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The CTB Treaty and Nuclear Non-Proliferation: The Debate Continues - Spurgeon M. Keeny Jr.
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The Testimony of Spurgeon M. Keeny Jr.

Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, I am honored to be here today at your invitation to present my views on the relationship between the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and nuclear non-proliferation. I particularly appreciate this opportunity to discuss this issue with you, an issue which I have been involved in in a number of capacities since 1948.

As outlined in my prepared statement, my involvement began as an officer and civilian in Air Force intelligence, tracking the emerging Soviet nuclear weapons program, the first case of nuclear proliferation, and then as an active participant in the initial efforts of Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy to negotiate a comprehensive test ban.

Looking back on the past 50 years, I am indeed pleased that the CTBT has at last been completed and is now before the Senate for its advice and consent.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to commend you and your committee for holding hearings on the impact of the CTBT on U.S. nuclear non-proliferation policy. This is the reason that the treaty is of such great importance to U.S. security.

As you requested, I will focus my remarks on the five specific reasons for ratification from the White House Working Group on the CTBT.

First, I agree with their first reason: " The CTBT will constrain the development of more advanced...weapons by the declared nuclear powers." In fact, as a practical matter, I believe it will prevent such developments by these states. By these developments, I mean not only radical new concepts such as the nuclear explosion-pumped X-ray laser or pure fusion weapons, but also new designs for classical two-stage thermonuclear weapons with significantly different parameters from existing weapons.

Even the very sophisticated research facilities and advanced supercomputers called for in the U.S. Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program (SSMP) will not permit the development, production and deployment of such advanced new weapons in which responsible officials would have confidence. Pursuit of new designs would appear to be even more problematic in the case of other nuclear-weapon states that will not share the luxury of the elaborate facilities available to the United States in its stewardship program.

Within the U.S. stewardship program, one might make minor modifications in existing weapons designs to take into account changes in materials or manufacturing techniques which could be checked out by supercomputers and non-nuclear testing. However, to maintain high confidence in the U.S. stockpile, such modifications would have to be closely controlled and held to an absolute minimum. And there is no reason to think many such changes would be deemed necessary even over a very extended period of time.

Now, all of this is not to say that the CTBT can prevent scientists in the weapons laboratories in this country or abroad from thinking about new designs which might be of interest in the unlikey event that the test ban regime collapsed. It is indeed difficult, however, to imagine the circumstances in which responsible political, military or scientific leaders in any nuclear-weapon state would be interested in employing unproven designs in the absence of testing when a wide variety of highly reliable, proven weapons are already available in their arsenals.


'To Pursue Negotiations in Good Faith...'

Second, I agree that, "The CTBT will strengthen the NPT regime and the U.S. ability to lead the global non-proliferation effort." Moreover, I believe the failure of the United States to ratify the CTBT promptly will seriously undercut U.S. ability to carry out its critical role in leading the global non-proliferation effort.

The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which constitutes the framework for the non-proliferation regime, is by its very nature discriminatory since it divides the world into nuclear weapons haves and have-nots. The treaty was based on the correct assumption that most countries are more concerned with preventing their neighbors and adversaries from acquiring nuclear weapons than with maintaining the option to acquire such weapons for themselves or, for that matter, with requiring the existing nuclear-weapon states to divest themselves of weapons as a precondition. Nevertheless, serious concern about the treaty's discriminatory nature was, and remains, a divisive factor within the regime.

Article VI was included to obligate the nuclear-weapon states "to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament."

When President Eisenhower initiated the first comprehensive test ban negotiations in 1958, he then saw it as the best hope to constrain both the nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union—vertical proliferation—and the spread of nuclear weapons beyond the three countries that then possessed them—horizontal proliferation. President Kennedy shared these hopes and resumed the negotiations that had been recessed after the shoot-down of the U2 over Sverdlovsk. Unfortunately, these early negotiations failed to produce an agreement.

A decade later, the NPT, which was successfully negotiated under President Johnson and ratified by President Nixon, provided a strong barrier to horizontal proliferation. The NPT also banned nuclear testing for all non-nuclear-weapon parties to the treaty since they foreswore the development or acquisition of nuclear explosive devices.

In these circumstances, the non-nuclear-weapon states that were parties to the treaty looked on the continued nuclear testing by the nuclear powers as a constant reminder of the discriminatory nature of the NPT. They looked on progress in achieving a global comprehensive test ban as the most visible demonstration of the willingness of the nuclear-weapon states to end the nuclear arms race. The global cessation of nuclear testing has become the litmus test of the seriousness of the nuclear-weapon states to meet their obligations under Article VI of the NPT.

When the NPT came up for renewal at its 25th anniversary conference in 1995, there was considerable dissatisfaction with the record of the nuclear-weapon states in fulfilling their obligations under Article VI, particularly with regard to the nuclear test ban. The conference had to decide whether to extend the NPT indefinitely or for only a fixed period.

In view of the significance of the decision, the conference sought approval of inefinite extension by consensus rather than the simple majority required by the treaty. This consensus was achieved by the adoption of a resolution of principles and objectives which contained many commendable generalizations but one very specific objective: the completion of a universal CTB Treaty no later than the end of 1996.

To the surprise of many, the CTB Treaty was completed on schedule, in large part due to the initiatives taken by President Clinton, and then was opened for signature on September 24, 1996. To date 149 states have signed the treaty, including the five nuclear-weapon states, and eight countries, by my count—soon to be joined by France and Britain—have ratified the treaty. However, most key countries, including Russia and China, as has been pointed out, will not move on ratification until the U.S. Senate acts.

Third, I agree that, "The CTBT will constrain 'rogue' states' nuclear weapons development and other states' nuclear capabilities." The treaty cannot by itself, however, prevent such states from obtaining a first generation nuclear weapons capability. When the CTBT enters into force with essentially worldwide support, including the five nuclear-weapon states, an international legal norm against testing will have been established. While this could not prevent testing by a rogue state, the act of testing would, by violating a universal norm, put that state at odds with the entire international community and make it a prime candidate for serious sanctions.

Technically, however, such a "rogue" state could develop a first generation nuclear weapon without testing. Such a weapon would probably be similar to the untested gun-type U-235 weapon that destroyed Hiroshima or the plutonium implosion weapon that had been successfully tested at Trinity prior to use against Nagasaki, or the early U-235 implosion weapons tested by China. Such weapons are known to have been developed (without tests) by South Africa, and presumably by Israel and Pakistan as well.

Such a rogue state would not, however, be able to go very far in optimizing and miniaturizing fission weapons and would certainly not be able to develop thermonuclear weapons without extensive testing or access to detailed plans and direct technical assistance from a nuclear-weapon state that had successfully developed and tested them.

Although the undeclared nuclear-weapon states—India, Israel and Pakistan—which presumably already have first generation weapons, are more experienced in the field, they would also not be able to develop thermonuclear weapons without testing or external assistance by a nuclear-weapon state. If a state were a member of the NPT, such a program would, of course, be a violation of the NPT and would probably be revealed by the new, more intrusive IAEA inspection program, which can inspect suspicious sites.


Treaty Verification

Fourth, I agree that, "The CTBT will improve America's ability to detect and deter nuclear explosive testing." Under the CTBT, the establishment of the International Monitoring System [IMS], with stations in Russia and China, and mandated procedures for on-site inspections of suspicious events will significantly supplement the already impressive unilateral U.S. system of national technical means [NTM] with which the United States has successfully monitored nuclear testing worldwide since the first Soviet nuclear test in August 1949.

The IMS, when fully operational, is designed to have a worldwide identification capability down to about one kiloton, lthough I believe in geographic areas of special interest it will be considerably better than that. The IMS has the advantage that it will be an open international operation so that all parties to the treaty have access to the data and will not be solely dependent on U.S. conclusions, which are often based on data that the United States is not prepared to share and which some parties may perceive as biased. Moreover, the treaty establishes specific procedures to allow on-site inspections of suspicious events. The prospect of on-site inspections should act as a powerful deterrent since they would have a good chance of identifying even very small tests; and if the country where the event occurred rejected or obstructed the inspections, the action in itself would strongly suggest that the party in question was trying to hide a clandestine test. In making the case for inspections of a suspicious event, the United States can also present information from its powerful classified NTM system that it would not be willing to share with the rest of the world on a routine basis.

As discussed in more detail in my prepared statement, the powerful synergistic effect of U.S. NTM capabilities and the IMS is well illustrated by the earthquake in the vicinity of Novaya Zemlya on August 16 last year. U.S. photo reconnaissance alerted U.S. intelligence agencies when it detected unusual activity at the Novaya Zemlya site in August, activity that in retrospect was probably associated with permitted subcritical experiments of the type the United States was conducting at the same time at the Nevada test site.

Concern that it might be a nuclear test was eliminated when seismic data that became available within days determined it was an earthquake 130 kilometers from the test site beneath the floor of the Arctic Ocean. If the CTB had been in force and the event had been close to the test site, the United States could have requested an on-site inspection, and would certainly have had a strong case to obtain it.

In judging the effectiveness of a detection system, it must be recognized that every system that depends upon technical measures has a threshold below which signals are lost in the background noise. While, in the case of the CTBT one can with high confidence identify tests down to one kiloton equivalent and with less confidence to considerably lower levels, there will always be a range of yields above zero that cannot be detected.

Despite these technical limitations, the verification system can still be correctly defined as effective because the tests below the threshold do not constitute a security risk to the United States. Clandestine testing below the threshold by the nuclear-weapon states would not permit development of radically new or significantly improved nuclear weapons. In the case of non-nuclear-weapon states, tests below the threshold would not contribute to the production of a first generation primitive weapon, which would either be tested at full yield or be produced without testing since little would be gained by the testing of such weapons at very low yields.

I should add that, in addition to detection by sensors recording the event itself, a potential clandestine tester would have to take into account the possibility that his actions would be revealed by human sources or by a failure of communications security. Such sources of information, although unquantifiable, should have a significant deterrent effect on low-yield clandestine testing.

Fifth, I agree that, "CTBT ratification by the United States and others will constrain non-signatories from conducting nuclear tests." Moreover, I believe ratification is critical to the U.S. efforts to maintain an effective leadership role in maintaining and strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime, which is the principal constraint on testing by non-nuclear-weapon states.

It has been suggested that the Senate does not have to hurry in considering the CTBT since India, one of the 44 countries that must ratify the treaty for it to enter into force, has stated emphatically that it will not sign the treaty. The urgency for the U.S. action derives no only because our leadership role will probably stimulate a wave of ratifications, including Russia and China, but also because it will give the United States a seat at a special conference that can be called after September 24, 1999—three years after the treaty was opened for signature—to decide what measures can be taken to accelerate the ratification process and facilitate early entry into force of the treaty. If Indian participation does not appear to be forthcoming, the conference can recommend a number of ways to bring the treaty into force provisionally. If the United States fails to ratify the treaty before September 24, 1999, it will only be able to participate in the conference as an observer, without a vote or voice in these efforts to bring into force a treaty in which it has played such a central role over the years.

In the year 2000, there will be a major NPT Review Conference. The main focus of attention at that conference will be on the extent the nuclear-weapon states have met their obligations under Article VI and implemented the Principles and Objectives Resolution that accompanied the indefinite extension of the NPT.

If the United States has ratified the CTBT and the treaty is moving toward entry into force, the United States will be in a very strong position to press the conference to support its other efforts to strengthen the non-proliferation regime with respect to potential proliferators. But if the treaty has been rejected or is still before the Senate, the United States will be strongly attacked at the NPT Review Conference as the barrier to an effective non-proliferation regime and will lose much of the leadership role it has rightly achieved over the years.

In summary, I believe the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is an extremely important component of the U.S. strategy to establish a permanent global non-proliferation regime. I urge the Senate to act promptly to give its advice and consent to the treaty in order to reinforce the leadership role of the United States in extending and strengthening the non-proliferation regime.

Thank you.

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr., president and executive director of the Arms Control Association, formerly served as deputy director of the Arms Control and Disarmament agency (1977-1981) under President Jimmy Carter.