Along with education, one of President Bush's first priorities in office should be the ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Though the treaty failed in 1999, it has a better chance of passing the Senate if given support from the new Republican administration.
A recent review by former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Gen. John M. Shalikashvili concludes that the treaty would reinforce America's military dominance and prevent other nations from developing more advanced nuclear weapons. His analysis confirms what proponents of the treaty have argued all along--that, as the nation with the most advanced nuclear weapons and the most sophisticated technology to simulate actual tests, the U.S. has the most to gain from a comprehensive test ban.
Bush's advisors are split on the merits of the treaty. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, a former chair of the JCS, has long favored the treaty. But others, like Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, contend that it would allow other nations to surreptitiously test smaller nuclear weapons, allowing them to make progress on complicated designs while the U.S. sits on its hands.
Responding to these criticisms, Shalikashvili says that the U.S. should step up intelligence efforts to detect violations of the treaty. And it will undoubtedly be much easier to discover illicit nuclear tests if the treaty, which contains a provision for on-site inspections, is in place.
In addition, continued nuclear testing poses a significant threat to American dominance in conventional weapons, as Shalikashvili recognizes. If tactical nuclear weapons are made practical by continued testing, they could pose a dangerous threat to American soldiers on the battlefield, even in the absence of total nuclear war.
The treaty is particularly important in the context of overall arms-control negotiations. Bush has shown a startling reluctance to consider the views of America's allies and the long-term effects of American actions on the worldwide arms dilemma. Combined with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the CTBT could usher in a new era of arms control negotiations aimed at reducing the thousands of Cold War-era missiles that are still hanging over the world's conscience, ready to fly at a moment's notice.
On the other hand, if the CTBT is dropped and Bush's hopes for a national missile defense system are realized, then the result could be a renewed arms race. Our allies are already nervous about America's seemingly reluctant progress on arms control. If the U.S. suddenly takes a step backwards on arms control, it may inadvertently upset the delicate balance of power in the world that has thus far been so successful in preventing nuclear war.
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