It’s time for Senate to OK test ban treaty


Shortly after the atomization of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Albert Einstein wrote, “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”Einstein was, of course, talking about the “bomb” and humanity’s newly found capability for self-destruction.Indeed, over the course of the last 60 years, we have come all too close to that “unparalleled catastrophe” on several occasions – the 1962 Cuban missile crisis being the best known.Having thoroughly frightened themselves, the superpowers rapidly concluded a treaty banning atmospheric atomic testing – the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty. It was a welcome achievement, and not just because it would mean an end to the worldwide fatal cancers from radioactive fallout, estimated by the United Nations at 300,000. It also meant that the world was taking collective action and that humanity stood a chance of averting Einstein’s dire warning.Still, it was a limited treaty; it permitted nuclear tests underground. Over the next 30 years, underground testing made possible the development of more lethal and efficient weapons. Within a decade, the number of superpower nukes doubled and would double again before the end of the Cold War.Even worse, underground testing was – and still is – a necessary condition for the development of nuclear weapons in other nations: without testing, a nation can’t be confident that it has a workable weapon; and without continued testing, a nation can’t “perfect” any crude design that it might have.Since those early days of arms control, much progress has been made. The U.S. and Russia – which together have 95 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons – have, since the end of the Cold War, cut their nuclear stockpiles by more than half, by some 25,000 weapons. And JFK’s nightmare of “20 nuclear nations by 1970” did not come to pass.President Barack Obama’s stated goal of a world without nuclear weapons is neither “out of the blue” nor radical. It’s a goal that has been infused into U.S. law through our treaty commitments over the last 40 years in both the Limited Test Ban and The Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaties.And although we may not realize that goal in our lifetimes, we can at least move toward it by taking the small but vital step of ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). This treaty would carry out the hope of the limited ban by banning all nuclear test explosions.The U.S. signed the treaty in 1996, but the Senate failed to get the 67 votes to ratify. In the decade since, however, technological advances and an international verification regime of hundreds of monitoring facilities worldwide have removed any reasonable doubt about undetectable nuclear testing. Many respected Republican statesmen favor it, including former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Colin Powell. Currently, 151 nations have ratified the CTBT, including Russia and our nuclear NATO allies, France and Britain. The treaty needs only eight more nations to come into force.Surely there is a moral imperative here for the United States: Without joining the treaty, the U.S. cannot hope to escape the charge of “double-standard” from the non-nuclear nations from whom we demand nuclear abstinence; and without the U.S., the treaty cannot hope to successfully garner the moral force to dissuade those same nations from testing.The treaty will likely come before the U.S. Senate in the next 12 months. In 1999, U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg voted against ratification. But things have changed.As former Secretary of State George Shultz puts it, his fellow Republicans “might have been right voting against it some years ago, but they would be right voting for it now.”New Hampshire must do its part. Senator Gregg has a reputation for being an independent thinker of good judgment in matters of serious moral weight.But in the months ahead it couldn’t hurt to remind him that this treaty is not only good for the U.S., it gives hope to the world that we can work together to avert the “unparalleled catastrophe.”Ray Perkins Jr. is professor of philosophy at Plymouth State University.