Dump the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

The Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security,Rose Gottemoeller, gave a speech on 15 September 2014 in Washington, D.C., in which she laid out arguments for why the U.S. needs to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Undersecretary Gottemoeller provided a few of the strongest arguments why ratifying it is a bad idea if one makes U.S. security (and superiority) a priority of the U.S. government. And in doing so, she reiterates the Obama administration’s thinking on the subject of arms control. Rather than it being a means to an end—providing predictability and stability in the pursuit of deterring the spread and employment of mass casualty weapons – it is an end in and of itself, even at the cost of U.S. security.

Here are her arguments:

First and foremost, it is clear that the CTBT is a key part of leading nuclear weapons states toward a world of diminished reliance on nuclear weapons, reduced nuclear competition, and eventual nuclear disarmament.

For starters, Undersecretary Gottemoeller is presuming her audience has already bought into her premise. “The world” doesn’t have one opinion—or reliance—on nuclear weapons. Countries do. More specifically, regimes controlling or governing (depending on the nature of the regime) do. And it isn’t clear to most people, outside the arms control and disarmament crowd, that it’s in the interest of the U.S. to work toward disarming itself. I would argue the opposite, in fact.

The Obama administration has declared in its Nuclear Posture Review that the U.S. would work toward relying on nuclear deterrence less in our national security strategy. So there’s one country that didn’t require the CTBT to rely less on nuclear weapons. But, as the fledgling P5+1 deal with Iran shows, getting Tehran to back away from pursuing nuclear technology is difficult, especially when Iran sees nuclear technology as vital to its national goals. And, even according to Obama administration officials, Russia is leaning more on nuclear weapons than ever. According to Michele Flournoy, President Obama’s former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, “If you read recent Russian military doctrine… they are actually increasing their reliance on nuclear weapons, the role of nuclear weapons in their strategy.”

An in-force CTBT will hinder states that do not have nuclear weapons from developing advanced nuclear weapons capabilities.

Except countries that pursue nuclear weapons are not going to pursue or maintain ones they think might not work (aside from the United States of America, of course, which hasn’t tested a nuclear weapon since President George H.W. Bush set in place the 1992 moratorium, nor has it undergone a serious modernization effort).

States interested in pursuing or advancing a nuclear weapons program would have to either risk deploying weapons without the confidence that they would work properly, or accept the international condemnation and reprisals that would follow a nuclear explosive test.

Exactly! Except not the way she means. Thinking about the U.S., it makes sense that the U.S. would not want to deploy nuclear weapons without full confidence that they would work properly. The whole point of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter conflict and preserve peace and this is fully contingent upon the credibility of our force. And the only regimes that care about international condemnation and reprisals are the ones that the U.S. really isn’t too concerned about improving their nuclear forces. North Korea and Iran are two prime examples of countries that continue to pursue their own agendas even while being squeezed by sanctions and constantly receiving international condemnation.

An in-force Treaty would also impede states with more established nuclear weapon capabilities from confirming the performance of advanced nuclear weapon designs that they have not tested successfully in the past.

This is basically restating the point directly above. It would tie the hands of the United States of America. If our government leaders decide it is imprudent and unsafe to break our self-imposed moratorium on nuclear testing, then they can do that. But future governments of the U.S. might come to the conclusion that it’s been so long since we have tested a weapon that we have lost confidence in the safety and reliability of the force we have. They may decide the best course of action is to resume testing.

Because of this, an in-force CTBT will also constrain regional arms races. These constraints will be particularly important in Asia, where states are building up and modernizing nuclear forces.

On the contrary, U.S. allies in the region may be tempted to pursue nuclear weapons now, not because other countries are testing them, but because confidence in the U.S. nuclear umbrella is eroding. As already discussed, North Korea continues to improve its nuclear program including testing, regardless of international protest and sanctions. China continues to improve nuclear delivery systems signaling it remains confident in the use of nuclear weapons to advance its own agenda in the region. It makes little sense that allies like South Korea or Japan would be persuaded not to build their own nuclear weapons if they feel threatened by the nuclear build-up in the region and less than 100% confident in the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Indeed, in a poll conducted last year, 2/3 of South Koreans surveyed support Seoul acquiring its own nuclear weapons.

For our part, ratification will help enhance our leadership role in nonproliferation and strengthen our hand in pursuing tough actions against suspected proliferators.

This is the age-old argument from arms controllers that insists those regimes who threaten the U.S. or our allies with nuclear weapons might be persuaded by the

American “good example” to not behave in such a way. History has proven just the opposite. Not all regimes are created equal. For example, the U.S. places a premium on the lives of its citizens and on human life in general. A quick glance over North Korea’s horrific abuses of human rights makes it quite clear the regime in Pyongyang has a different set of values.

Nuclear security is a preeminent goal for President Obama and this Administration.

Sorry, Madam Undersecretary, a more accurate statement would be “it is a preeminent goal for President Obama and this Administration to pursue the misguided dream of a world without nuclear weapons, without taking into account human nature, history, or recent events, at the expense of a robust, credible, and reliable American nuclear force.”

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