Writing@CSU Home Page | Writing Gallery | Talking Back | Volume 4, Issue 1

logo“A Journey of a Thousand Miles”

Laura Fleege

A Journey of a Thousand Miles Must Begin with a Single Step

- Chinese Proverb

            On July 26, 1963, former President Kennedy urged the nation to take a step back from the “darkening prospect of mass destruction on earth” caused by the advent of nuclear weapons that were developed 18 years earlier and ban all nuclear weapons testing (“Kennedy”). His goals, however, have yet to be met.

            Between July 16 th, 1945, and September 23 rd, 1992, the United States performed over 1,000 nuclear weapons tests, many with multiple bomb detonations, and launched two nuclear attacks. The United States stopped testing nuclear weapons on October 2, 1992, when former President George H.W. Bush signed a moratorium to unilaterally stop testing our nuclear arsenal (“Gallery”). Although to date President George W. Bush has stopped short of breaking the moratorium on nuclear testing his father established, the President’s recent $25 million budget request to increase the readiness of Nevada’s test site suggests a renewed administration interest in testing. The Bush administration has never formally renounced testing, and the budget request suggests a renewed interest in testing (Batt).

            The only way to prevent new nuclear testing is to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The CTBT, which bans the testing of all nuclear weapons, was adopted on September 10, 1996, at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. The CTBT was then opened for signature in New York on September 24, 1996, where it was signed by 71 countries, including the United States under the Clinton administration. Signature is not enough, however (CTBTO Preparatory Commission). To facilitate the treaty’s entry into force, ratification is required. Therefore, the United States Senate should ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

            The first step to recognizing the importance of ratification is to understand that the detrimental effects of nuclear testing are far reaching. A 2001 Center for Disease Control report found that over 11,000 Americans died from cancer caused by radioactive fallout resulting from nuclear tests performed in the 11-year period between 1951 and 1962. It is estimated that another 22,000 Americans suffer from non-lethal forms of cancer as a result of nuclear testing. The fallout isn’t just confined to test sites either, the report notes. Cancer cases resulting from Nevada tests have shown up as far away as New York and Maine (Biven). While this number of cancer incidences represents less than 1% of lethal forms of cancer, it is still a huge price to pay to test a bomb. Nuclear weapons powers “owe the world a real accounting of what they did to its health,” says Arjun Makhijani of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (Eisler).

            While the health problems caused by testing in the general population are well known, there is little focus of the catastrophic impacts testing has on indigenous cultures. Masahide Kato, professor of political science at the University of Hawaii, calls the nuclear testing that occurs on the sovereign territory of Indigenous Nations “undeclared nuclear warfare” (Kato 339). Kato also claims that the First World only recognizes Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the victims of nuclear disaster and fails to recognize “the crude fact that nuclear war has been taking place on this earth in the name of ‘nuclear testing’ since the first nuclear explosion at Alamogordo in 1945... The primary targets of warfare [are] invariabl[y] the Sovereign Nations of the Fourth World and Indigenous Nations” (Kato 348). The indigenous cultures in the United States include the Shoshone and Navajo, who occupy the Western U.S. as well as the Marshall, Bikini, and Christmas Islands in the South Pacific. Since former President Truman established the Nevada Test Site on their land, the Newe people, a faction of the Western Shoshone, became the most bombed nation on Earth, being the victim of 120 atmospheric and over 700 underground weapons explosions. Fallout contaminated areas from Idaho to Mexico. Not only have indigenous cultures had their land taken from them for use at test sites, but the tests have poisoned the water, killed the vegetation used for food and medicine, and hurt their livestock. Furthermore, these people are disproportionately affected by radioactive fallout. Corbin Harney, the spiritual leader of the Western Shoshone, calls radiation “our biggest enemy” (Swords).

            The health risks and the racism inherent in testing are not the only concerns we should consider when evaluating the CTBT. There is the ever-increasing threat of nuclear proliferation. The danger of terrorist organizations acquiring nuclear weapons is growing (Halter). Think about what would happen if this occurred. The September 11 th attacks would look like a trashcan fire compared to the catastrophe that would occur if the attack were carried out with nuclear weapons. Additionally, several nuclear weapons states, including Iran and North Korea, are threatening to abandon their commitments to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, spread nuclear technology and continue to develop their nuclear arsenals. The U.S. State Department asserts the “illicit, rapid spread of nuclear weapons and related technology constitutes a threat to international peace and security” (State News Service). Clearly, the time is now to take a step toward disarmament and non-proliferation. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell believes that “the treaty is necessary for the safety and reliability of the world because it will reduce the threat of nuclear weapons attacks” (Gordon). Science magazine even went as far as to say the “CTBT is the cornerstone of the worldwide effort to limit the spread of nuclear weapons and reduce the nuclear danger” (Drell, Jeanloz, and Peurifoy 1119).

            It is evident that action needs to be taken to reduce proliferation of nuclear weapons and decrease the dangers that nuclear weapons testing causes. However, critics question the CTBT’s ability to accomplish these goals. One of the treaty’s biggest criticisms is the effectiveness of its monitoring capabilities. However, of the over 300 International Monitoring Systems (IMS) the CTBT allows for, almost 200 are currently in full functioning condition even though the treaty has yet to enter into force. These stations are set up throughout the globe and operated by the CTBT Organization, headquartered in Vienna, Austria (CTBTO). The IMS uses four different types of monitoring systems: radionuclide, seismic, hydroacoustic, and infrasound signals. Radionuclide and seismic signals are primarily used to monitor underground tests, and hydroacoustic and infrasound signals can detect explosions in the atmosphere and underwater. An independent committee established to test the verification mechanisms found that “ the system is expected to detect with a very high level of con fi dence—and hence deterrence—a nonevasively conducted explosion of at least one kiloton (kt)…there is also a considerable deterrent e ff ect against clandestine testing below one kt” (Independent Commission on the Verifiability of the CTBT).

            The fear of a country evading the verification regime is not feasible either. The commission found the only credible example of evasion is decoupling a nuclear weapon (detonating it underground to minimize shockwaves), but found that it is “unlikely that an emergent nuclear weapon state would have su ffi cient experience or resources to conduct successfully a fully decoupled, completely contained clandestine nuclear test explosion. The most sophisticated nuclear weapon states would themselves have di ffi culty in carrying out such an explosion, even at low yield” (Independent Commission on the Verifiability of the CTBT).

            While modern science has shown that the verification mechanisms needed to facilitate CTBT’s entry into force are effective, there is still apprehension about the United States’ ability to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent under the treaty. To meet this concern, The Department of Energy developed the Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP), a computer program that uses highly complex scientific algorithms to simulate nuclear tests. Although this program is still being developed, it will soon serve as a replacement to underground testing (Drell, Jeanloz, and Peurifoy 1119). The SSP also serves as a means to better understand the mechanics of nuclear explosions and can be used to assess the health of our nuclear stockpile (Committee on Technical Issues Related to Ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty 19). Furthermore, nuclear weapons are made up of over 6,000 parts, and the warhead is the only part of the weapon that the treaty prohibits testing. All of the other components, including the delivery system, could be tested under the CTBT. The ability to test the other parts of the weapon would increase confidence in the weapons performance, and if the need for new warheads arose because of compatibility issues with new delivery systems, the SSP would be capable to create new weapons designs (Committee on Technical Issues Related to Ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty 20). Moreover, during the 1980’s, the U.S. established a policy to test our aging stockpile annually and to monitor its condition. However, “no need was ever identified for a program that would periodically subject stockpile weapons to nuclear tests. Thus, nuclear testing never provided—and was never intended to provide—a statistical basis for confidence in the performance of stockpiled weapons” (Committee on Technical Issues Related to Ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty 21).

            Even though the United States has not performed a nuclear test in over 12 years, “the United States’ ratification is essential to persuade other countries to accept the treaty and strengthen other methods to curtail the spread of nuclear arms” (Gordon). U.S. accession to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is critical first step to sending a positive message that we must “step back from the shadows of war and seek out the way of peace. And if that journey is a thousand miles, or even more, let history record that we, in this land, at this time, took the first step” (“Kennedy”).

Works Cited and Consulted

Batt, Tony. "Test site readiness part of budget." The Las Vegas Review-Journal 8 February (2005): 9B. Academic Universe, Lexis-Nexis. Colorado State University Libraries, Fort Collins. 12 April 2005. <http://web.lexis-nexis.com>.

Bivens, Matt. "Fallout, Cancer and Politics." The Nation 26 March 2002: 13 April 2005. <http://www.thenation.com/failsafe/index.mhtml?bid=2&pid=40>

Committee on Technical Issues Related to Ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Technical Issues Related to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban 2002. Washington D.C.: National Academic Press, 2002. 10 April 2005. <http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10471&page=R1>.

CTBTO Preparatory Commission. CTBTO- Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization. 2005. 13 April 2005. <http://www.ctbto.org/>.

Drell, Sidney, Raymond Jeanloz and Bob Peurifoy. "Maintaining a Nuclear Deterrent Under the Test Ban Treaty ." Science 283.5405 (1999): 1119-1120.

Eisler, Peter. "Fallout likely caused 15,000 deaths." USA Today 28 February 2002. 27 April 2005. <http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2002/02/28/usat-nuke.htm>.

Gallery of U.S. Nuclear Tests. 2001. 27 April 2005. <http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Usa/Tests/>.

Gordon, Michael R.. "Report to Clinton Asks U.S. to Ratify Test Ban Treaty." New York Times 5 January 2001: A1.

Halter, Kristel. "Nuke-free initiative gains momentum." United Press International. 24 September (2004). Academic Universe, Lexis-Nexis. Colorado State University Libraries, Fort Collins. 12 April 2005. <http://web.lexis-nexis.com>.

Independent Commission on the Verifiability of the CTBT. Report on the Verifiability of the CTBT. 2000. 25 April 2005. <http://www.ctbtcommission.org/>.

Kato, Masahide. "Nuclear Globalism: Traversing Rockets, Satellites, and Nuclear War via the Strategic Gaze." Alternatives 18.3 (1993): 339-360.

Kennedy’s Address to the American People on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. 1963. 28 April 2005. <http://www.ratical.org/co-globalize/JFK072663.html>.

State News Service. "Illicit spread of nuclear weapons a threat to all, newspaper says." 21 March (2005). Academic Universe , Lexis-Nexis. Colorado State University libraries, Fort Collins. 12 April 2005. <http://web.lexis-nexis.com>.

Swords, Diane and Peter Swords. "Good Morning, Relatives!": Actions for Nuclear Abolition and Indigenous Rights. 2002. 28 April 2005. <http://www.peacecouncil.net/pnl/02/715/715Anti-Nuke.htm>.