadership must not add to the
mistake of the BWC by eliminating America’s remaining credible means of
deterring both biological and nuclear warfare. That’s exactly what would
happen if the CTBT were ratified and entered into force.
The CTBT, as interpreted by the Clinton administration, would
prohibit all nuclear tests, even those intended to certify the continued
safety and reliability of the nuclear weapon stockpile. Without periodic
testing, America’s nuclear weapon stewards will not be able to ascertain
the effects of aging on the nuclear components and the effects of
replacing original components with newly manufactured components, or to
test new safety features. Worse still, without periodic testing, and as
scientists with hands-on testing experience reach retirement age,
America will lose the technical expertise required to quickly resurrect
a nuclear testing program in a national emergency. Eventually,
confidence in America’s nuclear deterrence will be gone. This effect
will not be lost on potential aggressors developing their own
clandestine nuclear and biological weapon programs in violation of the
The CTBT is seriously flawed. Instead of serving as an integral
component to an effective national security strategy embodying the
requisite components of arms control, defensive and deterrent forces,
the treaty would castrate the sole remaining effective component –
strategic nuclear deterrent forces.
The Senate has the moral and constitutional responsibility to ensure
the safety and reliability of America’s nuclear deterrent. At a minimum,
it should ensure that the CTBT is amended so that the United States may
conduct low-yield testing sufficient to ensure the continued safety and
reliability of its nuclear weapons.
If the Clinton administration wants a national security legacy that
Americans for generations would be proud of and able to trust, it should
announce its decision to deploy effective national missile defenses
(including ground-, sea- and space-based components) as soon as
possible. The administration should announce the resumption of low-yield
nuclear tests to certify the safety and reliability of all existing U.S.
nuclear weapons, press hard for Russia’s long overdue ratification of
START II, and kick off negotiations for deeper cuts with START III.
George T. Havrilak is senior military analyst for the Family