On this day in history the long and still unfinished journey to a nuclear test ban treaty got its start. President Dwight Eisenhower called for negotiations with the Soviet Union to end nuclear weapons testing on August 22, 1958.
By that time, the U.S. and Soviets had done hundreds of such test explosions, with plenty of radioactive fallout sent into the atmosphere. Ike’s plan was that ending all nuclear testing would further progress toward disarmament. He explained, “It is in this hope that the United States makes this proposal.”
While Eisenhower’s efforts helped set the stage for a partial ban on nuclear tests, the job is not yet complete. The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) needs to enter into force. This treaty would end nuclear tests once and for all.
So how do we get there? The United States Senate needs to ratify the treaty. Without the world’s largest nuclear weapons power on board, the treaty cannot take hold.
There is no need to resume testing to ensure the reliability of the existing nuclear stockpile. Scientific studies have shown this to be the case.
No one may even have the will to resume test explosions anyway. In fact, former U.S. arms control official Ellen Tauscher said, “I do not believe that even the most vocal critics of the CTBT want to resume explosive nuclear testing. What they have chosen instead is a status quo where the United States refrains from testing without using that fact to lock in a legally binding global ban that would significantly benefit the United States.”
As Linton Brooks, former director of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) said, “as a practical matter, it is almost certain that the United States will not test again… I have been in and out of government for a long time. And in recent years I never met anybody who advocated that we seek authorization to return to testing.”
The American public is not going to support a return to nuclear test explosions. Why would anyone want to bring back the Cold War days? That would make no sense. It would be expensive and dangerous in terms of raising international tensions and encouraging others, especially Russia and China, to do their own testing. That scenario would sink any hopes for further nuclear arms reductions.
Russia actually has ratified the treaty. If we resumed testing, that country could withdraw from the agreement. Seven other nations – China, Israel, Iran, Egypt, India, Pakistan, and North Korea – have yet to ratify the CTBT.
We live in a world where nuclear weapons are expensive, dangerous and ultimately useless. We need to take steps to reduce these weapons of mass destruction. The Senate can start by ratifying the CTBT. It’s a treaty which is a bridge to nuclear disarmament.