Commentary: Ratify the treaty to end nuclear weapons testing

By William Lambers

President Dwight Eisenhower had it right. He wanted to end nuclear weapons testing forever.

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President Dwight Eisenhower

Eisenhower wrote to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, "We believe that this would be an important step toward reduction of international tensions and would open the way to further agreement on substantial measures of disarmament."

Ike started the ball rolling toward ending nuke testing. His efforts, along with those of his successor John F. Kennedy, only led to a partial ban on testing. Nuke testing underground continued.

Eisenhower told Walter Cronkite that not achieving a ban on nuclear testing would "have to be classed as the greatest disappointment of any administration - of any decade - of any time and of any party."

And here we are decades later and the United States still has not ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which would end all nuclear test explosions.

As Aug. 29 is International Day Against Nuclear Testing, we need to redouble our efforts to get this treaty enacted globally. For no one should want to see any nation test nuclear weapons again.

We don't want a return to the Cold War days of the United States test exploding nuclear bombs. Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and others would likely follow our example. An unnecessary and expensive arms race would ensue.

The Senate needs to ratify the treaty, which would encourage other superpowers like China to do the same. Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association says, "Unfortunately, U.S. inaction gives other states, particularly China, a cynical excuse not to ratify the treaty."

So we need to get the diplomacy moving again. There are currently eight nations that need to ratify the CTBT for it to take effect: the United States, Israel, Egypt, China, India, Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea.

A nuclear test has not been carried out by the United States since 1992. A program called Stockpile Stewardship maintains the arsenal without needing test explosions.

However, some senators are reluctant to approve the treaty as they fear that nuclear tests will be needed at some point to maintain the U.S. arsenal.

A science study by JASON, an independent technical review panel, stated in 2009 that the "lifetimes of today's nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence" without the test explosions.

Vice President Biden made the point that "our labs know more about our arsenal today than when we used to explode our weapons on a regular basis." There is no need for nuclear weapons test explosions.

If Republicans and Democrats can agree to continue to support Stockpile Stewardship in the years to come that should alleviate concerns about maintenance issues.

The CTBT treaty has an advanced monitoring system to detect potential cheating of any agreement. This worldwide system of detection stations will only grow stronger if the treaty is ratified.

But, most importantly, we must judge the treaty on whether it can advance world peace. Closing the door on nuclear testing is a road to potential nuclear disarmament. That is the goal we must pursue.

All nations share the dangers of nuclear terrorism, accidental launch, and the heavy cost of these weapons. Every dollar spent on nukes is less for stabilizing regions with refugees, fighting hunger and disease, or protecting the environment. Every dollar invested in nukes is less for science research and education.

It's time to close the book on the era of nuclear testing. Those Cold War days are over. Let's not keep them alive. It's time to move forward. We can start by having the U.S. Senate ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

William Lambers is a journalist and author of "Nuclear Weapons." williamlambers