Jacksonians and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

Yesterday I argued that ideological factors took precedent over more pragmatic considerations of national security in the right-wing fervor for deployment of an ABM system. Another example of this phenomena would be the proposed new generation of small-yield “bunker buster” nuclear weapon and the reliable replacement nuclear warhead. A significant debate revolves around whether the United States would have to resume nuclear testing to certify these weapons, or whether simulation and component-level testing would be sufficient. And why not? If simulation and component-level testing are good enough for ABM aren’t they good enough for a new nuclear weapon? But for proponents of these weapons, resumption of testing is not a means to an end product, but is rather the whole point.

In the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970 the United States and other declared nuclear powers committed themselves to complete nuclear disarmament. But this commitment wasn’t entirely sincere. For supporters of the NNPT on the left it was sincere, but for supporters on the right, it was a throwaway provision. And they weren’t out of their minds for thinking so: a fair amount of language in treaties is nonoperative, there to paper over disagreements. Supporter on the right in favor of a creating a double standard figured that Article VI obligations on declared nuclear powers could be perpetually kicked down the road.

But the United States began to covertly disarm. The Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963, the unilateral test moratorium announced by George Bush, Sr. in 1992 and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty were disarmament through the back door: with a bar against testing having cut off the path to new nuclear weapons, all that was required for disarmament to obtain was to wait for the last weapon in the existing stockpile to be decertified. But the right caught on to this scheme and the Senate rejection of the CNTBT in 1999 called it to a halt.

But it isn’t enough to stop the left from imposing a test ban. A new generation of weapons and new testing are required to depose the regime of piecemeal nuclear disarmament. Ginning up some new nuclear weapons systems was intended to begin the process of rolling back this development. The RRW was a particularly brilliant maneuver in that one could pick off a number of people who in defense of the de facto non-testing regime might otherwise have opposed a new generation weapon by arguing that the purpose of the new weapon was to preserve the commitment to no nuclear testing. But no one should miss the fact that there is not an across the board disavowal of the need to test these new weapons, but instead a debate about whether they will have to be tested. There should be little surprise that should the Jacksonians find themselves in power again, they will determine that in fact they do need to be tested. The motive is not the simple certification of a weapons system — again, witness ABM: noncertification is acceptable when it serves the ideological objective — but wrecking fundamental damage to one international system, that it might be replaced with another more to their ideological liking.