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State Department official urges patience on US ratification of test ban treaty

19 September 2014
The White House has not said when it will submit the arms control treaty to the Senate.

The Obama administration will continue to inform and educate senators on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, but there is no timetable for when the White House will formally place the CTBT before the Senate for ratification, according to Rose Gottemoeller, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. “This administration has no intention of rushing into this or demanding premature action before we have a thorough and rigorous discussion and debate,” she said.

The Senate last considered, and rejected, the CTBT in 1999. President Barack Obama in 2009 pledged to quickly seek its ratification again. The administration is now working to “re-familiarize” members with the terms, Gottemoeller told a Washington, DC, conference on 15 September. “First comes education, then comes discussion, and last, and very importantly, debate.” Briefings, hearings at the appropriate time, trips to the labs, and visits to Vienna, where the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) is located, are under way, she said.

The US is one of eight countries that still must ratify the CTBT for it to take effect. The others are China, India, Pakistan, Israel, Egypt, Iran, and North Korea. To date, 163 nations have ratified the treaty. Even though the US isn’t formally a member, it provides 22% of the CTBTO’s budget.

Since 1999 a global verification system consisting of 278 seismometers, hydrophones, and infrasound detectors in 89 nations has been put into place. Another 59 instruments are scheduled for installation. In addition, computer simulations and experimental devices collectively known as the science-based stockpile stewardship program have produced a better understanding of the US arsenal today than was available when underground testing occurred, noted Frank Klotz, administrator of the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. The last US nuclear test occurred in 1992. “There is absolutely no need for the US to conduct nuclear weapons tests,” said Andrew Weber, assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs.

Gottemoeller asserted that the treaty would place “speed bumps” in the path of nations considering developing nuclear weapons. Those states “would either have to risk deploying the weapons without the confidence that they would work properly or accept the international condemnation and reprisals that would follow a nuclear explosive test,” she said. The treaty would also constrain regional arms races, a particularly important goal in India and Pakistan, countries that are building up and modernizing their forces.

“All told, it is in our interests to close the door on nuclear tests forever,” Gottemoeller said.

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