US leadership needed to prevent nuclear testing by North Korea
North Korea’s nuclear weapons test explosion underscores the need for stronger US leadership to prevent the testing, spread, and use of the world’s most dangerous weapons. US ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty would set a clear international standard.
Four years ago, President Obama warned that “the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up.” Last week, North Korea’s nuclear weapons test explosion – its third and the world’s 2,053rd – underscored the urgent need for stronger barriers to prevent the testing, spread, and use of the world’s most dangerous weapons.Skip to next paragraph
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In his first term, Mr. Obama made significant progress to reduce nuclear dangers. This included cuts in excess US and Russian cold-war nuclear stockpiles and locking up vulnerable nuclear material from terrorists. But there is more to be done.
US leadership is especially critical to the implementation of the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which bans all nuclear test explosions. The United States and 183 other nations have signed the test-ban treaty, but America must still ratify the treaty to bring it into force.
The US has not conducted a nuclear test explosion for more than 20 years. Since there is no technical or military need to do so ever again, ratifying the treaty would not hinder US nuclear readiness. Other countries like North Korea, or even China, however, could use further nuclear tests to perfect more sophisticated and deadly warhead designs. US ratification of the treaty would send a clear message to nuclear capable countries like Pakistan, India, and North Korea that are not signatories. And it would establish a clear norm for countries like China and Iran that have both signed, but not ratified, the treaty.
During his first term, Obama repeatedly pledged to work with the Senate to secure US ratification of the test-ban treaty. Now is the right time for the White House to launch a high-level push for ratifying the treaty and for the Senate to join in closing the door on nuclear testing.
US ratification of the test-ban treaty would increase the global leverage necessary to curtail North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and help deter Iran’s leaders from pursuing a nuclear weapon. Completing work on the treaty would also reduce nuclear tensions between India and Pakistan and between India and China, and enhance security and stability throughout Asia.
US leadership on the treaty would also build support to strengthen the beleaguered nuclear nonproliferation system. At the 2010 conference to review the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the 189 member states unanimously reaffirmed the vital importance of entry into force of the test-ban treaty “as a core element of the international nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime.”
Like any treaty-ratification effort, securing Senate approval will be tough, but is within reach. The Senate’s approval of the New START treaty (a nuclear arms reduction agreement between the US and Russia) in December 2010 shows that the White House and the Senate can work together when US national security interests are at stake.