As Trump plays further havoc with humanity – criminal negligence over the pandemic, abuse of human and civil rights, punitive and brutal sanctions, climate catastrophe, new cold war with China – his latest foray into nuclear matters just adds to the list. It has been reported that US officials have discussed the resumption of nuclear testing – ending a 28 year moratorium– in an attempt to pressure China to join New START replacement talks with the US and Russia. To use a nuclear test as a bargaining chip is a disastrous idea and not surprisingly, concern has been widespread.
A number of very distinguished US scientists with expertise on nuclear weapons issues, many with long involvement in the US nuclear weapons programme, wrote an Open Letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. They urged him to work with other members of Congress to ensure that the US does not resume explosive testing of nuclear weapons and they explain why it would serve no technical or military purpose.
The scientists also take up the US administration’s allegation that Russia and China are conducting very-low-yield nuclear tests. They point out that if they are, the yields are so low as to be undetectable by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) which operates an extensive array of seismic and other sensors; undetectable tests would be of no military advantage. But in their opinion, “A US explosive nuclear test would severely weaken the nuclear non-proliferation regime—which could lead to new nuclear-armed states.”
Lassina Zerbo, the head of the CTBTO also responded vigorously, warning that a return to US testing of nuclear weapons would be a challenge to global peace and security. He observed, “… any actions or activities by any country that violate the international norm against nuclear testing, as underpinned by the CTBT, would constitute a grave challenge to the nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime, as well as to global peace and security more broadly.”
The idea has been officially shelved for now, but as evidenced by the views expressed above, even floating the idea of test resumption means that other nuclear powers may start thinking about a return to nuclear testing – or it may even encourage states to develop a nuclear weapons capacity.
The UK ratified the CTBT in 1998 but the treaty lacks sufficient ratifications to enter into force. This must now be rectified. Not only will the treaty decisively put an end to testing, it will also ensure that breaches cannot take place. As Mr Zerbo has pointed out, the only way to remove all doubts about secret testing is to bring the CTBT into force. “At that point, the provisions for on-site inspections would come into effect, allowing for on-site visits at short notice if requested by any state party.”
In other words, if the US actually ratified the Treaty and helped bring it into force, it would be able to request on-site inspections in Russia and China, rather than flinging around allegations.
Entry into force of the CTBT is long overdue and the peace movement internationally can play a role in securing this outcome. It’s time to step up our work on this front.