U.S. Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century: Getting it Right

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•     Ratification would seriously hamper American science in the area of nuclear thermodynamics and related phenomena.  Even if the various, exotic techniques for simulating nuclear explosions that have been under development for years ultimately bear fruit, the inability to prove clinically the results of such experiments in the only way known to work – underground tests – will deny our scientists the certitude they and the Nation require.

•     The new nuclear threats we will face will require our testing in response.  The apparent introduction by the Russians and perhaps Chinese of so-called “fourth generation” nuclear designs have raised the prospect of potential attacks that we simply do not understand and against which we will, therefore, be unable with confidence to defend our forces and people. Underground testing is essential to such an understanding.

This is especially true given the gravity of threat associated with nuclear attack in the form of an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP), which the U.S. deterrent must be capable of addressing.  As the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack explained in its 2008 report:

“…The electromagnetic pulse generated by a high altitude nuclear explosion is one of a small number of threats that can hold our society at risk of catastrophic consequences.  The increasingly pervasive use of electronics of all forms represents the greatest source of vulnerability to attack by EMP…When a nuclear explosion occurs at high altitude, the EMP signal it produces will cover the wide geographic region within the line of sight of the detonation.  This broad band, high amplitude EMP, when coupled into sensitive electronics, has the capability to produce widespread and long- lasting disruption and damage to the critical infrastructures that underpin the fabric of U.S. society.

“Because of the ubiquitous dependence of U.S. society on the electrical power system, its vulnerability to an EMP attack, coupled with the EMP’s particular damage mechanisms, creates the possibility of longterm, catastrophic consequences.”94

•     Ratification would in no way help counter proliferation.  In fact, for reasons described above, to the extent that American ratification of the CTBT would degrade confidence in the U.S. deterrent, the Treaty will actually likely stimulate proliferation.

Thus, ratification would not be a step toward “a world without nuclear weapons.”  Neither would it be consistent with U.S. national security interests.

The United States must, moreover, resist any notion that the costs of ratifying the CTBT can be mitigated by so-called “safeguards.”  While such measures may give some the impression that ratification is acceptable, they ultimately are meaningless in that they: (1) cannot bind a future Congress; (2) have no effect on the behavior of other signatories, who will continue to act based on their own interpretation of what the CTBT says; and (3) will surely see their funding reduced year-by-year – as history has shown – until ultimately the funding, and the safeguards themselves, disappear completely.

Injection of the safeguards concept into the CTBT ratification discourse also has the insidious effect of shifting the debate away from the issue of whether the treaty should be ratified, and onto the issue of protecting ourselves against adverse effects of some treaty provisions, effectively pre-assuming ratification.  The only way for the United States truly to protect itself against the negative consequences of the CTBT is to refuse ratification until the treaty itself is corrected to reflect U.S. national security interests.

Center for Security Policy

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