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Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty at risk, due to Donald Trump’s accusations ?

Will the Trump administration’s accusations doom the nuclear test ban treaty? Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By Andreas Persbo, May 18, 2020  In April, while most of the world was focused on defeating a devastating viral pandemic, the US State Department quietly released its annual compliance report, describing whether and how the United States and other countries have been abiding by various arms control agreements. The report is sober reading for those hoping that the coronavirus would usher in a new era of international collaboration.

The report made waves for raising “concerns” about China’s adherence to a “zero-yield” nuclear testing standard, as called for by the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Although neither the United States or China has ratified the treaty, both have signed it, and both claim to abide by a nuclear testing moratorium.

US allegations in this regard are nothing new……….

Although US accusations are unlikely to be true, they could give a convenient pretext to officials who want to withdraw the US signature from the treaty, allowing the United States to resume its own nuclear testing. In fact, that may be the entire point. ……..

The treaty bans nuclear explosions, including hydronuclear testing, but it doesn’t prohibit all nuclear experiments. For example, it doesn’t prohibit preparations for nuclear tests, meaning that nuclear-weapon states can continue to maintain and staff their sites, and even place devices in boreholes or tunnels, provided that they don’t set them off. Both Russia and the United States conduct subcritical experiments (weapons-related work not involving an explosive chain reaction) and have been for decades. Since they are not generating yield, they are permissible under the treaty. In its rebuttal of the compliance report, Russia makes clear that it carries out “so-called subcritical tests, which,” it adds, “in no way run counter to our obligations in this area.”………

Why withdrawal would be lose-lose. If the United States is simply looking for a pretext to withdraw its signature so it can resume nuclear testing, that would be a lose-lose proposition.

First, it would give up a constraint on its strategic rivals, without receiving any clear benefits from its newfound freedom of action. While most nuclear weapon states have retained their capabilities to conduct tests by maintaining their tests sites and keeping staff on the books, they would all face different challenges to a resumption.

For China and the Russia, these obstacles can be overcome quickly, due to the nature of their political systems. Their test sites are maintained and appear to be in a state of readiness. For them, the main question would be whether they want to lose their diplomatic advantage by moving first to break the moratorium………

Perhaps the worst consequence of withdrawal, though, is that the United States would give up leverage to prevent future North Koreas from trying to join the nuclear club………..

…..the United States and Russia, if both were parties, could agree to mutual visits falling short of on-site inspections. They could decide on close monitoring of nuclear test sites. They could agree on the notification and monitoring of permitted activities, such as subcritical testing. Because the United States has not ratified, these options are not on the table. But it’s not too late.

May 19, 2020 - Posted by | politics international, weapons and war

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