With the United States Senate drumming up bipartisan support to pass the New START this week, some experts here are speculating that President Barack Obama's zeal for eliminating nuclear weapons might result in discussion on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which has languished for over a decade, being revived next year.
Although India has unilaterally declared a moratorium on testing, it has equally firmly refused to accede to the CTBT regime as long as other major nuclear powers, including the U.S., did not do so. The revival of prospects for the CTBT ratification in the U.S. could raise concerns in India, particularly if India feels that it is being subject to relatively more pressure than other nuclear powers to accede to the treaty.
While it is certainly too early to come to any firm conclusion on the prospects for the CTBT revival in 2011, some arms reduction specialists, such as Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association have argued that should the Obama administration decide to pursue a long and sustained campaign for the CTBT ratification, it would certainly be possible to cobble together bipartisan support base for it.
Speaking to The Hindu Mr. Kimball said that this was possible in part because much had changed since the debate surrounding the CTBT in 1998-99 and, for example, there was greater consensus now that the effectiveness of the U.S.' nuclear arsenal would not be compromised by any commitment by the U.S. to forswear testing.
He further noted significant comments hinting at the Obama administration's interest in reviving discussions on the CTBT, made before the United Nations First Committee on Disarmament and International Security by Rose Gottemoeller, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, in October, and by Brooke Anderson, Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs, in September.
However there are some experts who regard the prospects for the CTBT revival as dimmer than what Mr. Kimball suggested. In comments to The Hindu Ashley Tellis, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, rejected the idea that the passage of New START had any direct impact on the CTBT. He said, “It is going to be very hard to get the U.S. Senate to ratify the CTBT any time soon, especially in the new Congress.” He added that even if the U.S. were to ratify the CTBT, he did not see how India could sign it at this juncture.
Similarly Teresita Schaffer, a former U.S. Ambassador who writes about South Asia, said to The Hindu that while the Obama administration may be interested in reviving the CTBT “they know its chances are poor.” Arms control treaties have usually been overwhelmingly approved, she noted, and yet the “one time [that] the CTBT came before the Senate it did not even get a majority let alone the needed two-thirds [support needed for passage].
Yet Mr. Kimball argued that with the improvement in global testing monitoring technologies, the U.S. had much to gain from being able to verify suspicious incidents. Mr. Kimball said, “Today three-fourths of monitoring systems are certified and online, there have been numerous onsite inspection exercises conducted, and it has proven that it can detect extremely small explosions, such as the North Korean nuclear test.
He also noted that the reason that the CTBT did not get adequate support in the late 1990s was because erstwhile Democratic President Bill Clinton faced a Republican-controlled Senate, and Republican Senator Jesse Helms, who was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time “laid a trap for President Clinton,” – entailing few hearings on the subject and a hasty vote – which led to the treaty not being passed.
Considering the Obama administration's non-proliferation options in 2011, however, Mr. Tellis, said, “From a policy point of view, I think it is more important to sustain the current moratorium against testing worldwide rather than spend our energies on ratifying a treaty that has at best marginal impact on stemming further proliferation.”