Ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Should be Secretary Kerry’s Priority

Thomas Graham, Jr. (Ambassador and Special Representative of the President for Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament, 1994-1997)


I would urge Secretary Kerry to use his unique expertise, as a distinguished member of the U.S. Senate for many years and Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, to try to bring home ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty this year. Time is not necessarily on our side.

President John F. Kennedy believed that there was a serious risk that nuclear weapons were destined to sweep all over the world. However, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) was signed in 1968 and entered into force in 1970, and came to be recognized as the principal reason—along with the associated extended deterrence policies of the United States and the Soviet Union—that President Kennedy’s darkest fears have thus far not been realized.

But the success of the NPT is no accident. It is based on a carefully crafted central bargain which consists of a commitment from the non-nuclear weapon states (today more than 180 nations, most of the world) not to acquire nuclear weapons and to submit to international safeguards to verify compliance with this commitment, balanced by a commitment from the NPT nuclear weapon states (now the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China) who pledged unfettered access to peaceful nuclear technologies and to engage in nuclear disarmament negotiations aimed at the ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals. It is this basic bargain that for the last four decades has formed the central underpinnings of the international nonproliferation regime.

The most important element of the NPT basic bargain was, and is, the comprehensive test ban. It was understood at the time of the signing of the NPT that the elimination of the nuclear weapon arsenals of the nuclear weapon states was far in the future. But the NPT was a strategic bargain; it was not a gift from the non-nuclear weapon states. Thus, if they were going to give up the possession of this ultimate weapon, at least, they argued, the nuclear weapon states could in the nearer future take the step of no longer conducting nuclear weapon tests. Without a comprehensive test ban treaty, the NPT is seen by many NPT non-nuclear weapon states, as not being a treaty of balanced obligations. A perceived one-sided NPT will not survive forever. This commitment to the comprehensive test ban treaty was reinforced as part of the political price to permanently extend the NPT in 1995. Yet the CTBT still has not yet come into force after all these years, to a large degree because of the failure of the U.S. to ratify.

It is clear that the United States will not test a nuclear weapon because explosive testing is no longer essential to maintaining the security and reliability of our enduring nuclear stockpile. In addition, the U.S. effort to halt nuclear proliferation would be greatly damaged if the U.S. tested. The world-wide CTBT monitoring network developed in Vienna, Austria has matured to the point where the Treaty now is without question fully verifiable. Without a CTBT, China and Russia may one day resume nuclear testing and improve and expand their nuclear arsenals. Without nuclear weapon test explosions would-be nuclear-armed nations—like Iran—would not be able to proof test the more advanced, smaller nuclear warhead designs that are needed in order to deliver such weapons using ballistic missiles. Thus the CTBT helps block new nuclear threats from emerging, thereby enhancing U.S. and global security. Further, U.S. ratification of the CTBT will immeasurably strengthen international support for the NPT, the bedrock of all efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. The security of the United States and global non-proliferation would be significantly enhanced by the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

This treaty simply must be brought into force as soon as possible. Strategic stability in the world, the viability of the NPT and peace and security in the international community depend upon it. This would be among the greatest of legacies, completing the trail blazed earlier by presidents Kennedy and Clinton.