For decades, nuclear testing has been used to develop new nuclear warhead designs and demonstrate nuclear weapons capabilities by the world’s nuclear-armed states. A global halt to nuclear weapons testing was first proposed in 1954 by Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as step toward ending the nuclear arms race and preventing proliferation.
A global halt to nuclear testing has been a central, bipartisan national security objective of the United States since the late 1950s, when President Dwight Eisenhower sought a comprehensive test ban. The United States and Russia halted nuclear testing from 1958 to 1960, but failed to conclude a permanent ban.
In 1962-63, President John F. Kennedy pursued comprehensive test ban talks with Russia, but the two sides could not agree on the number of on-site inspections and instead, the two sides agreed to the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which prohibits nuclear test explosions in the atmosphere, in outer space, and underwater.
President Jimmy Carter again sought to negotiate a comprehensive test ban treaty with Russia from 1977-1980, but that effort also fell short as U.S.-Soviet relations soured after Moscow's invasion of Afghanistan.
In 1992, following the end of the Cold War and a Russian nuclear test moratorium, President George H. W. Bush announced a halt to the development of new types of nuclear warheads. That same year, Congress mandated a 9-month moratorium on nuclear weapon test explosions. In July 1993, President Bill Clinton extended the U.S. test moratorium.
In 1994, the world's nations finally came together to negotiate the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) to help curb the spread of nuclear weapons and ensure an end to the nuclear arms competition.
In September 1996, the United States was the first nation to sign the CTBT, which prohibits all nuclear weapon test explosions or other nuclear explosions. The CTBT also establishes a global monitoring network called the International Monitoring System (IMS) and provides for the option of short-notice on-site inspections to detect and deter cheating.
The U.S. Senate declined to give its advice and consent to ratification when it briefly considered the CTBT in October 1999. Many Senators who voted "no" expressed concerns about the technical challenges of verification and the ability of the United States to maintain its arsenal without testing. Since then, significant advances in test ban monitoring and the nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship program have addressed many of the concerns expressed during the first Senate debate.
In recent years, international support for the CTBT has grown. An increasing array of Republican and Democratic national security leaders including former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, and former National Security Advisor General Brent Scowcroft have all endorsed U.S. ratification of the CTBT.
On April 5, 2009, President Barack Obama 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."
There is neither the need nor the political support for renewed U.S. nuclear weapons testing, and it is in the national security interest of the U.S. to ratify the CTBT to prevent nuclear weapons testing by others.