Bold New Conference for Test Ban by Amending Existing Treaty

By Maxime Faille | 1988-10-01 12:00:00

By Maxime Faille

In August 5, 1963, the first treaty aimed at controlling the nuclear arms race was signed in Moscow. The Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Underwater, more commonly known as the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTB), promised to be a first step towards "the discontinuance of all test explosions of nuclear weapons for all time," as stipulated in its preamble.

But 25 years after the treaty was signed, that promise has not been fulfilled. In fact, over 1,000 nuclear weapons have since been tested underground and out of sight. Scores of new nuclear weapons have been developed, weapons that never would have seen the light of day had testing been stopped altogether.

"I think President Kennedy would be deeply disappointed to know that today ... we still have no comprehensive nuclear test ban. And I think he would salute the effort to utilize one of the provisions of the Treaty for a conference of member nations to convert that Partial Test Ban Treaty into a comprehensive test ban ..." was the reaction of Ted Sorensen, Special Counsel to President John Kennedy.

He was referring to a campaign that Parliamentarians Global Action has been working on for almost four years: An overlooked Clause of the PTB, Article II, allows any party to the treaty to propose amendments.

LAST AUGUST 5--THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY of the signing of the Partial Test Ban Treaty --Mexico, Sri Lanka, Yugoslavia, Indonesia, and Peru (all parties to the treaty) formally submitted a proposal to amend the PTB in order to make it into a comprehensive test ban.

The three original parties to the PTB, the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, are now obliged to convene an amendment conference if so requested by one-third of the parties of the treaty. (These nuclear nations have already dutifully circulated the amendment proposal to the member nations and the necessary level of support -- one-third-- probably will be attained by the time subscribers receive this magazine.) Such a conference will be the ideal forum for fulfilling the promise of the PTB and converting it into a Comprehensive Test Ban. The attainment of the Ban is now widely considered to be the first crucial step toward curbing the arms race-- and with good reason. A stop to testing today would prevent further qualitative developments in nuclear weapons, such as so-called "third generation" weapons. It would stop the highly destabilizing Strategic Defence Initiative (Star Wars) dead in its tracks.

Perhaps even more significantly, converting the Partial Test Ban into a comprehensive one would go a long way in stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons to other countries, for two reasons: The 116 parties to the PTB include the so-called nuclear weapons threshold states -- India, Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, and Israel. If the nuclear powers agree to join the majority of non-nuclear states in ratifying an amendment that would ban all tests, each of these countries, as well as other proliferation risks such as Libya, Iran, and Iraq, would be bound by such an amendment. It would then be extremely difficult for any of these states to develop nuclear weapons; and the achievement of a Comprehensive Test Ban would reinforce the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968.

That year, the nuclear powers (with the exception of France and China) and the vast majority of non-nuclear states struck a deal. The states that didn't already have nuclear weapons promised not to acquire them-- at least until 1995. In return, the nuclear powers promised to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament."

UNFORTUNATELY, THE SUPERPOWERS haven't lived up to their end of the deal. Instead of reversing the arms race, they sent it madly into overdrive. We shouldn't be lulled by the euphoria surrounding the Intermediate Force (INF) agreement. Even if we assume the current START negotiations succeed in eliminating half of the strategic arsenal of the superpowers, they will still have twice as many of these weapons as they had when they promised to proceed to the cessation of the nuclear arms race and the pursuit of nuclear disarmament "in good faith" and "at an early date."

This hypocrisy is a great threat to the NPT, as it discourages the other parties to the treaty. Failure to reach a Comprehensive Test Ban has been the outstanding issue at each of the NPT review conferences of 1975, 1980, and 1985. It also conveniently serves to justify non-ratification of the treaty by the "threshold nuclear states." The NPT expires in 1995, and many observers worry it may not be renewed unless a CTB has been negotiated.

COMPREHENSIVE Test Ban is not only highly desirable, it is highly verifiable. Recent breakthroughs in technology as well as the Soviet acceptance of intrusive verification measures have rendered the CTB virtually risk-free. Certainly the risks of not having a CTB -- the development of destabilizing weapons and the proliferation of nuclear weapons to other countries -- are far greater.

"Why (a CTB) hasn't occured, it seems to me, is attributable largely to a lack of political will," according to Paul Warnke, the Chief United States arms control negotiator during the Carter Administration. Indeed (and incredibly), the Reagan administration suspended negotiations for a CTB for seven years -- the first U.S. President to oppose a test ban since Eisenhower began the effort in 1958.

Then, last September, the U.S. and the Soviet Union issued a statement to the effect that they had agreed to "full-scale stage-by-stage negotiations" on nuclear testing. This approach has been compared to "Waiting for Godot." Senator Ted Kennedy called it "negotiations on a test ban thrice removed." William Epstein, a Canadian who served as the United Nations Secretary General to the Partial Test Ban talks of 1962-63, says this approach will allow testing "well into the 21st century."

All of these criticisms seem accurate, when one considers that the individual leading the talks for the U.S., Dr. Robert Barker, is also the Chief Assistant for Nuclear Weapons Programs in the Defence Department.

In 1987, Dr. Barker testified before Congress that the superpowers should never stop developing new weapons: "We are never going to be finished." he said. Unless of course, these weapons are ever used, either by miscalculation, by accident, or terrorist attack. In which case, we'll most definitely be finished.

Kenneth Adelman, director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, was a little bit more optimistic when he predicted a CTB would be achieved "way, way, way down the road, when there's peace on earth and goodwill toward men." He didn't mean Christmas.

But we must not despair. The convening of an amendment conference of the Partial Test Ban Treaty is an idea that should rally world opinion, and is particularly timely in this U.S. Presidential election year. Testing in the atmosphere was stopped because the public demanded it. Women's concern over Strontium-90, a radioactive by-product of testing, found in high levels in babies' teeth and milk, pushed them to action. They succeeded, but only partially. It is high time we finish the job begun 25 years ago. In the words of the chief U.S. negotiator of the Partial Test Ban, the late Averell Harriman: "Let our descendants look back and see a beginning-- not a light that briefly burned and slowly flickered out."

Maxime Faille is one of the four Students Against Global Extermination (SAGE), who recently travelled across Canada, visiting 150 communities to warn about the nuclear arms race. He is now an intern with Parliamentarians Global Action, a network of over 600 national legislators working for disarmament, development, and the strengthening of world institutions.

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1988

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1988, page 16. Some rights reserved.

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