I am Daryl Kimball. I am executive director of the Arms Control Association.
Is the United States considering resuming nuclear weapons tests?
Yes, some very senior White House officials have actually proposed resuming nuclear weapons testing which would break the 28-year-long U.S. moratorium on such behavior.
It was on May 22nd that the Washington Post reported that senior Trump officials discussed whether to set off a nuclear test explosion, a demonstration nuclear test, to try to put pressure on Russia and on China. One senior official said that such a test could prove useful from a negotiating standpoint as the Trump administration tries to engage China in talks and to change Russia's position on certain nuclear issues. The idea was opposed by a number of other senior officials but the Post reports that the idea is still under active consideration.
How will new U.S. nuclear tests affect global security?
Let's be clear: the resumption of U.S. nuclear weapons testing would not advance the cause of arms control; it would be an invitation for other nuclear-armed countries to follow suit. A resumption of U.S. nuclear testing would lead the Russians, the Chinese, the Indians, perhaps the North Koreans to resume nuclear testing. It would allow them to proof-test new and more dangerous types of nuclear weapons. It would be the starting gun for an unprecedented global nuclear arms race that would hurt U.S. and international security for years and years to come.
Can the President really do that, and how quickly?
Yes, he can and relatively quickly. The National Nuclear Security Administration is currently poised to conduct a simple nuclear test within six to ten months if so ordered by the president. Such a test would not be designed to fix some technical problem with an existing U.S. nuclear warhead nor would it be to proof-test a new nuclear warhead design. It would be a simple demonstration test with little instrumentation. It would be conducted underground at the former Nevada Test Site just outside of Las Vegas. But Congress can act to deny funding for tests and to prevent the president from doing so.
Haven’t we ended nuclear testing permanently?
The United States ended nuclear test explosions in 1992 and led the way in the negotiation of the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty which today has 184 states signing the treaty. Even though the treaty is in existence, the door to nuclear testing is still open. The United States and China are among the eight states that have not yet ratified the treaty and they must do so to bring the treaty into force to make sure that the monitoring and verification and inspections regime is as strong as possible.
To learn more, visit ArmsControl.org/Factsheets for what you should know about the history of nuclear testing and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.