The Politics of Nuclear Test Ban Treaties
Alice Slater

Global Resource Action Center for the Environment (GRACE)


Despite the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, ten years ago, there are still more than 31,000 nuclear weapons on our planet, 11,000 in the US; 20,000 in Russia -- with some 5,000 bombs in those countries poised at hair trigger alert, ready to fire in minutes, and arsenals numbering in the hundreds in the UK, France, China, and Israel, with something less than that number in India and Pakistan. Global stockpiles have been declining from a peak of 70,000 warheads in 1986, but it was the enactment of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) in 1972 that provided an opening for a series of arms control agreements - SALT I, SALT II, START I and now START II-- that put successively lower caps on the numbers of long-range "strategic" nuclear warheads in the US and Russian arsenals.

At the time Russia ratified START II it also ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which went down to ignominious defeat last year in the US Senate as our Doctor Strangeloves testified against its passage, despite Clinton's deal-sweetener to buy their support for an end to underground nuclear explosions with a "stockpile stewardship" program for the weapons labs. This benign sounding "stewardship" program actually authorizes $4.6 billion each year for 10 years to enable our weapons designers to develop new nuclear weapons with computer-simulated virtual reality testing coupled with so-called "sub-critical" nuclear tests in which plutonium is shattered in tunnels 1,000 feet below the desert floor at the Nevada test site, without causing a "critical" chain reaction. We've detonated ten of them since Clinton signed the CTBT but he says these don't count as nuclear tests -- like not inhaling or not having sex.

Putin announced, upon the ratification of START II and the CTBT in Russia, that he would like to begin START III talks and reduce the long-range missiles from 3,500 to 1,500 or even 1,000 instead of the original levels contemplated for START III of 2,500 warheads. This forward-looking proposal was accompanied by a stern caveat that all Russian offers would be off the table, including the START II ratification, if the US proceeded with its current plans to build a National Missile Defense (NMD) in violation of the ABM Treaty. Astoundingly, US diplomatic "talking points" leaked by Russia to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, revealed that our government was urging the Russians that they had nothing to fear from our proposed NMD as long as they kept 2,500 weapons in their arsenal at launch-on-warning, hair-trigger alert. Despite Putin's offer to cut to 1,500 warheads, or even less, we assured Russia that with 2,500 warheads they would be able to overcome our NMD shield and deliver an "annihilating counterattack."

Copyright Alice Slater


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