The Nuclear Test Ban, Twenty Years Later

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Twenty years since completion of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty negotiations, the Treaty remains in limbo because of its non-entry-into-force provision. States recognized by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as having the Bomb didn’t want to shut the door completely against renewed testing. They got half a loaf: no entry into force, but no testing. Those who wanted the Treaty also got half a loaf – no testing by the Nuclear Weapons States, but no Treaty. Twenty years later, no one is satisfied with this meal.

The year before the CTBT’s negotiating endgame, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was indefinitely extended. The two treaties have long been intertwined. The NPT’s indefinite extension was linked, in part, to the promise of the CTBT’s completion, because nuclear testing weakens the NPT. Even without testing, extensive strategic modernization and replacement programs weaken the NPT. Dissatisfaction with the NPT among non-nuclear-weapon states is growing, while near-term prospects for the CTBT’s entry into force and other positive steps by the NWS seem remote.

In retrospect, the period of the NPT’s indefinite extension and the CTBT’s negotiation culminated a long string of success stories for arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. There are linkages here, as well: Success on one front has always enabled success on others. The achievements of 1995 and 1996 were preceded by the negotiation of deep cuts in Cold War-sized superpower arsenals, the denuclearization of newly independent Soviet states, the initiation of creative cooperative threat reduction programs to deal with the threat of loose nukes and nuclear terrorism, and the US Senate’s consent to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention.

After these success stories, positive steps have been overshadowed by two debilitating trends. One is an increase in partisanship in the United States. The other is the deterioration of US-Russian relations. The withdrawal of Republican support for treaties was painfully evident when the Senate rebuffed the Clinton Administration’s botched attempt to ratify the CTBT in 1999.

Just as progress between Washington and Moscow used to be marked by treaties and other accords, deterioration is now reflected in the withdrawal – formal, de facto, or suggestive – from compacts. This long list includes the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the missile defense demarcation accord (Washington); and the second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Incidents at Sea Agreement, and the Dangerous Military Practices Agreement (Moscow).

We can’t blame the non-entry into force of the CTBT for this downhill slide, whose reasons are worthy of introspective debate. We can, however, date the first distinctive marker of the troubles to come from the CTBT’s noxious entry-into-force provision. A different outcome might have been possible had the negotiating parties agreed to tackle the EIF provision earlier in the negotiations instead of at the eleventh hour. For this to have happened, the Clinton Administration needed to get in front of this issue and rally support for a less onerous provision.

It was very hard for outsiders to intervene in a timely manner on such a fine-print issue. And when they did intervene, it was too late to succeed. I still remember a shouting match with Bob Bell, who worked on the National Security Council staff back then, because neither Bob nor I were shouters. We were arguing about the entry-into-force provision of the CTBT.

I also remember organizing a meeting with Tony Lake, President Clinton’s National Security Advisor, on the EIF provision. Attending were Cyrus Vance, Paul Warnke, Andrew Goodpaster, and Stan Resor. I remember reaching out to McGeorge Bundy about the meeting, and he, too, weighed in. For some readers, the name Stan Resor might not ring a bell. He was decorated soldier in World War II, a Wall Street lawyer, a Republican recruited by LBJ to be Secretary of the Army, a negotiator for conventional arms reductions in Europe, and Chairman of the Board of the Arms Control Association. Back then, it was more than OK for Republican heavyweights to support treaty-making.

Secretary Vance flew in from New York. I picked him up at National Airport in the Krepon Towne Car, a Subaru that was cleaned for the occasion. He was wearing a crisp gray Homburg that seemed to part the air before him like a windbreak. I had a parking pass allowing me to drive right into a reserved space near the entrance to the West Wing of the White House. Heady stuff.

This group of stalwarts tried to convince Tony Lake to convince his boss to pick up the phone to call London, Paris, and Moscow to revise the EIF provision. I was told a bit later that London did agree to a better provision, if one could be negotiated, and that Paris was weighing a change. But the call to Moscow was never made, according to my source. Time was running short, and the Clinton White House calculated that a treaty with a bad EIF was better than no treaty at all. We could fix the EIF provision later.

Twenty years later, we’re still waiting for this fix. Meanwhile, the deterioration of arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation continues apace.

Note to readers: There will be a luncheon meeting at the Stimson Center on the status of the CTBT and NPT on Thursday, February 11th, at 12:30pm. Speakers will be Ambassador Susan Burk, Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association, David Koplow of Georgetown University Law Center, and me.

This piece originally ran in Arms Control Wonk, February 9, 2016

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