Kyl should reconsider opposition to nuclear test ban

Kyl first cited complications in detecting North Korea’s 2009 nuclear test as a reason to doubt the ban’s verification regime. It’s true that no radioactive gases and particles were detected in the atmosphere like they were after the North’s 2006 test, as Pyongyang may have used a hardened and deeply buried testing site to prevent such discharge. But the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization reported that 39 of its seismic monitoring stations quickly detected the explosion. Scientists in Japan, Russia, South Korea, the United States, and elsewhere also reported unusual activity consistent with an underground nuclear test.
 
Next, Kyl argued that these alleged verification difficulties would make it impossible to detect cheating. He suggested that this was a threat because Russia might be carrying out low-yield tests in contravention of its testing moratorium. But he did not provide any evidence to support this claim. Even if this were true, without ratification by the United States and other holdouts, the CTBT and its enforcement mechanisms can’t enter into force.
 
And verification has improved to the point that meaningful cheating can’t occur. During the 1999 ratification debates, only 30 percent of the 321 stations that make up the CTBT monitoring system were operational. More than 80 percent are up and running today. The system can detect nuclear explosions with yields as low as 0.07 kilotons that take place in facilities encased in solid rock. For instance, North Korea’s 2006 underground test was detected immediately although it had a yield of less than one kiloton. In the unlikely event that micro yield testing would be undetected, it would be of negligible scientific and military value.
 
Kyl also claimed that the treaty does not define the nuclear explosions it seeks to ban. He warned that the United States would adhere to an outright ban, while Russia would carry out low-yield tests because it does not accept this definition. But the negotiating record is clear. In 1999, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and CTBT negotiator Steven Ledogar testified that agreement had been reached on a “zero-yield” ban. During negotiations, Russian President Boris Yeltsin explicitly endorsed a prohibition on all testing. And prior to Russian ratification in 2000, senior Kremlin defense official Yuri Kapralov assured the Duma of its “zero-yield” nature.
 
Further, Kyl expressed concern over the ban’s provision for on-site inspections. Upon entry into force, the treaty will have an elected Executive Council of 51 member states. Following monitoring data collection, 30 members must vote for an inspection to occur.

Senator Kyl contends that on-site inspections “beyond a doubt would not be achievable” because countries not allied with the United States couldn’t be trusted to act justly. The insinuation that dozens of states will ignore signs of a nuclear test out of hostility to Washington is a far-fetched scenario at best.
 
Despite Senator Kyl’s attempts to prove otherwise, the national security value of the test ban is clear. The United States has conducted 1,054 nuclear tests. That’s 300 more than Russia and 1,000 more than China. With this data advantage, and constantly improving supercomputer simulations and other elements of the Stockpile Stewardship Program, which the JASON scientific panel has expressed high confidence in, the test ban presents an opportunity for unparalleled U.S. nuclear superiority.
 
CTBT ratification will prevent potential enemies and rivals of the United States from developing more accurate, lethal, and deliverable weapons. Iran and North Korea will not be able to build small nuclear warheads for placement on ballistic missiles without testing. China will face great difficulty deploying multiple warheads on missiles.
 
The arguments put forth by Senator Kyl have failed to discredit the CTBT. Accordingly, he should recognize the national security benefits of the test ban and reconsider his opposition to the treaty.
 
Charles D. Ferguson, a physicist and nuclear engineer, is president of the Federation of American Scientists. Stephen Herzog is a visiting research associate with FAS.