The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty seeks to eliminate testing of nuclear devices in the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, and ground. It came through as a full-fledged treaty in 1996, and was ratified by most of the world’s countries. One exception is the United States, and with good reason. Washington carries a larger responsibility for global security than any other country and by virtue of its unparalleled global reach, capabilities, and commitments, not ratifying the CTBT is very much in its interests.
Nuclear testing reached new implications after the USSR tested Czar Bomba. It was after that point that treaties to restrict and eliminate nuclear testing began, with the CTBT resulting in 1996.
However, the CTBT is not universally enforceable. It aims to eliminate the use of nuclear weapons, but that did not prevent North Korea from testing two nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009. North Korea is not a signatory of the treaty. At the same time, Israel’s official "undeclared" status about its nuclear capabilities also shows the loophole nature of the CTBT. China has not ratified the treaty either. If it is to be taken seriously, it must be signed and ratified in a manner that goes above national interests. However, given that a degree of exceptionalism was present at its construction, and even more so in this century, the United States is not in a position to compromise its security interests if other countries are willing to threaten the country with nuclear devices.
Despite its stated goals of peaceful use of nuclear energy, Iran might also consider it in its interests to develop nuclear weapons, given that it is surrounded by nuclear powers China, India, Pakistan, and Russia. Its nuclear program is advancing fairly rapidly and threatening to re-adjust the balance of power in the Middle East. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Tehran will begin testing nuclear devices in the short- to medium-term.
Washington has the high ground on the principle of not testing nuclear weapons; it has signed, but not ratified the treaty. Nuclear powers point a finger at the U.S. for the fact, but the underlying fact is that delaying the ratification is an effective deterrent to countries that seek out nuclear weapons with the goal of spreading their influence and destabilize regional politics.
The consideration is that given its rather unique capacities and responsibilities in the world, the U.S. is also effectively one of the most vulnerable countries. Terrorism is one thing, but a nuclear threat completely another.
Since other countries that develop and test nuclear weapons do not feel that they should submit to the constraints of the CTBT, why should the United States, which not only has global interests and responsibilities, but also global vulnerabilities? Double standards are not sound security policy.
When nuclear negotiations move beyond national interest and in the general interest of humanity, then Washington might consider the CTBT. For now, there is no such prospect.
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