Top Priority: Comprehensive Test Ban!

By George Crowell | 1985-09-01 12:00:00

ITEM: A LETTER DATED JUNE 21,1985, arrives on desks all over Canada from the Toronto Branch of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. It requests assistance in distributing a "unique petition that is circling the world," which calls for "a comprehensive treaty banning all nuclear weapon tests in all environments for all time." Objective: One million signatures in Canada alone.

Rallying around the Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB), the peace movement is again expressing its vitality after the lull following the setbacks of the 1984 U.S. elections. All along, however, the enormous popular support for the Freeze has been maintained around the world. It is a goal shared by a large majority of the United Nations member states, including the Soviet Union. Within the United States itself, public opinion polls at the end of 1982 showed three quarters of the public supported the freeze if it is verifiable and grants no significant advantage to the Soviet Union. The idea has been officially adopted by the Democratic Party.

But the Freeze could not be entirely verified. That is where the Comprehensive Test Ban comes in. With the advances of modern technology, a ban on testing can be verified-even without on-site inspections, and certainly without relying on blind faith.

The obstacle to a CTB has been the present U.S. administration, which relentlessly advances a nuclear arms buildup, in which the Soviet Union, Britain, France, and China also try to keep up. And other nations also prepare now to join the competition, risking the devastation of our bountiful planet.

Against this, the peace movement continues to organize and explore new strategies. Consensus is emerging within splintered peace groups on tactics and on a swelling demand for the Comprehensive Test Ban. A CTB would prohibit the testing of all nuclear explosive devices in all environments, including underground. Such testing is essential for the development of new nuclear weapons systems. Moreover, periodic testing of existing nuclear warheads is essential to assure this reliability. Highly reliable warheads, as well as highly accurate missile systems are necessary for first-strike capability. With test explosions prohibited, confidence in the reliability of existing warheads will erode and the acute danger of first-strike nuclear warfare will recede.

The proposal of a CTB first was advanced in 1954 by Prime Minister Nehru of India. It has been debated ever since, especially in United Nations disarmament circles. This demand yielded the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963, which was signed by the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union. Still in effect, with 112 signatory nations, it forbids nuclear test explosions in the atmosphere, in space, and under water. It refrains from prohibiting underground tests, however, because confidence was lacking in 1963 that they could be verified. At that time, seismologists could not clearly distinguish between underground nuclear explosions and earthquakes.

To make up for this verification problem in 1963, the Soviet Union and the United States discussed on-site inspections. Contrary to widespread opinion (and to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger's statement in a 1982 press conference, when he claimed that the USSR had never agreed to on-site inspections) the Soviet Union was open to this possibility. This was made clear in a book by the Canadian delegate to the disarmament conferences of 196068, Lt. Gen. E.L.M. Burns. (A Seat at the Table Clarke, Irwin, 1972.)

Lt. General Burns notes that after much debate over the CTB proposal, Chairman Khrushchev wrote a letter on December 19, 1962, to President Kennedy announcing Soviet acceptance of what he understood to be the U.S. demand. He cited the American negotiator's statement to the Soviet representative that the U.S. would accept 2 to 4 annual on-site inspections within Soviet territory, and announced Soviet willingness to allow 2 to 3 such inspections. Apparently Khrushchev fully expected this concession to secure agreement to the CTB, and was shocked at Kennedy's reply saying that there had been a misunderstanding: The U.S. required 8 to 10 annual inspections. Both negotiators denied responsibility for any error. Somehow, it appears, a genuine misunderstanding had arisen.

Negotiations continued under a pall for some months, with the non-aligned nations striving valiantly to bring the superpowers together on some compromise. But apparently both Kennedy and Khrushchev had gone as far as they could with their hardliners at home. After the Partial Test Ban Treaty had been signed in August, Kennedy even had difficulty getting this limited step ratified by the U.S. Senate. Burns further points out that the President had to agree in writing to pursue a vigorous program of underground nuclear explosives testing.

And so, the testing has indeed gone ahead. From the signing of the Partial Test Ban Treaty until the end of 1984, the U.S. has conducted 425 underground nuclear test explosions, and the Soviet Union 392. The frequency of the testing, however, has provided an unintended benefit. It has given seismic scientists a great deal of experience in distinguishing underground tests from earthquakes, and there is no longer any doubt. As each phenomenon sends out sharply different types of seismic shock waves, scientists can detect underground tests even of very low yield -- well below any militarily significant level-from outside the country. The Partial Ban Treaty has reduced radioactive fallout, though not entirely stopped it, since some underground tests vent radioactive material. But the superpowers' underground tests have enabled them to develop new and better bombs and to deploy them by the thousands. That is why we urgently need a Comprehensive, not just a Partial, Treaty.

Encouraged by the improvements in verification, in 1977 the U.S., Britain, and the Soviet Union seriously began negotiating a CTB. This was done to fulfill the pledge that was included in the preamble of the 1963 treaty. In July of 1980, these nations submitted an upbeat report to the United Nations indicating substantial progress: To overcome doubts about verification, each nation agreed to accept tamper-proof seismic stations on its territory. Given this possibility, two seismic experts, Jack F. Everuden and Lynn R. Sykes, stated in the October 1982 issue of Scientific American,

a feasible seismic network could soon detect a clandestine underground testing program involving explosives as small as one kiloton."

Moreover, in a striking breakthrough, agreement had been reached to allow on-site inspections in case of doubtful evidence. One would never know it to hear American government officials in the 1980s, though. In a 1984 TV news interview, U.S. Secretary of Defence Caspar Weinberger reiterated his 1982 press conference statement that "The Soviet Union has never been willing to accept on-site inspections, and the United States has always been willing to accept on-site inspections." This sort of distortion enables the U.S. to justify its continuing nuclear arms buildup to the American public. The Soviet Union has clearly indicated its willingness to accept on-site inspections in order to make possible a CTB. Furthermore, there is every indication from both its leaders' statements and from votes in the U.N. in support of the CTB that the USSR remains steadfast on this point

On April 15, 1985, in response to a letter from Admirals LaRocque and Carroll of the Center for Defense Information in Washington, the Soviet Union declared its readiness not only to resume negotiations for the CTB but also to begin at any time a mutual moratorium on nuclear weapons test explosions.

Four retired U.S. military officers, Rear Admirals Gene LaRocque and Eugene Carroll, Captain James Bush, and Major General Kermit Johnson, retired Chief of Chaplains are all working now with the prestigious Center for Defense Information in Washington. In a private discussion last year they started searching for ways of overcoming the Reagan administration's thwarting of the Freeze movement, which they support. They decided on a campaign to drum up renewed support for the old CTB proposal. Chaplain Johnson, with growing animation, suggested that the Center issue a call for an end to all nuclear weapons explosions - and proposed the date for this cutoff - August 6, 1985, the fortieth anniversary of the Hiroshima bomb. A few months later, a special issue of the Center's Defense Monitor was mailed out, launching a global campaign for a CTB, calling on existing concerned groups everywhere to join, and offering to serve as a clearinghouse for information on all such efforts.

By the spring of 1985 the Center could report that more than 140 organizations around the world had joined the campaign. In July another issue of The Defense Monitor focused on the "Simultaneous Test Ban." Reviving all aspects of the CTB proposal, it sought public support for two resolutions before Congress that would help to achieve the CTB.

August 6 has now passed and there is no CTB. Still, the campaign has continued to build momentum. Shortly before the hoped-for deadline the Soviets announced a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing, to last six months. At first President Reagan attempted to discount the significance of this by claiming that the Soviets were only taking a convenient pause, having completed all the tests they need for the moment. A few days later, just before the symbolically significant August 6 date, he promised that the United States would reciprocate with a moratorium of its own as soon as it had caught up with the Soviets in its testing program. It seems to be convenient for the American militarists - and Reagan in particular - to claim they are behind the Russians, however little basis there may be for such an assertion.

The Reagan administration, more than any previous presidency, has flatly opposed any efforts to curb American nuclear weaponry. This was evident from the administration's earliest days. When the trilateral CTB negotiations recessed during the 1980 U.S. election campaign, prospects for a CTB looked bright. Reagan's advisors, however, promptly declined to participate in any further discussions. On July 19, 1982, the Administration formally announced its withdrawal from any further negotiations, citing as its reason doubt that a CTB could be verified. The Defense Monitor however, points to the real reason for the backing out, noting that "This decision was apparently taken to ensure that the 17,000 new nuclear weapons the Administration plans to produce in the next 10 years will function properly."

It is clear, then, that the key obstacle to achieving the nuclear test ban has not been the Soviet Union, in spite of avid media attention to the contrary, but rather the resistance of key decision-makers in the United States. It is worth reviewing the factors that should be considered when comparing the Comprehensive Test Ban proposals to the Freeze proposals:

  1. Verification of the CTB is considerably simpler than would be the case for the Freeze, and even less plausibly can it be claimed to be inadequate;
  2. The peace movement is rapidly mobilizing to support the CTB. Since the CTB is a crucial component of the Freeze and a major step in that direction, this growing new campaign relinquishes none of the political gains of the Freeze, but rather it grows out of them and builds on them;
  3. The CTB proposal has long had strong support in the United Nations. Canada's William Epstein, formerly Director of the Disarmament Division of the United Nations, says of the CTB, "No other measure of nuclear arms control has been sought as long, so persistently, and with so much dedication by the non-nuclear powers, both aligned and non-aligned. It is regarded by them as the single most important step toward halting the arms race;
  4. Most of the allies of the U.S. in NATO (including Canada) who have faithfully joined the U.S. in opposition to the Freeze through votes in the United Nations General Assembly, have a history of support for the CTB. The Canadian government, while opposing the Freeze, has, since the 1950s, consistently worked to achieve a CTB. While its efforts have been less rigorous in the 1980s than in previous decades, Canada now has an Ambassador for Disarmament, Douglas Roche, and an Ambassador to the United Nations, Stephen Lewis, who strongly favor the CTB. With growing pressure from its own peace movement, the Canadian government might be induced to work with other allies to intensify pressure for the CTB where it now counts most-the United States government.
  5. The U.S. itself has a history of support for the CTB, going back to President Eisenhower. By acknowledging the CTB as an eventual goal, the Reagan administration has not flatly repudiated the CTB as it has the Freeze. Moreover, Congress is now exerting pressure for the CTB. The non-binding House Joint Resolution 3 calls for resumption of CTB negotiations with the Soviet Union. Furthermore, H.R. 1834, the Simultaneous Test Ban Act, if passed, would suspend funding for underground nuclear test explosions, contingent upon reciprocal Soviet actions-which of course is assured, with, the new Soviet unilateral moratorium. It also calls for resumption of CTB negotiations. Increasing concern about the federal budget deficit could elicit and strengthen support for these bills.
  6. One of the world's most valuable arms control measures is the 1968 Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), concerning which a Review Conference will be held this month, September. Unless the U.S. and the Soviet Union move decisively toward halting their nuclear arms buildup, as they pledged to do in Article VI of the NPT, the very survival of this treaty-a critically important means of inhibiting the further spread of nuclear weapons-will be in jeopardy. The CTB is probably the most effective and feasible way of persuading non-nuclear states at the Review Conference to keep the NPT in force, a goal regarded as essential by high-ranking U.S. decision makers, as the CTB is completely verifiable.

ITEM: Canada's Ambassador for Disarmament, Douglas Roche, has been travelling around the country speaking frequently on disarmament issues. He almost always mentions the fact that the Canadian government has long worked to achieve a Comprehensive Test Ban. On July 8, 1985 in Edmonton, he favorably quoted the Secretary-General of the United Nations, saying, "It is of direct importance to the future of humanity to end all nuclear explosions. No other means would be as effective in limiting the further development of nuclear weapons."

What, then, does all this mean for the Canadian peace movement? It is clear that a CTB could be the first arms control measure that would actually slow the nuclear arms race. A CTB would impede at the most crucial point the very technology which has relentlessly been spawning new weapons systems, and maintaining the full lethality of existing systems. As such, pressure on the Canadian government by the peace movement in this country could play a key role in the coming of this watershed event in human history.

In recent months, however, a good bit of the energy of the peace movement in Canada has appropriately been spent in opposing Star Wars. Yet as each starting new Star Wars innovation appears, and as we perceive each horrifying new implication, our energies could easily be consumed in endless protest. In his article entitled "Star Wars as Political Decoy" (Ploughshares Monitor, March 1985), Ernie Regehr, Research Coordinator of Project Ploughshares, astutely points out this danger: "Protests against the space-based ray guns of Mr. Reagan's fantasies, while legitimate, may have the effect of giving current nuclear weapons developments and deployments a free political ride. Already anti-satellite testing and MX and D-5 deployment, for example, seem in the public mind to be inevitable if not normal."

Clearly, then, the peace movement needs to devote its primary energies to working for measures which can actually halt the arms race at its core, which is a ban on all nuclear explosives testing, as Star Wars itself is merely a sophisticated system developed from the belief in the necessity of defending self and allies from a first-strike arsenal.

For still greater clarity about our strategy, we need to perceive a fundamental obstacle to security from nuclear weapons. This is acting on the assumption that collective security, safety from nuclear weapons, can be achieved through unilateral military action. It is ironic that proponents of this approach often charge the peace movement with seeking unilateral disarmament when, in fact, few of us are unilateralists. Rather, we seek bilateral, multilateral, and omnilateral cooperation to control and eliminate nuclear weapons. Instead it is the military planners who are unilateralists. They find intolerable even the posture of deterrence, which involves a tense, distrustful sort of cooperation with each side mutually menacing the other. As soon as the available technology permits, they pursue strategies which give them self-reliant independence, which translates into freedom from any sort of cooperation.

Given the escalating danger that first-strike nuclear war will result from this arms race, it is obvious that their approach worsens insecurity. Fortunately, at this moment only one of the superpowers is actively seeking unilateral military advantage and rejecting cooperation to end the arms race. The Soviet Union, not out of superior virtue, but simply out of inferior power and technological status, sees the need for cooperation. Fortunately, the super-power that is most opposed to cooperation is the super-power whose citizens have the more influence. There is a real potential in pressuring the resistant nation to accept the CTB.

Any feasible measure for reversing the arms race is a goal for us to adopt. The CTB is probably the most feasible proposal around now because trust is not vital to the working of the agreement: Verification technologies are already functioning perfectly in the absence of trust.

The Comprehensive Test Ban has a reasonable chance of success, given the groundswell of support which the Canadian peace movement can significantly enhance. It will be rewarding for us to devote our energies to it. There is even the chance for us to experience in our work a delightful new twist - we may actually find ourselves working in harmony with our own government!

George Crowell is a professor of Religious Studies at the University of Windsor. A few portions of his article appeared in the August 19,1985 issue of Christianity and Crisis

Peace Magazine September 1985

Peace Magazine September 1985, page 10. Some rights reserved.

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