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Thu Jun 27, 2019, 02:21 PM

WaPo: Trump is quietly leading us closer to nuclear disaster

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-is-quietly-leading-us-closer-to-nuclear-disaster/2019/06/26/3348ca5e-9445-11e9-aadb-74e6b2b46f6a_story.html?utm_term=.5077dc67fe5d&wpisrc=nl_most&wpmm=1

Quietly and under a shadow of unease at home and abroad, the Trump administration is opening the door to U.S. resumption of underground nuclear explosive testing. If the president follows his national security team into this dark room, it could shatter the 50-year international consensus behind preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and launch a new nuclear arms race that shakes both the Nevada desert and one of the last remaining pillars of arms control.

The 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT ) prohibits “any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion” in the atmosphere, in space, underwater or underground. During the negotiations, the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France also agreed on a “not all-inclusive, but illustrative” list of activities not prohibited by the CTBT, recorded by President Bill Clinton in a 1997 directive and given to the Senate. As the U.S. negotiator told the Senate in 1999, “the zero line, between what would be prohibited to all under the treaty and what would not be prohibited, would be precisely defined by the question of nuclear yield” — that is, whether the activity produced a self-sustaining nuclear reaction. “If what you did produced any yield whatsoever, it was not allowed. If it didn’t, it was allowed.”

The CTBT, unratified though it is by the United States, but with 184 signatories, created a near-universal norm against nuclear explosive testing. (Only North Korea has tested since 1998.) Beyond this benefit, the commitment by the five nuclear weapon states to conclude the treaty by 1996 was crucial to achieving the indefinite extension in 1995 of the existing nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Today, the Non-Proliferation Treaty remains central to limiting the spread of nuclear weapons. Any action that weakens the test-ban treaty weakens the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

So why would the Trump administration seek to restart nuclear testing? In March, four Republican senators wrote the president asking whether he would consider “unsigning” the CTBT, calling the pact a “deeply flawed treaty that purports to ban all nuclear weapons tests.” In late May, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency stated Russia “probably” is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium. The word “probably” prompted more queries and a new DIA statement: “The U.S. government, including the Intelligence Community, has assessed that Russia has conducted nuclear weapons tests that have created nuclear yield.”

Are the Russians cheating? Russia’s nuclear test site has been under close scrutiny for years. But in the absence of more public information — information that if it exists would probably be highly classified and unlikely to be made public — we have little choice but to assess the administration’s charge based on its motivations and methods.

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