Obama Administration Stays the Course on Test Ban

Yesterday a high-ranking U.S. official, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher, gave a speech in which she stated the U.S. government’s intent to move ahead with ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Such “news” about the administration’s speech is not really news at all, but it does signal an important commitment that is being met. President Obama made clear in a speech two years ago in Prague that nuclear security is a high priority for the United States, and dedicated his national security team to practical, pragmatic steps to reduce nuclear risks and increase U.S. security.

December’s bipartisan Senate vote to ratify the New START treaty was a key step in this direction. That bilateral agreement not only restored positive U.S.-Russia security relations, it also closed a gap in U.S. monitoring of Russia’s nuclear programs that had been allowed to lapse. Now, as the treaty is implemented, both nation’s nuclear arsenals are being cut and comprehensive inspections and information exchanges are back in force.

Ratification of the CTBT would be another key step to improving U.S. and international security. It would solidify the global norm against nuclear tests, and make permanent the U.S. moratorium that has been observed since 1992. It will also strengthen the international norm against nuclear testing, cap the arms race in Southeast Asia and improve our ability to detect and deter nuclear tests by rogue states.

These benefits can be realized without hurting our own defenses. There is broad technical agreement that we do not need to conduct nuclear tests to ensure that our remaining weapons are safe or reliable. There have also been marked improvements in our ability to detect and characterize tests or suspected tests. The data collected after the two North Korean tests clearly show this. The CTBT will increase our security by limiting other nations’ nuclear programs – freezing them where they stand today – and preventing new members into the nuclear club.

The United States signed the CTBT some 15 years ago, more than 150 nations have already ratified it. We have tested more than any other nation in the world and have the most advanced nuclear arsenal in the world. Full participation in CTBT is crucial for our stature abroad and our national security at home. The question is not whether, but when the Senate will ratify it.

Yesterday’s “news” is an encouraging sign that the administration has not forgotten its commitment to nuclear security.

Photo courtesty of the CTBT Organization