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Test Ban against Nuclear Terrorism

Posted by Jill Marie Parillo on April 29, 2009

With a 2/3rd majority vote in the U.S. Senate, an international inspection regime to help prevent terrorist groups or rogue states from testing nuclear weapons could go into force.  North Korea tested a nuclear weapon in 2006 and Iran could test in the near future. To build new and small nuclear weapons, useful in a terrorist attack, rogue states must perform nuclear testing.

There already exists an international organization and inspection regime which can pick up and analyze nuclear tests done anywhere in the world.  The organization is called the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). It was set up to verify compliance with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).  The organization has 337 monitoring sites worldwide that can pick up nuclear tests with wave form technology and send raw data to a main base in Vienna, Austria for analysis.  The organization is operating in a testing mode, with just 60% of its system in place, since the treaty it was set up to verify compliance for has yet to be ratified.

Evan at 60% capacity, the CTBTO was able to register North Korea’s underground nuclear test in 2006.  The sites that registered the test distributed data in real time as the test took place and sent the data to Vienna.  Within two hours, the location, magnitude and time of the test were available to test ban treaty signatories.  Analyst reviewed and refined the first test estimates and sent state parties analyses within 48 hours.  Other sites under the Organization performed atmospheric monitoring of the test and proved that radioactive materials were released.  The organization also proved the location of the test within 1,000 square kilometers.

With such data, if the CTBT was implemented, on-sight inspections of nuclear tests can be done, and state signatories will be provided with reliable data from the verification system to make their own judgments

Democrats and Republicans now agree that the U.S. should ratify the CTBT and allow the international inspection regime to operate at 100% capacity.  In a speech April 5 on nuclear nonproliferation, President Obama said he aimed to "immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty."

The CTBT has been signed by 180 nations, and ratified by 148, including all NATO countries and other key U.S. allies.  But the test ban treaty cannot be implemented until it is ratified by nine additional countries, including the United States—which has signed but not ratified the treaty.  U.S. Senate Republicans voted against the treaty in 1999 saying that the verification system was still too immature.

Former Secretary of State for President Ronald Reagan, George P. Shultz, recently said that the system now works, “it detected the North Korean nuclear test" and although his fellow Republicans "might have been right voting against it some years ago…they would be right voting for it now.”

Most national security experts believe that ratification of the CTBT by the U.S. will prompt other hold-out states, including China, India, Iran, Israel and Pakistan, to ratify.  Once ratified, and put into force, the Test Ban Treaty will increase the U.S.’s ability to detect a clandestine nuclear test, and therefore deter adversaries from doing so.

The U.S. has complied with the provisions of the CTBT since 1992, so little will have to be changed after ratification. The real change will come when the United States presents its position to the international community.  Ratification of the CTBT will convey that the United States intends to fulfill its nuclear disarmament commitments under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

With this big incentive, the United States can ask non-nuclear weapon states to strengthen implementation of their own NPT commitments.  For instance, non-nuclear weapon states can be asked to crack down on nuclear technology front companies and strengthen implementation of import-export laws put in place to stop illicit trafficking of dual-use, nuclear energy and weapon, technology.  This is one easy step the United States could take to help prevent the creation of new nuclear weapon states and nuclear weapons suitable for a terrorist attack.

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