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Debate: Ban on nuclear weapons testing

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Should nuclear weapons testing be banned?

Background and context

Efforts to stop the testing of nuclear weapons have been going on for nearly as long as nuclear technology has existed. The 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty only banned tests in certain environments such as the atmosphere, outer space and beneath the sea. While the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty included a statement of intent to work towards the total ending of nuclear testing, it was not until the competition of the Cold War effectively ended and after the START Treaties between the United States and the U.S.S.R. were signed that a total moratorium became feasible. President Gorbachev in 1991 and President Bush Sr. in 1992 declared unilateral moratoriums on testing and were followed by other nuclear powers. In the 1990s debate has focused on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) of 1996 which rules out any nuclear tests in any environment indefinitely for its signatories. This was opened for signatures in 1996 but has not been ratified by the 44 listed Appendix 2 nations who must commit before the treaty comes in to force. Non-ratifiers include the U.S.A, China and India although major nuclear powers like Russia and the United Kingdom have committed. As such the situation is finely balanced and it is possible in a debate fairly to propose either the abandoning or the enforcing of the Treaty.

Contents

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Argument #1

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Yes

The CTBT works with the Non-Proliferation Treaty and is the best way to stop the development and proliferation of more, and more complex, nuclear weapons amongst established powers and to new States. It not only holds back the technical development of weapons but also reduces the extent to which they can be shown off, therefore reducing their value as a bargaining chip and a symbol of power. The CTBT means fewer weapons in fewer states and is therefore a valuable way of reducing nuclear tensions.

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No

The CTBT is indeed an attempt to freeze the current nuclear power balance (one reason it is so distrusted by new global powers) but it is a misguided one. It is only likely to curtail those nations who present no real threat to global stability. In fact, by limiting those states it can make the reality of Mutually Assured Destruction less clear and actually encourage recklessness by less stable nuclear powers. Most nuclear proliferation now comes not from costly development programmes but from the purchase of ready made nuclear materials and expertise from the ex-Communist Bloc. If we have nuclear weapons their effect must be clear to all so they are stabilising and not the opposite.

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Argument #2

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Yes

Nuclear explosions have a huge environmental impact and cause huge harms. Large areas are irradiated by the blasts themselves and the long term effects of radioactive materials thrown into the atmosphere by the explosions are uncertain. Tests often involve moving people off their own lands as with the French tests in Polynesia in 1995 and involve the destruction of habitats. Underground tests are suspected to have caused earthquakes in China although information is limited.

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No

Overt testing by nuclear powers happens in only the most deserted and environmentally stable areas such as Siberia and the deserts of Western Australia and Nevada. As such its environmental impact is not just minimal but much less than that of secret tests which might take place to circumvent the Treaty. In the end the environmental damage is not significant enough to decide this debate.

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Argument #3

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Yes

The CTBT can be effective in stopping the testing of nuclear weapons. It includes redress measures in the treaty, both specified and scope for wider action. Moreover, voluntary commitments to curtail nuclear testing do hold moral force. The French government waited for the end of a one-year moratorium before resuming testing in 1995.

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No

The CTBT is toothless. Its only specific measure is expulsion from the treaty rights and obligations. It is unenforceable and its only effect is likely to be on those states who threaten least by their nuclear armouries. Affectively it puts the tool of nuclear testing in the hands of the least stable and least scrupulous of the nuclear powers.

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Argument #4

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Yes

Verification of the Test Ban is now possible; the Comprehensive Test Ban Organisation in Vienna is in charge of the International Monitoring system comprising a network of stations throughout the world which can take seismic, hydro-acoustic and infrasound measurements in all environments and which measure radionuclide levels in debris. There is also a right of inspection between signatories in line with those included in the US-USSR weapons reduction treaties.

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No

Verification can never be perfect and there will always be uncertainty and mistrust. If nations perform covert tests it not only means they are more likely to be in more vulnerable environments but also that they are more likely to raise tensions because of the greater uncertainty about the source and import of the test. Further, the environments in which testing was banned in the Limited Test Ban Treaty are more likely to be used if there is no legal difference and a greater secrecy.

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Argument #5

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Yes

There is no danger to the competence of existing nuclear arsenals from the CTBT. Other aspects of nuclear weapons like guidance systems and missiles can still be tested and computer modelling does much of the work for testing explosions anyway. Russia and Britain have both ratified the CTBT and neither have any intention of relinquishing their status as nuclear powers.

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No

Computer modelling can only work so long as it is based on data from real explosions. The less real data, the less effective it is; as time goes by and new technologies develop modelling will become increasingly unsatisfactory. Moreover, it is exactly the unexpected effects that are important in the tests. They not only allow us to ensure the weapons are working but also yield data which has been found highly useful in the peaceful nuclear industries which are specifically protected in the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

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Argument #6

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Yes

Voters in the United States, for example, overwhelmingly favour the CTBT. 73% to 16% say that the United States should ratify the treaty. World opinion in all but a few rogue states strongly favours banning nuclear testing creating a significant political impetus.

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No

The CTBT is a political dead duck. There is no political will behind it as seen by the fact that not all the Annex 44 states are in any way committed to ratifying and India, China and Pakistan have shown that they intend to do just the opposite. A treaty which has none of the support necessary to come into force is clearly not one worth committing time and energy to.

See also

External links

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