To the Editor:

John Deutch correctly concludes in "A Nuclear Posture for Today" (January/February 2005) that the United States lacks a convincing rationale for the structure of its current nuclear force and for the policies guiding the management of its nuclear weapons. He rightly asserts that countering the proliferation of nuclear weapons should become as high a priority as deterring nuclear attacks. Yet although Deutch is right to propose substantially reducing the United States' deployed nuclear arsenal, he is wrong to advocate possible new nuclear tests or changing the terms of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Currently, the United States maintains its nuclear stockpile without testing. But Deutch proposes that new nuclear tests be considered to prove that the practical physics underpinning the antitesting policy still holds. "Careful timing and management of such tests could mitigate the adverse international reaction they would inevitably cause," he argues.

But he greatly overstates the need for such "scientific confirmation tests" and the ability to "mitigate" the damage done by conducting them. Several detailed technical analyses, the most recent of which was conducted by a National Academy of Sciences panel in 2002, have concluded that the United States can maintain confidence in its enduring stockpile without periodic nuclear tests, provided it has a well-supported, science-based stewardship and maintenance program, together with the capability to remanufacture warheads.

Meanwhile, the notion that the United States could conduct "scientific confirmation tests" without triggering additional nuclear tests in Russia, China, India, or Pakistan is not credible. Most of these states have much more to gain from further tests than the United States could ever hope to, and such tests might also lead to a nuclear cascade elsewhere.

Deutch's suggestion that the United States should seek to make the 1996 CTBT of limited rather than unlimited duration is also problematic. He omits mentioning that Washington agreed to negotiate a CTBT of unlimited duration in early 1995 in order to achieve the indefinite and unconditional extension of the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) later that same year. Had the five nuclear-weapons states not committed themselves to negotiating a CTBT of unlimited term, it is highly unlikely that the non-nuclear weapons states would have agreed to extend the NPT indefinitely. For Washington to lead a "bait and switch" effort to change the CTBT, therefore, would risk further unraveling the NPT--the cornerstone of the nonproliferation regime.

Furthermore, the idea that the United States could propose a revision to a key CTBT provision without triggering similar efforts by other nations to revise other portions of the text is unrealistic. The inevitable result would be the dissolution of a treaty that has been ratified by 120 states, including 33 out of the 44 needed to bring it into force--a textbook case of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

The United States' right to withdraw from the CTBT is secured by a "supreme national interest" clause in the treaty that states, "Each State Party shall, in exercising its national sovereignty, have the right to withdraw from this Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this Treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests." In negotiating the CTBT, the Clinton administration asked the Senate to include similar language in its resolution of ratification. In doing so, the White House made clear that the United States could withdraw from the treaty if any serious doubts were to arise over the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, sufficient to undercut the credibility of the nation's nuclear deterrent. To argue that the treaty's "supreme national interest" clause somehow "sidesteps" a difficult issue or is insufficient to protect the U.S. right of withdrawal, as Deutch does, mischaracterizes the negotiating record while ignoring recent history (as when, in 2002, the Bush administration used an identical clause to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty).

We agree with Deutch that the CTBT would bolster international nonproliferation norms, and that the issues some have used to argue against it--such as verification--have been exaggerated. The key to reaping the treaty's benefits is bringing it into force, and the key to that is not renegotiation but ratification.

During the recent presidential campaign, George W. Bush identified the spread of nuclear weapons and their possible use by terrorists as the most serious threat to the nation. To strengthen the NPT and stem nuclear proliferation, Bush should continue the U.S. moratorium on nuclear testing, initiate a bipartisan process with the Senate to achieve CTBT ratification, and work to secure ratification by other key states.


Lecturer, Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, and former Director for Defense Policy and Arms Control, National Security Council (1993-2001)


Professor Emeritus of Physics, Stanford University, and Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution