Secretary of State John Kerry and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz last month sought to refocus attention on the issue of U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), in part by stressing the technical advances made since the U.S. Senate voted down the pact 16 years ago.
At an Oct. 21 event in Washington, both men pointed to progress in the Stockpile Stewardship Program, the effort by the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to maintain the long-term safety, reliability, and security of the U.S. nuclear arsenal without nuclear explosive testing. Emphasizing a point that was repeated throughout the Oct. 21 event, they said the NNSA’s understanding of the nuclear stockpile is greater today than it was during the era of nuclear testing.
Moniz reported that last year he had asked the NNSA and the national laboratories it oversees to conduct “a detailed, bottom-up review” to address a key question about the CTBT: “[S]uppose the Senate decided to hold CTBT ratification hearings again; what could you say about our confidence in the stockpile?” The results from the review by the lab directors were “quite gratifying,” he said. “[E]very science-based stockpile tool that had been planned had been built [and] was operating [and] delivering results,…in many cases, well beyond the original expectations.”
Kerry declared, “I am determined that, in the months to come, we’re going to reopen and re-energize the conversation about the treaty on Capitol Hill and throughout our nation.”
He noted that the vast majority of current senators were not in office in 1999, when the Senate rejected the treaty by a vote of 51-48. Because there has been little occasion to focus on the treaty since then, these senators probably are not very familiar with it, Kerry said, emphasizing the need to “start having hearings” and “start having scientists come back up and restate the case.”
In spite of these plans, it does not appear the Obama administration is gearing up for a vote on the treaty in the foreseeable future. In an Oct. 19 speech at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, stressed that the administration is “focused on an open dialogue, rather than a timeline, to refamiliarize senators with the treaty.”
“Ratification of the CTBT will require debate, discussion, questions, briefings, trips to the national labs and other technical facilities, hearings, and more, as was the case” with the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, she said. “The senators should have every opportunity to ask questions—many, many questions—until they are satisfied.”
Gottemoeller’s address was one in a series of scheduled visits and remarks on the CTBT she made during the last two weeks of October. In addition to Alaska, she visited California, Colorado, and Utah.