On October 30, 1961, at the height of the Cold War, the USSR detonated the single most powerful weapon ever created. The 50 megatons Tsar Bomba created a nuclear explosion visible from over 1,000 miles away. It remains a terrifying symbol of both man’s ingenuity in, and his thirst for, weapons of mass destruction. Yet, it was in a test and not in war that this weapon was used; a test that would have been banned under the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).
Today, nuclear warfare is far from the minds of many, a distant relic of an unpleasant past, but the CTBT is still needed to ensure nuclear testing becomes part of the past. However, one of the key obstacles to its enforcement is the failure of the U.S. to ratify the treaty. In this refusal, the U.S. stands alongside Iran, North Korea, India, Pakistan, and Egypt.
The U.S. should and must ratify the CTBT, in order to allow the world to experience a future without nuclear tests, the fear of escalation, Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) and, eventually, to become nuclear weapons-free.
CTBT only outlaws a relic of the past and it is rare for the U.S. or established nuclear powers to have recourse to nuclear testing. It is only emerging nuclear states and those considered most dangerous in their nuclear ambitions, such as North Korea, Iran, and Pakistan, that would be directly affected. With some of the best research facilities and computer modelling programs, the U.S. does not really need to resort to an actual test.
The national security of the U.S. would not be affected by the ratifying of CTBT, as it is a test ban treaty and not a disarmament one. CTBT makes provisions that mean the U.S. could keep its nuclear capability and renew it when the time comes, thereby neither directly nor indirectly affecting U.S. strategic capability. It would even be the case that the U.S. would be greatly enhanced in terms of its regional influence in the Middle East and Asia by being a responsible, trustworthy nuclear power. This would enable the U.S. to leverage increased pressure on states guilty of nuclear proliferation.
Nuclear testing is a key relic of an era when testing was needed to impress and, importantly, deter the enemy. With global security and strategies having greatly shifted from the asymmetric alignment of the Cold War, the testing of nuclear weapons is something that the U.S. would not undertake.
CTBT is just one of the important international treaties that the U.S. has refused to ratify. Other examples include the Ottowa Treaty, recognition of the International Criminal Court, and the Committe on Migrant Workers. The CTBT, by comparison, is an entirely politically justifiable treaty to sign on to, one which would have a global impact and set an example for others.
The U.S. should recognize that with a global role comes global responsibility and as arguably the world’s only remaining superpower, the U.S. has a moral duty to help stop the testing of nuclear weapons.
Our parents' generation feared the bomb, the blast, the flash of ligh,t and the searing heat, followed by humanity's annihilation. Now the U.S. can be one of those that are able to consign that nightmare to a distant part of history.
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