The National and International Security Value of the CTBT

With or without the CTBT, it is highly unlikely that the United States will ever conduct another nuclear explosive test. There is no technical or military requirement to resume U.S. testing, nor the political will to do so.

On Nov. 28, 2011, Linton Brooks reiterarted this statement, saying "as a practical matter, it is almost certain that the United States will not test again.  The political bar against testing is extremely high.  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." Brooks served as the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration  under President George W. Bush from 2002-2007.

At the same time, it is in the U.S. interest to ensure that other nations do not resume nuclear testing, which could help them perfect new and more advanced types of nuclear weapons. Even though the United States has already assumed most CTBT-related responsibilities, it cannot reap the full security benefits of the CTBT until the Senate approves the treaty by a two-thirds majority.

The CTBT helps block new nuclear threats from emerging, thereby strengthening U.S. and global security. By banning all nuclear weapon test explosions, the CTBT makes it harder for nations that already possess nuclear weapons to perfect newer and more sophisticated nuclear weapons. For instance, a new round of Chinese nuclear weapon test explosions would enable China to miniaturize its warhead designs and allow China to place multiple warheads on its relatively small arsenal of strategic ballistic missiles. This would give China the ability to rapidly increase its long-range nuclear strike force, which is currently less than 40 weapons.

Without nuclear weapon test explosions, could-be nuclear-armed nations—like Iran—would not be able to develop and proof test the more advanced, smaller nuclear warhead designs that could fit on ballistic missiles.
As Dr. Siegfried Hecker, former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, said in October 2009: “the single most important reason to ratify the CTBT is to stop other countries from improving their arsenals.”
Ratification of the CTBT would restore U.S. leadership on nonproliferation and bolster efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons to additional states or terrorists. In 1995, the U.S. and the other nuclear powers promised to deliver on the CTBT in exchange for the indefinite extension of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. U.S. ratification of the CTBT is critical to achieving agreement on new measures to strengthen global nonproliferation rules, such as more effective international nuclear safeguards, tougher penalties against states that violate their commitments, and accelerated efforts to secure vulnerable nuclear material.
As Secretary of State Clinton said on Oct. 21, 2009, “Bringing the [CTBT] into force will strengthen and reenergize the global nonproliferation regime and, in doing so, enhance our own security….”

Ratification of the CTBT would improve U.S. capabilities to detect, deter, and respond to potential cheating. The United States’ capability to detect and deter possible clandestine nuclear testing by other states will be significantly greater with the CTBT in force than without it. U.S. ratification of the CTBT is essential to making short-notice, on-site inspections possible and maintaining long-term political and financial support from other nations for the operation of the CTBT’s International Monitoring System and International Data Center.

There is nothing to gain and much to lose by delaying action on the CTBT.While it might be possible to sustain the unilateral moratoria undertaken by the nuclear testing states for several years, uncertainties and the risk of a resumption of testing will only grow over time. Without the CTBT in force, concerns about clandestine nuclear testing might arise that could not be resolved in the absence of inspections provided for under the Treaty. Failure to achieve U.S. ratification of the CTBT would increase uncertainty and reduce U.S. security.