Monday, May 24, 2010

United States Should Ratify Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

The invention of nuclear weapons should have severely shaken Thomas Jefferson's optimistic view of the unlimited potential of humanity. The fact it was the United States which first created and deployed them would have perhaps caused him to despair. Jefferson was a scientific man, but he would have been dismayed to see the fruits of scientific knowledge bent towards the creation of weapons so powerful that they could easily destroy all of humanity. Had he lived to see the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is likely Jefferson would have agreed with what the philosopher Albert Camus said a few days after the attacks:

Mechanized civilization has just reached the ultimate state of barbarism. In a near future, we will have to choose between mass suicide and intelligent use of scientific conquest. This can no longer be simply a prayer; it must become an order which goes upward from the peoples to the governments, an order to make a definitive choice between hell and reason.

If he lived in the 21st Century, Jefferson would have seen the American nuclear arsenal of more than 5,000 nuclear weapons as ridiculous and obscene, especially when less than one-tenth of that would be more than sufficient to deter any enemy. He would be a fierce proponent of strong nuclear controls, the long-term objective being the abolition of nuclear weapons altogether.

An important step in the cause of establishing proper nuclear controls would be for the United States to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which was adopted by the United Nations back in 1996. The United States signed the treaty, but has never ratified it. As a result, it still lacks the force of international law.

The CTBT is very simple: all those nations who are party to the treaty are forbidden to carry out any nuclear explosions of any kind at any time. Needless to say, the entry of this traty into force would would greatly simplify efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons to new states. It would also be a powerful symbolic statement by the nations of the world that humanity might one day achieve the dream of abolishing nuclear weapons altogether.

Advances in computer modeling mean that the United States does not require physical nuclear detonations to ensure the continued viability of its existing nuclear arsenal. The fact that our country has yet to ratify the treaty has been used by other non-ratifying states, including India, as a justification for their continued rejection of the treaty. The country has not tested a nuclear weapon for nearly two decades, which makes our continued refusal to ratify the treaty all the more inexplicable.

President Obama has been outspoken in his calls for greater nuclear controls and the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons. But he has yet to make a serious push in the Senate for the ratification of the treaty. This should be done without delay, especially as the chances for ratification may take a sharp turn for the worse after this year's mid-term elections.

21st Century Jeffersonians should ask: what is President Obama waiting for?

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