The US and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

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  • by Anup Shah
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The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was designed to prevent testing of nuclear weapons and hence reduce the chance of an arms race.

October 13, 1999, the US Senate decided not to ratify the CTBT. This drew condemnation from Bill Clinton and the White House Administration, environmental groups and other governments. The grounds for rejection (ignoring the bipartisan politics that some claim affected this decision) was that if the US ratified this treaty, it would not stop others trying to go nuclear and therefore the US should not ratify on the grounds of national security. The ironic thing is that many nations around the world feel threatened by recent US unilateral actions and are thus beginning to feel that they will need to procure weapons that are more dangerous to assure their own national security. If the U.S. reduced its aggressive postures then other nations perhaps would not feel as threatened -- instead they do and are arming themselves as a result.

A common theme in mainstream US media is the looming threat of China and still of Russia due to their nuclear capabilities. While it is largely arguable regarding the legitimate military threats and intentions that China would have against the US, it is possible that not ratifying the CTBT is not exactly going to help alleviate those fears as it could make China, Russia and others feel more uncomfortable. While the US could take a lead by ratifying the CTBT, they are probably somewhat right in that it will not stop someone who wants to acquire these weapons to go ahead and do so. But something unthinkable or not realized by the US is that perhaps the nuclear threats are increasing due to their unilateral and/or aggressive actions (politically as well as militarily) around the world.

However, if the U.S. were to ratify the CTBT and ensure a positive dialogue between the various nuclear states, that would improve chances of non-proliferation, than doing nothing at all. By not ratifying, any dialogue with other nations about non-proliferation will not have much effect as it will be seen as hypocritical. The chances of other nations then pursuing nuclear options would not reduce and could even increase. Another nasty Catch 22, perhaps.

With two new nuclear powers, India and Pakistan facing stability problems (such as another Pakistani coup and martial law) and conflicts along the Kashmiri border, the threat of using nuclear weapons is always increasing.

Incidentally, US leadership on this would have probably meant that China, India and Pakistan would have then ratified the treaty as well, because China and India mentioned they will ratify once the US does, and Pakistan would if India did. So, as this report mentions, the US is giving up leadership in nuclear disarmament.

Not only could this see an increase in nuclear arms races, but also conventional weapons, such as cruise missiles, as the Center for Defense Information reports.

(Russia, Britain and France, of the "big five" nuclear powers have ratified the CTBT, though Britain and France did it in a controversial way. They performed some nuclear tests in the Pacific ocean, in the French Polynesia regions in the mid to late 1990s. This led to various concerns and impacts on the local environment, but with the tests "out of the way", Britain and France then ratified the CTBT!)

For more about the US actions that would make other nations feel threatened check out the Noam Chomsky Archive. For more about the nuclear proliferation issues, as well as the links above, check out the links below, especially from the Center for Defense Information.

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  • by Anup Shah
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