"I want to tell you that your fact sheet on the [Missile Technology Control Regime] is very well done and useful for me when I have to speak on MTCR issues."

– Amb. Thomas Hajnoczi
Chair, MTCR
May 19, 2021
The CTB Treaty and Nuclear Non-Proliferation: The Debate Continues - Kathleen C. Bailey
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The Testimony of Kathleen C. Bailey

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you and members of the subcommittee to address the relationship between the nuclear non-proliferation regime and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The views I express today are my own and not necessarily those of any institution.

Let me start with my conclusion, which is that the CTB fails the cost-benefit test. Specifically, it will not accomplish the nonproliferation goals as set out for it by the administration and, at the same time, the treaty will seriously degrade the U.S. nuclear deterrent and, thus, will have a high national security cost. I would like to take each of the five principal non-proliferation goals as set out by the administration for the CTB and give you the bottom-line conclusion that I have made about them.

Goal number one that I will discuss is that the CTB is alleged to constrain nuclear proliferation. The CTB will not meaningfully constrain nations that want to acquire a workable nuclear weapons design. A state that wants to produce a nuclear weapon can do so without nuclear testing. As acknowledged by the two previous speakers, the Hiroshima bomb as well as South Africa's arsenal were untested devices.

Furthermore, non-boosted, implosion-type weapons may be designed with high confidence, without testing.

Testing is not essential today as it was in past for proliferating nations because the information related to nuclear weapons is now widespread. University courses, the information superhighway, advanced computers, new materials, and production technologies—all of these enable a nation to design with high confidence a weapon that would in the not-so-distant past have been considered relatively sophisticated.


The 'Unconventional' Needs of Proliferators

Now, critics may argue that new proliferators would want to test a device design, just as the United States usually does, before stockpiling it. However, there are important differences between proliferators' needs, perspectives and targeting requirements versus those of the United States and Russia.

During the Cold War, both sides focused on targeting one another's military sites. A premier objective has been pinpoint strikes against small targets such as silos, rather than cities. This dictated high-performance delivery systems, which, in turn, required tight parameters on the allowable weight, size, shape, safetymeasures and yield.

Now, by comparison, proliferant nations are not likely to target silos. Instead, they are likely to target cities. Their delivery vehicles may be ships, boats, trucks or Scud-type missiles. Proliferators may not care whether the yield they obtain is exact. They may not have tight restrictions imposed by advanced delivery systems or safety standards like those that we and Russia have. And they are unlikely to have highly complex weapons designs. Furthermore, proliferators may have an entirely different standard for reliability. All of this boils down to one thing: It is quite feasible for a nation to develop a device that will work as long as it does not matter if the yield is exactly known and there are no exacting specifications which must be met.


Challenges to the NPT

Goal number two is to save the non-proliferation regime. I contend that the Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT] is at risk and ratification of the CTB will not save the NPT. There are at least three major challenges to the NPT which threaten to unravel it: the demand for a timetable for "zero" nuclear weapons; growing dissatisfaction with U.S. technology transfer restrictions; and erosion of the NPT's contribution to security.

Now, I have outlined in detail all three of these in my written testimony, but verbally I will address only one of them now.

A contradiction exists, as Spurgeon Keeny pointed out, in that the nuclear-weapon states pledged in the NPT that they would work in good faith toward total nuclear disarmament. Simultaneously, however, the nuclear-weapon states have continued to rely on nuclear deterrence for security, and they have said that disarmament is a long-term rather than near-term goal.

At the NPT Review and Extension Conference of 1995, the U.S. and others agreed to negotiate a CTB, touting it as a step toward total nuclear disarmament. Now, however, NPT parties are in the process of discovering that the CTB does not constitute a step toward disarmament that they had thought it was. This is because nuclear-weapon states are not by any means abandoning nuclear deterrence but are instead taking steps to assure that their stockpiles will remain safe and reliable and, therefore, usable despite the testing ban. The U.S. stockpile stewardship program is designed to defeat nuclear erosion. Thus, the goal set for the CTB by many nations is effectively undermined by a successful stockpile stewardship program.

It is the dependence of the nuclear-weapon states on deterrence, despite the NPT commitment to disarmament, that is the source of greatest danger to the non-proliferation treaty, and this conflict will persist regardless of whether the CTB is ratified by the United States or not.

Goal number three, establishing an international norm, I will also gloss over fairly briefly because I view it as pretty inconsequential. History is replete with examples when norms and even legally binding treaties, which are a much stronger constraint, have failed to inhibit nations. For example, the Biological Weapons Convention set up an international norm against biological weapons production, possession, and use, but we have two examples today of nations that we know are pursuing and have in their hands biological weapons. One is Iraq; the other is Russia. And we don't know how many others. So international norms come and go without much effect.

Let's turn to goal number four. The administration has declared that the CTB is effectively verifiable. Let me define what I mean by effective verifcation, and I think it is a generally accepted definition. It means "high confidence that militarily significant cheating will be detected in a timely manner." In the case of the CTB, of course, this would mean that you are highly confident that you will be able to detect within hours or a few days of the event any nuclear testing which will provide the tester with militarily significant information.


Evading the Test Ban

Now, there are two questions that we need to answer in looking at the CTB. First: What yield nuclear test gives the tester militarily significant information? The second question is: Can the CTB verification system detect to that level?

Now, I have taken the conservative approach and said that the basic cutoff point of militarily useful testing is 500 tons, and I selected that number because of the attachment that you will see in my testimony. This table was put together in 1995 by the three nuclear weapons laboratories for presentation to the administration to explain why our nuclear weapons designers would like to be able to continue testing at a level of 500 tons under the CTB. We assume for the sake of argument that a very low number, 500 tons—or it could, of course, be 10 kilotons or some other higher number—is militarily useful. The International Monitoring System of the CTB is expected to provide the ability to detect, locate and identify non-evasive testing of 1 kiloton or greater. Thus, it is clear that the monitoring system will not be able to detect 500 tons or more, up to a kiloton.

However—and this is a very important point—a nation may conduct nuclear tests evasively which would allow several kilotons to be tested with little or no risk of detection. One method by which this might be done is decoupling—that is, detonation of the device in a cavity that can reduce the seismic signal by as much as a factor of 70. This means, for example, that a kiloton explosion would be made to look seismically like a 14-ton explosion fully coupled. A 10-kiloton explosion would look only like a 0.14-kiloton explosion.

Let me give an interesting example. The United States conducted two nuclear tests in the Tatum salt dome located at Chilton, Mississippi. "Sterling," the test conducted on December 3, 1966, had a yield of 380 tons, but the apparent seismic yield was only 5.3 tons. Thus, you can see that the salt dome decoupling effect made the test look much, much smaller.

Now, in his testimony, John Holum said that decoupling was a sophisticated measure, that it would be difficult for countries to achieve. That is patently untrue. I would like to quote from a document that I got recently—an unclassified intelligence community report. It says, "The decoupling scenario is credible for many countries for at least two reasons: first, the worldwide mining and petroleum literature indicates that construction of large cavities in both hard rock and salt is feasible, with costs that would be relatively small compared to those required for the production of a nuclear device; second, literature and symposia indicate that containment of particulate and gaseous debris is feasible in both salt and hard rock."

So I would suggest to you that decoupling is not a terribly big challenge and that it is quite a feasible scenario.

However, let's assume that the country is unable to get a large cavity and is not able to decouple its device. What could it do? Well, I would suggest that one of the easiest things to do would be to put the device that it wanted to test on a barg, send it out to the ocean, let the detonation occur, and wait for the International Monitoring System and The New York Times and CNN to tell them what the yield was. That test would be very difficult to attribute, and perhaps impossible.

So the bottom line is this comprehensive test ban is not effectively verifiable, and militarily significant testing can take place with very little or no risk of detection.


Nuclear Modernization

Let's turn now to goal five, which is constraining nuclear modernization. I would agree with administration officials who say that the CTB will constrain the United States and others from being able to modernize their nuclear weapons. But I would see this as a bad thing, not a good thing. Let me give you some examples of three instances in which we would need possibly to modernize our nuclear forces.

In one case, we might need to increase safety measures for our nuclear weapons. We cannot say what new technologies will be discovered in the future that would greatly enhance the safety of our nuclear weapons. It is like saying in 1949 we didn't know that airbags for automobiles would come along in the 1990s. Well, that technology was unknown then. The same kind of thing happens. Technology marches. You find out later that there is a new discovery that you could apply to an old problem of safety, and you need to be able to test to implement that.

Secondly, modernization may be needed for new requirements. We say that we don't have any current new requirements that would make us need a new device design or testing. But that might change. There may be emerging threats. For example, Desert Storm taught us that we need to be able to strike deeply buried targets such as hardened underground bunkers, and we modified the B-61-11 bomb. There may be future instances in which we would need to have a new or redesigned bomb.

There may be emerging defensive technologies. There may be a quantum leap somewhere in which Russia or some other nation may develop a technology that would render our weapons obsolete overnight, and we would need to be able to adjust our deterrent to meet that counterforce challenge.

We would also need to adjust new delivery systems. Years ago we didn't anticipate the global positioning system—the satellite system that enables pinpoint accuracy and that has revolutionized delivery systems. Well, what if there is a new discovery in the future that would enable us to have a more streamlined, lightweight, effective delivery system? If that is the case, we may need a new warhead to go with it. So we should not preclude U.S. ability to test should we need to change our nuclear arsenal.

I would like to raise here another consideration which is not mentioned by the administration and I think is terribly important, and that is that the CTB may actually promote nuclear proliferation. Nuclear testing has demonstrated to our allies, as well as to potential adversaries, that we have a strong commitment to our allies and that our nuclear deterrent is strong. Any decline in the confidence that we have or in our commitment to nuclear deterrence could signal to other nations that are now under our nuclear umbrella that we are not serious. And I would suggest to you that sophisticated nations—Japan, Germany, Italy, who knows which countries—would revisit whether or not they might need their own nuclear option in the future.


A High Cost for Limited Benefit

So the punchline is the CTB will not meaningfully accomplish the five non-proliferation goals set out for it. It won't stop nations from designing and deploying nuclear weapons. It will not save the NPT. It will not detect militarily significant cheating. And the international norm that it would create is essentially not meaningful.

Thus, the potential benefits of the CTB to nuclear non-proliferation are meager. On the other hand, the CTB will have a profound impact on the ability of the United States to assure that its nuclear weapons continue to be safe, reliable and effective. Ratifying the CTB will foreclose the ability of the United States to modernize its nuclear forces because U.S. compliance will be certain. So the limited political benefits of the CTB are vastly outweighed by the costs to national security.

I would like to take one moment to correct what I view are some omissions or errors in fact of statements that have been made here today. I will be very brief.

One is that it was stated that we have had no need for nuclear testing since the [U.S.] moratorium began in 1992. Sig Hecker, the former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, said in writing last fall that indeed there have been instances since 1992 that, had we not had a moratorium in effect, the U.S. technical community would have advised a nuclear test. That is the first point.

The second is Senator [John] Glenn [D-OH] pointed out that computers today are "able to replace testing." Laboratory directors have said that computers will not replace testing. Virtual reality cannot replace reality. More importantly, the head of the advanced supercomputer program at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has said that the success of the [U.S. computing] initiative is uncertain and we won't know for quite some time whether or not the computer systems will perform as planned.

Finally, a question was asked whether or not other nations had honored moratoria in the past. The answer is "no," they have not. Not only did the Soviet Union break out of the moratorium, leaving us flat-footed in the 1958 to 1961 timeframe, but also, as former Secretary of Defense Perry testified before Congress in January of 1996, the current moratorium may have been broken by Russia. No further public details were given on that so I can't go beyond that, but it appears that there was suspicious activity then.

There are other factual difficulties, but I will stop now and turn to questions.

Thank you.

Kathleen C. Bailey, a senior fellow at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, servied as assistant director for nonproliferation at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (1987-1991) in the Bush administration.