Trump Administration Debates Resuming Nuclear Testing


The Trump administration reportedly weighed whether to conduct a nuclear test explosion during a May 15 meeting with national security agencies. The United States has not conducted a nuclear test since 1992, and no other nuclear-armed country besides North Korea has conducted such a test since 1998.

If the United States chooses to conduct a nuclear test, it would undoubtedly invite other nuclear-armed countries to do the same and launch a new nuclear arms race.

The Washington Post first reported on this meeting on May 22. The administration did not make a final decision, with a senior administration official commenting that the proposal is “very much an ongoing conversation.”

Another official commented that a “rapid test” by the United States would be useful in the Trump administration’s pursuit of a trilateral arms control agreement with Russia and China.

Drew Walter, who is performing the duties of deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear matters, told Defense One that, should the president order a nuclear test, “I think it would happen relatively rapidly,” likely within months, not years.

Meanwhile, a former official told The Guardian that the National Nuclear Security Administration and likely the State Department were not onboard with the idea of a test.

The May 15 meeting also touched on the State Department’s April release of an executive summary of its annual compliance report, in which the department alleged that Russia and China have conducted nuclear weapons activities inconsistent with the zero-yield standard established by the CTBT. The report, however, failed to supply any information to corroborate its assertion.

Lassina Zerbo, CTBTO executive secretary, warned the United States against pursuing a nuclear test. “In general, any actions or activities by any country that violate the international norm against nuclear testing,” he said, “would constitute a grave challenge to the nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime, as well as to global peace and security more broadly.”

Both Russian and Chinese Foreign Ministries also condemned the Trump administration for contemplating a resumption of nuclear testing.

“This bombshell,” said Russia, demonstrates “a U.S. campaign against international law.” Russia ratified the CTBT in 2000.

China—who signed the CTBT in 1996 but has not yet ratified the treaty and must do so for it to enter into force—commented, “Though it has not yet entered into force, banning nuclear testing has become an international norm. The CTBT is of great significance for nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and world peace and security. All five nuclear weapon states including the U.S. have signed the treaty and committed to a moratorium on nuclear tests.”

Members of Congress also swiftly spoke out against the proposal. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced on June 4 legislation to prohibit any new nuclear testing and bring the CTBT into force. 14 senators, including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), co-sponsored the legislation.

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