While all eyes were recently on Syria, another important international security issue escaped attention. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, signed 17 years ago this week, is not high on Congress’ to-do list, but it should be.
The threat of nuclear proliferation remains one of the greatest dangers to the safety and security of the United States. Though fragile, there currently exists a global taboo against nuclear weapons testing. Should this erode, and nations resume their nuclear testing programs, public health and U.S. global security would both be deeply damaged. Permanently preventing other nations from testing and developing nuclear weapons is in our nation’s best interest. The CTBT is the best means of achieving this end.
Signed September 24, 1996, the CTBT was intended to put a stop to the growing list of countries seeking to develop their nuclear capabilities, a key tactic in the strategy to disrupt global nuclear proliferation.
In order to take effect, the CTBT requires ratification by the U.S. Senate, plus a few other countries. When it goes into effect, the CTBT will mandate that other states not conduct explosive nuclear tests and will provide a strong disincentive to make sure they don’t. The Test Ban Treaty also put in a place a worldwide network of monitoring and surveillance to detect covert nuclear weapons tests to catch nations tempted to cheat.
As most Utahns know, the U.S. conducted hundreds of nuclear weapons tests between 1945 and 1992. A majority of these tests took place in Nevada, right outside our state’s borders. Testing’s deadly detritus then rained down across Utah and other western states, disrupting American lives with cancer, leukemia and a host of other deadly illnesses.
The United States has conducted more nuclear tests than any other nation on Earth. For decades we pursued testing despite the tragic human cost. Those days are over. Knowing the effects of testing on downwind populations as we now do, we cannot, in good conscience, resume explosive nuclear testing in our own backyards.
The United States no longer needs to test nuclear weapons. Our nuclear stockpiles are cared for by the most advanced laboratories on the planet. If, God forbid, we ever need those weapons, we can be confident they are well maintained and secure.
In 2010, I sponsored a resolution in the Utah House of Representatives calling for the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. At committee hearings and during House debate, my colleagues, downwinders, and many others spoke about a state haunted by its experience with nuclear weapons. Their laments for the past preceded their fear that some day, nuclear weapons might again be tested without penalty, not just by our nation, but also by those representing a threat to our nation.
In a rare bipartisan display, the Utah House voted unanimously to urge the United States Senate to ratify the Test Ban Treaty. My colleagues were convinced by the argument that ratifying the treaty would improve our nation’s security, strengthen the regime against global nuclear nonproliferation and honor the sacrifices of those affected by previous nuclear weapons tests.
While recent international events demand Congress’ immediate attention, the lessons of the past — the experiences of Utah’s downwinders and the success of non-proliferation agreements — should guide our thinking in the future. The United States should make good on our promise of nearly two decades ago, and pursue ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, is the minority leader in the Utah House of Representatives.