President Clinton submitted the long sought Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTB) to the Senate for ratification, but it falls far short of its description as “comprehensive” and it doesn’t ban nuclear tests. Indeed, in 1997 and 1998, three so-called “sub-critical” nuclear test was conducted 1000 feet below the desert floor at the Nevada Test Site in which 3.3 pounds of deadly plutonium was blown up with chemical explosives without causing a chain reaction, hence “sub-critical”. Three more are scheduled for 1998 with more to come, as part of a thirteen year $60 billion “stockpile stewardship program” which will enable the weaponeers to design new nuclear bombs in computer simulated virtual reality. These computers are not laptops. The program includes the stadium sized $3.4 billion National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, computers as large as houses, and technology for prototyping new weapons and developing virtual manufacturing. The testing of a new post-cold war nuclear weapon, the B61-11 earth penetrating “bunker buster” in Alaska has been revealed, and a replacement for nuclear warheads on Trident submarines is in design, with plans for missile flight tests in 2002 and 2003.
Clinton’s 1995 announcement supporting CTB negotiations was coupled with a promise to deliver on the stewardship program, ostensibly to secure the “safety and reliability” of the US arsenal. Yet in 1992, Clinton decided not to end a nine month moratorium, declaring that our weapons were safe and reliable and that the costs of resumed testing outweighed the benefits.
Noted retired weapons designers, Ray Kidder (Livermore) and Richard Garwin (Los Alamos), agree that we can maintain the arsenal’s safety and reliability without the costly stewardship program. Kidder argues that the underground tests will raise international distrust of our good faith intentions to comply with the CTB and both Garwin and Kidder propose that the better option would be to maintain the capability to re-manufacture existing weapons, without the need for new designs which could create the need for ever more tests. Indeed, during the debate on whether to extend the 1992 moratorium, the Congressional Record revealed that since 1950 there were 32 airplane crashes with nuclear bombs aboard, and although two of the crashes resulted in the scattering of plutonium (over Thule Greenland and Palomares Spain), none of the weapons ever exploded! So much for safety. As to reliability, that goes to whether the weapons perform with the strength for which it is designed – a lethal and unnecessary exercise with the end of the cold war. Then why this deal with the labs?
Clinton promised to provide the Pentagon and the weaponeers the ability to design new nuclear weapons in order to buy their acquiescence for Senate ratification of the CTB. History presents a sad parallel. In 1963, when President Kennedy sought ratification of the Partial Test Ban Treaty, Deborah Shapely notes, in Promise and Power: The Life and Times of Robert McNamara, that:
The foes of the test ban in Congress, who were ready to do battle with Kennedy and expected to gain momentum from military testimony, were disappointed. The chiefs did testify for the treaty, because in the locked room they had demanded an enormous price: more funding for the weapons labs, preparation to test quickly in case the Soviets violated the agreement, and other conditions. The net effect was to strengthen the weapons labs, expand U.S. underground testing, and continue the arms race.
The irony here is that continued design capacity for a new generation of nuclear weapons, in exchange for Pentagon support for CTB ratification, will undermine its international entry into force. For the CTB to become a binding agreement, the 44 nations with nuclear reactors on their soil must become signatories. (This unusual requirement is an acknowledgment of the bomb-making capacity of nations in possession of commercial reactors.) Countries such as India and Pakistan announced that they will not sign the CTB as long as the US continues its provocative program. Using our advanced technology to design nuclear weapons serves as an invitation to less developed countries to test and develop nuclear arsenals by more antiquated methods.
India reacting to the July 1997 sub-critical test, stated that its opposition to the CTB as “not genuinely comprehensive” was vindicated as the pact contained “loopholes … exploited by some countries to continue their testing activity, using more sophisticated and advanced techniques”, and is a discriminatory non-proliferation measure that does not contribute to global nuclear disarmament. China also expressed its concern to the US.
The American public is clearly opposed to such activities. A recent poll by Celinda Lake of Lake Sosin Snell and Associates indicates that 87% of all Americans think we should negotiate a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons just as the world has done for chemical and biological weapons. And 84% said they would feel safer if they knew for sure that all countries, including the US had eliminated their nuclear arsenals.
Public concern is increasingly echoed by some of our most distinguished scientists and military leaders. The National Academy of Sciences called for much deeper cuts in the arsenal, going down to 1000 bombs and then to a few hundred each for Russia and the US. General Lee Butler, Commander of US Air Force and Navy strategic nuclear forces from 1992 to 1994 , has been joined by a number of other high ranking military leaders in saying that the continued possession of nuclear weapons increases international insecurity because the very existence of nuclear arsenals in some nations provides an incentive to other nations to acquire them. This warning, coupled with overwhelming public concern, should be a signal to the Clinton administration to support a “clean CTB” unencumbered by the baggage of the proposed $60 billion recipe for nuclear proliferation. Economists have calculated in 1995 that a passive curatorship program of the arsenal, while it awaits dismantlement, would cost only $100 million a year. It’s time to end this final chapter of the Cold War. (Copies of the Abolition 2000 public opinion poll on nuclear weapons are available at GRACE, 15 E. 26 St., NY, NY 10010; 212-726-9161 (tel); 212-726-9160 (fax); firstname.lastname@example.org)