It is widely understood that nuclear weapons have only been used twice in wartime and with terrible consequences.
Often overlooked, however, is the fact that they have been used elsewhere – through more than 2,000 nuclear test explosions by eight countries since 1945. These detonations, many of which were far larger than the bombs that hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, have harmed lives around the globe, including approximately one and half million people in Kazakhstan alone.
The dangerous health and environmental legacy of nuclear testing is a reality today. With strong bipartisan support, the United States government monitors the health of downwind populations in Utah and Nevada and elsewhere. The government and people of Kazakhstan also bear a heavy, ongoing health and land rehabilitation burden from the era of Soviet nuclear testing.
Through the years, nuclear testing also fueled the development and spread of new and more deadly types of nuclear weapons. Today, the world’s nuclear-armed states still possess nearly 20,000 nuclear weapons – the vast majority of which are held by the United States and Russia.
Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev with support from ordinary citizens effectively closed the Soviet nuclear testing site, based on its territory, in 1991. In 1992, a bipartisan coalition of Congressional leaders mandated a U.S. test moratorium. In 1993, President Bill ClintonBill ClintonSyrian safe zones: Trump's best bet for refugee relief, regional stability Chelsea Clinton attends Muslim solidarity rally in NYC Former Defense chief: Trump's handling of national security 'dysfunctional' MORE launched talks on a global, verifiable Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which were concluded in 1996.
Since then, Republican and Democratic presidential administrations have maintained the moratorium, pressed other states not to test, and contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to build a global test monitoring system and on-site inspection capability to detect and deter nuclear testing by others.
Some two decades later, however, the door remains open to further nuclear testing. Although the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has near universal support, the treaty must still be ratified by eight states – most notably the United States and China – before it can formally enter into force.
Given their existing nuclear test moratoria and signatures on the treaty, Washington and Beijing already bear most CTBT-related responsibilities, yet their failure to ratify has denied them—and others—the full security benefits of the treaty.
With the CTBT fully in force, including the global monitoring system and the option for short-notice on-site inspections, the treaty will help to stop proliferation and reduce the nuclear threat.
By banning all nuclear tests, the CTBT prevents the established nuclear-weapon states from proof-testing new, more sophisticated warhead designs. And without nuclear test explosions, newer nuclear-armed states would have a far more difficult time developing and fielding smaller, more easily deliverable warheads.
With the CTBT in force, our ability to detect and deter possible clandestine nuclear testing by other states will be significantly stronger. Entry-into-force is essential to making short-notice, on-site inspections possible.
This week our organizations will host a conference in Washington on the human and security dimensions of nuclear testing and the challenges facing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The event will include presentations from independent experts and senior U.S. officials, as well as the head of the international organization responsible for maintaining the treaty’s global test monitoring and verification system.
Beginning this week, we hope the Barack ObamaBarack ObamaTrump's next immigration challenge may be beyond the northern border Five big Trump narratives to watch An honest look at Presidents Day MORE administration will reiterate the case for the treaty’s ratification and global entry into force and we respectfully encourage the Senate to take a fresh look at the agreement.
It is also crucial, especially in this time of renewed U.S.-Russian tensions, that Washington and Moscow and Beijing provide support to those states, including U.S. allies in Central Asia, that seek to establish zones free of nuclear weapons.
The Central Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty would help ensure the security of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan by helping to ensure that no nuclear-armed state can threaten the security of nonnuclear weapon states.
Earlier this year, protocols to the treaty were signed by the five original nuclear weapon states. In order for the Central Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone to take effect the Obama administration must transmit that treaty to the Senate for its advice and consent for ratification, and the other nuclear-armed states must also ratify.
After conducting 1,030 nuclear test explosions, the United States simply doesn’t need or want further nuclear test explosions to maintain its remaining nuclear arsenal. Other states, however, could improve their nuclear capabilities through further testing. For the safety and security of this generation and those to come, it is time to take the actions needed to close and lock the door on nuclear testing.
Umarov is the ambassador of Kazakhstan to the United States. Kimball is executive director of the Arms Control Association, and Walker is director of Environmental Security and Sustainability with Green Cross International.