Issue Brief - The United States and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty: Renewed Hope or Politics as Usual?
President Barack Obama has stated clearly that he intends to work with the Senate to secure the ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) at the earliest practical date and "then launch a diplomatic effort to bring onboard other states whose ratifications are required for the treaty to enter into force." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made similar statements, both on the campaign trail and during her State Department confirmation. Though leadership from the executive branch will play an important role in the new push for ratification and will be invaluable once the U.S. does ratify, the real question will be how treaty supporters can marshal 67 affirmative votes in the Senate. It will be a challenge to ensure that nonproliferation issues are accorded priority status in light of the other pressing matters of the day, and Senate democrats will continue to be cautious in restarting a policy process that led to a major political defeat a decade ago.
Ratifying the CTBT is unmistakably in the U.S. national security interest. Lawmakers can be confident that the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile will remain safe and reliable without explosive nuclear testing far into the foreseeable future. Today the technology to verify treaty compliance is largely in place and is exceeding performance expectations. U.S. leadership on the CTBT will be crucial for gaining the international support that is needed to tackle other nonproliferation problems, and it comes at a low cost, since the U.S. has been voluntarily complying with the provisions of the Treaty since 1992 and there is no political support for a return to explosive nuclear testing in the near future. As CTBT advocates work to provide senators with the best scientific evidence on the Treaty issues, the administration can send important signals to the international community by continuing to publicly convey its support for the Treaty. The May 2009 NPT PrepCom and the September 2009 Article XIV Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the CTBT offer timely opportunities for the U.S. to send positive messages about its intention to ratify the Treaty.