NAS Report Raises Awareness, Underscores Value of CTBT

The March 30 release of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) generated significant media attention, several opeds, and welcoming statements from key senators.

Released at a press briefing late on a Friday afternoon before a two-week Congressional recess, the NAS study -- "The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban - Technical Issues for the United States"-- might easily have been overlooked by the media and members of Congress.

Fortunately, long-awaited report was covered by several prominent news outlets.

Matt's Wald's story "U.S. Has No Need to Test Atomic Arsenal, Report Says" in The New York Times highlighted that the report’s conclusions “run counter to some of the arguments” used by opponents of the CTBT during the failed attempt to ratify the treaty in 1999.

“We’ve done life extension programs, and we’ve shown we’re able to reset the clock on these weapons,” said Marvin L. Adams, a professor of nuclear engineering at Texas A&M University and a co-author of the report said at the NAS report briefing. Judging from the last ten years, he said in The New York Times, “the summary conclusion is that: yup, it’s difficult, but, gosh, we can do it.”

The March 30 story, "Scientists say no need for nuclear tests, boosting Obama," by Bloomberg reporter Viola Giegner noted that the report findings "might help President Barack Obama's push for Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, an expected administration goal if Obama wins a second term. Still, the debate may pivot on politics more than on science."

In the story, Sidney Drell, a Stanford University professor emeritus of theoretical physics, said the NAS report “strengthened the case technically” and that he hoped for “a serious, non-partisan discussion” on the treaty.

Statements from Senators: In an April 3 statement, Senators Diane Feinstein (D–Calif.), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she hoped her colleagues would give the report “prompt attention.” She called the report a “critical contribution” to what she hoped would be “thorough review” of the CTBT.

Senator John Kerry (D–Mass.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,was quoted in the March 31 New York Times article saying that the world is “more technically advanced” since the first Senate debate on CTBT ratification. He went on to say that groundwork has to be laid so that “senators can look anew at the science, and make a decision on the technical merits.”

Op-eds Highlight Report Findings: Since the release of the report, a number of op-eds have also highlighted the NAS findings -and explained the case CTBT approval for an even wider audience.

Hazel O’Leary, U.S. Secretary of Energy from 1993-1997, weighed in on the significance of the NAS report on CTBT ratification in her April 19 op-ed "New evidence for the nuclear test-ban treaty" in the San Diego Union Tribune.

O'Leary argued that the NAS report “documents significant advances that resolve earlier concerns about the treaty.” She noted that the report found "the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship program - launched under my watch in the mid-1990s - 'has been more successful than anticipated. ...We must be vigilant in maintaining the nation's nuclear stockpile, but doing so does not depend on resuming nuclear test explosions."

O’Leary urged Senators to weigh the technical evidence of the report and “not rush to judgment on the basis of old information.”

In an April 11 op-ed, "No need for nuclear weapons testing any longer," in the Deseret News, former Utah State Representative Trisha S. Beck said that the NAS report proves that there is “no technical or military rationale for resumed nuclear weapons testing.” She went on to write that “now is the time” to permanently ban nuclear testing. Her column elicited nice letters-to-the-editor by Elliot Hansen and Jay Truman.

Dr. Robert Dodge, board member of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, authored an op-ed, "Lead By Example and Ratify Test Ban Treaty," that appeared April 18 in Roll Call. Dodge highlighted the portions of the report that emphasize that both the stockpile stewardship program and monitoring systems for detecting nuclear tests have been more successful than anticipated during the 1999 ratification debate. He also urged the Senate to “reconsider the treaty based on this latest scientific analysis of the issues."

Lawrence Krauss wrote a column titled "It's Finally Time to [Ratify] the Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty," in Slate on April 25 noting that if we are to prevent other nations from resuming testing in the future, the United States must finally approve the CTBT.

Hardcore opponents not moved: Not surprisingly, the small cadre opponents to the test ban treaty revived some of their old arguments against the treaty through two briefings organized by the Heritage Foundation (key arguments summarized here), but even they reluctantly acknowledge the NAS report is a serious, substantial contribution to the debate.
For a rebuttal of their criticisms of the CTBT see ACA's March 30 Issue Brief, "Test Ban Treaty: Myths vs. Realities."

NAS Report On CTBT Goes Global: The 10-nation Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative and the Arms Control Association are also sponsoring a briefing for delegates gathering in Vienna, Austria for the 2012 Nonproliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee meeting. The session, “Bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty info Force,” will take place in Vienna on May 4. Dr. Ellen Williams, chair of the panel that produced the NAS report, and diplomats from Sweden, Mexico, and elsewhere will speak on “Key Findings of the 2012 U.S. National Academy of Sciences Report on the CTBT.”