Excerpts of Remarks by Under Secretary of State for Arms Control John Holum,
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Requirements Ted Warner,
Under Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz, and
Former NSC Senior Director for Defense and Arms Policy Bob Bell

on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

White House Press Briefing Transcript
October 5, 1999

Transcript of Press Briefing on Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

WASHINGTON, Oct. 5 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Following is a transcript of a press briefing today by Under Secretary of State for Arms Control John Holum, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Requirements Ted Warner, Under Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz, and Former NSC Senior Director for Defense and Arms Policy Bob Bell

The Briefing Room

12:10 P.M. EDT

MR. LEAVY: Good afternoon. Welcome to the White House. As you know, the President is engaged in a major effort on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. He'll be speaking about this issue as a part of the Defense Reauthorization signing this afternoon. To give you a little bit more perspective and detail on the treaty and its provisions, we have an all-star cast.

Let me introduce Bob Bell, former Senior Director for Defense and Arms Control Policy at the National Security Council, coming off the bench this week for us; followed by John Holum, who is the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control-designate; followed by Ernie Moniz, Under Secretary of Energy; and, finally Ted Warner, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Threat Reduction. Bob, you want to start us off?

MR. BELL: Thank you, David. Let me first say it's great to be back. I'd like to lead off, by way of introduction, by making a few remarks to put the debate that's coming on this treaty in context. And then I will be followed by a number of my colleagues from the inter-agency that are going to address specific issues that are central to the debate in more detail. And then we can take any questions you have.

I think it's instructive to remember that several months before the Clinton administration took office, in the fall of 1992, the Senate voted, for all intents and purposes, to take the United States out of the nuclear testing business. In September of 1992, the Senate, by an overwhelming majority vote, passed the Hatfield-Exon-Mitchell Nuclear Moratorium Amendment, which had three key elements. The first was to set an absolute deadline for the U.S. to stop testing. The second was to require a major scientific effort to ensure that we could maintain confidence in our nuclear weapons, absent actual nuclear tests. And the third part -- the last, but not least, part -- of the moratorium was to require the next administration to negotiate a CTB no later than September 1996.

Now, the Senate, in its wisdom, recognized the crucial inter-relationship of these three elements. First, for the U.S. to stop, and confidently stop, actual nuclear tests, we needed a very high-tech program in place to assure that we could maintain very high confidence in our nuclear weapons -- because for the Senate, as for this administration, strategic nuclear deterrence still matters. It's still a critical element of our national security posture.

And equally important, the Senate recognized then that a U.S. unilateral moratorium would have been inimical to our national security interest, absent some mechanism for getting other nuclear powers, indeed, the rest of the world if possible, into the same set of restrictions. And that is why the Senate demanded that we achieve a CTB by 1996.

Now, some are apparently arguing, in the course of this debate that's now beginning, that we should support the continuation of the U.S. unilateral moratorium, but reject the treaty. And that strikes me as an absurdly contradictory position, because it would keep in place, unilaterally, a total ban on U.S. nuclear testing, but virtually invite the other nuclear powers and nuclear want-to-be's to conduct nuclear tests of their own.

Let's just think about that for a minute. Let's take the case of China, which has been much in the news in the last year or so. Without nuclear testing, for example, China is going to be greatly constrained in any effort to put multiple warheads on its existing strategic force. This challenge for China of MIRV-ing its strategic force, which could have major impact on the strategic balance, is going to be benefitted if they can conduct nuclear tests. With the CTB in place, that option for China is greatly constrained. And with the CTB in place, China will certainly face a more daunting challenge in trying to take advantage of whatever gains they did or did not register in the course of nuclear espionage efforts.

That's precisely why the Cox Commission explicitly noted the value of the CTB, vis-a-vis the situation we're facing now with China. So it seems to me that those in the Senate who are most concerned by Chinese nuclear programs and Chinese nuclear espionage should be in the forefront of those supporting this treaty.

Now, after taking office in 1993, the Clinton administration moved quickly and decisively to faithfully and fully implement all three parts of the congressionally-mandated moratorium. We put in place at the cost of $4.5 billion a year, a science-based stockpile stewardship program that the directors of our nuclear labs have told the President they are confident will allow us to maintain extremely high confidence in our nuclear inventory even absent nuclear testing. And we pulled off what some thought was mission impossible, which was negotiating the CTB to conclusion in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva with the United States being the first country to sign in September 1996.

And, lastly, working closely with the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we formulated our own package of six crucial safeguards that supplement the treaty and enhance the U.S. ability to maintain its national security interest to the highest standards under this treaty.

Now, the critics seem to be making three main arguments against this treaty. Let's just think about them briefly for one minute. The first argument I hear often is that the stockpile stewardship program won't work. It won't work notwithstanding the professional judgment of the laboratory directors that it will. And not just the laboratory directors. I would note that in 1995, the JASONS -- all caps, that's an acronym -- the JASONS group, which is one of the most prestigious bipartisan groups of American scientists and physicists, expressed its full confidence in our ability to do this task.

Critics, to be sure, can point to dissenting views within the scientific community. You can find a scientist, here or there, to quote that says, I don't think it will work. And that's what debate is all about. But let's remember that there are dissenting scientific views on the issue of national missile defense, which you're dutifully reporting as well.

There are always scientists who are going to have contrary views, and there are certainly a number of scientists who are saying that missile defense can't work against realistic targets. But those on the Hill who seem to have no faith in American technological prowess and know-how, when it comes to stockpile stewardship, ironically seem to be the first to dismiss the views of dissenting scientists on the issue of missile defense.

The Clinton administration happens to believe in American scientific prowess and know-how. We happen to believe that we can do both. We believe that we can get NMD to work and we're not going to deploy it unless it will; and we believe -- as do the lab directors, the JASONS and the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- that the stockpile stewardship program can deliver.

But what if the dissenting views, God forbid, in this case are right? What if it turns out that we can land on the moon, but we can't meet this technological challenge, despite $4.5 billion a year, despite the fact that we're building on a foundation of over 1,000 actual nuclear tests conducted by the United States before we stopped in September, 1992.

The President as assured the Senate in the sixth of the six safeguards, Safeguard F, that should that eventuality attain, and he said he does not think it will, that it is extremely remote that it would. But should it attain, if he is informed by the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Energy, as advised by the Nuclear Weapons Council and the nuclear labs and the strategic command that we cannot maintain confidence in our nuclear strategic deterrent, that he is prepared to withdraw from the treaty. The treaty has a clause that allows withdrawal in cases of supreme national interest.

Now, the second argument seems to be that we can't verify the treaty. And I will be the first to tell you that this nuclear test ban treaty is not absolutely verifiable down to the most minute level of nuclear yield. We understood that when we negotiated it. But we maintain and strongly believe that this treaty is effectively verifiable. And by that I mean that any state that wants to conduct nuclear tests to perfect some new, advanced, or more dangerous nuclear design that could have negative implications for our national security, is going to have to conduct testing at such a yield, and in such numbers of tests to have any confidence, that the treaty is going to have a deterrent effect.

But I would ask this question: for those who are concerned by prospective low-yield nuclear testing among rogue states; for those who are confused, or concerned, by what Russia may or may not be doing, in tunnels in Novaya Zemla in the Arctic, how does defeating this treaty help the problem? With this treaty, we have tools that we will gain -- in terms of meeting our monitoring requirements -- that we otherwise will not have: additional monitoring stations and, most importantly, an option for on-site inspection. Defeating the treaty would deny our intelligence community the additional benefits of those additional tools.

Now, last, it's said, well, there's no point in the United States approving, because there's a number of other countries that have to approve, and they're not going to do it, so what does it matter? The treaty will never come into force, anyway.

And I would simply point out that two years ago, we had a great and historic debate in the United States Senate on the Chemical Weapons Treaty. And that same proposition was put on the table. That same proposition was debated. That same proposition was taken to a Senate vote, because we faced amendments that would have held our observance of the Chemical Weapons Treaty hostage to Russia, or China, or rogue states, ratifying the treaty themselves. The Senate, in its wisdom two years ago, decisively defeated all of those amendments. And the critics were quite simply proven wrong, because after the United States ratified the Chemical Weapons Treaty, Russia ratified. And China ratified. And Iran ratified. And that treaty is fully enforced, and every month gains additional adherents.

We think the best way to prevent nuclear states from advancing their stockpile is to put this treaty in place. And we think the best chance for putting the treaty in place, and persuading countries like India and Pakistan -- who are on the threshold of saying yes -- to say yes, is for us to show leadership. After all, throughout history, history has changed when the United States has led.

And I will end there, and turn it over to John Holum.

UNDER SECRETARY HOLUM: Thank you, Bob. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty has a long history, a bipartisan history, with support from our strongest national security leaders. The quest for a Comprehensive Test Ban actually goes back to the Eisenhower administration, when President Eisenhower ordered a moratorium on testing in 1958. President Kennedy's partial test ban in 1963 banned testing in the atmosphere. And in 1974 and 1976, threshold test ban treaties banned underground explosions under 150 kilotons.

As Bob said, in 1993 President Clinton, following a directive from Congress, directed renewed efforts. And the result was that we met the deadline, and he signed in 1996 a treaty that bans nuclear weapons test explosions, and all other nuclear explosions. No exceptions. No thresholds. So President Eisenhower's original goal has finally been realized.

Now, we made clear in the negotiations that we would continue to maintain our stockpiles. The treaty bans the bang, not the bomb. Under Secretary Moniz will speak to the safety and reliability of our stockpiles. We also negotiated persistently to make sure that the treaty allowed use of our own national technical means of verification to monitor compliance, along with the official treaty monitoring system of some 321 sensors all around the world -- including, for example, some 30 additional sensors in Russia.

Now, Bob has said we can't detect down to zero. But we have reported formally to the Senate that the treaty is effectively verifiable -- that we can, under this treaty, protect our security. Ratification by 44 named states, including the United States, is necessary for entry into force. Forty-one of those 44 have signed. Twenty-three of those, and many of our other -- 23 of those have ratified so far, including France and the United Kingdom, and many of our other allies. As with the chemical weapons, we expect that our lead will be followed.

As to security benefits, Assistant Secretary Warner will address these. But practically speaking, the treaty does limit the ability of Russia and China to upgrade their nuclear forces. But also keep in mind that they're already nuclear weapon states.

For us, the main security value of this treaty is non-proliferation. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty strengthens the global standard against the spread of nuclear weapons, and makes it much harder for any country to make nuclear weapons, especially smaller, lighter designs that are easy to conceal and deliver -- the kind that would be most threatened to us.

On South Asia, both India and Pakistan have pledged at various times to sign. The CTBT there can help contain a deadly nuclear arms race between countries that aren't constrained by the nonproliferation treaty. If we get North Korea under the test ban they'll be less able to exploit their ballistic missile capabilities against us. The same is true of Iran, and they have signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Nonproliferation is an urgent national priority. The United States is the leader of the global effort against the spread of weapons of mass destruction. A world in which the rogues have nuclear weapons would be a world of peril for all Americans. The Test Ban Treaty is not a silver bullet, but it's another valuable tool. Nonproliferation is hard, uphill work. The American people should not expect good results if the Senate denies us the means.

With or without the CTBT we have to monitor possible nuclear test activity by others. Why not make the task easier by adding the treaty's international monitoring system and the possibility of on-site inspections to our own assets. With or without the CTBT we have no plans and no need to test -- why not extend the same limits formally with the force of law to others?

The Senate faces a basic choice of direction. No treaty ever meets the standard of perfection. But we and the world are now set on the path away from nuclear explosions. Defeat of the treaty would reverse that course, begin to unravel the standard and head back toward more nuclear tests -- big tests, most likely by countries we'd rather didn't have these weapons. The stakes for our global leadership and our security goals couldn't be higher.

UNDER SECRETARY MONIZ: One of the major issues in this debate, of course, is that of our ability to maintain a safe and reliable nuclear stockpile in the absence of testing. And, as Bob Bell said earlier, this remains a supreme national interest for this country. There are several challenges in this task: maintaining weapons as they age; establishing a capability to replace and certify new weapons components; training new weapons scientists; and reestablishing an operational manufacturing capability.

These challenges are being met today. I can say that with a confidence that is grounded, first of all, in our history. Our history, 50 years of experience of more than 1,000 nuclear tests, of 150 tests with modern weapon types, and over -- or approximately 15,000 surveillance tests. This is really the grounding of our program. Each weapon in the enduring stockpile has been thoroughly tested and is subjected to regular, in-depth surveillance.

Now, seven years following our last testing experience, we have implemented, in this administration, an experimentally based, scientific program, using both experiment and computer simulation, to provide the integrating elements to sustain reliability. This program, I want to stress, already has had many successes. We have a detailed, coordinated, integrated weapons plan -- one also integrated with military requirements. We have gone through three rigorous certification procedures involving the labs, STRATCOM, the Nuclear Weapons Council and others -- including scientific advisors. We have resolved, today, stockpile problems that were not resolved in the years of testing.

We have met new military requirements in the absence of testing -- for example, requirements for a deep penetrating weapon, the so-called B-61-11. We have obtained new, critical scientific data using non-nuclear experiments -- for example, we now know how plutonium behaves when it ages, one of the key questions for maintaining the stockpile.

We have attained already world-record computing speeds, as we march towards an unprecedented capability of 100 trillion operations per second, to provide new computer simulation capabilities, revolutionizing our stockpiling capabilities -- and, frankly, American science, as well. We have reestablished manufacturing capabilities. We have a tritium decision. We are reestablishing a plutonium pit production capability. We have refocused, through this program, the missions at the weapons laboratories, with a new, science-based program.

These are accomplishments, already today, in our progress towards a full new scientific infrastructure, that will be in place, completely, in the next three to five years. This involves high-powered lasers, high-powered compression devices. It involves, as I said earlier, an unprecedented computational capability. And it involves experiments, non-nuclear experiments, at our test site, that also addresses one of the other safeguards the President put in place -- that of maintaining our ability to resume testing in the unlikely event that we should have to.

So this is a very aggressive program. It is well-integrated. It is a major science and technology capability that is being put in place, building upon what Bob Bell referred to as unparalleled American technological strength.

There have been questions raised, in that, again, some scientists question the ability to maintain our confidence down the road, five, 10, 15 years down the road. First of all, we are addressing that every year through this rigorous certification process put in place. But, secondly, I want to stress that, frankly, the issue of the scientists working on parts of this program, questioning, is actually the heart of the program. That's what doing science is all about. It is then up to the lab directors, et cetera, to integrate the information they receive, including the questions, to make a judgment to the President each and every year about the safety and liability of the stockpile. We are on the verge of a fourth certification process in which exactly that assurance will be given to the President. Thank you.

DR. WARNER: Thanks. Let me just address a couple of the issues from the Department of Defense's perspective on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. We have heard from previous speakers the issue of what do we gain from this treaty. Let me underscore those issues. First of all, the treaty will make it more difficult for the existing nuclear states to develop additional, more advanced weapons.

Without the ability to do significant testing, then they will not be able to, in fact, develop new weapons. So in the absence of testing, the ability to be confronted with new weapons that might bring new dangers to the United States, basically will be foreclosed. Secondly, this same prohibition makes it difficult for the nuclear want-to-be's to acquire real nuclear capabilities with any confidence whatsoever. In the absence of the ability to test, there are some theories that they might be able to get simple vision weapons, but even those weapons they could not have any real confidence that they would work.

The third issue that often emerges is the question about the reliability of our nuclear weapons, the issue that Under Secretary Moniz has just described in some detail.

In the Department of Defense, we work in cooperation with the Department of Energy to do an annual certification of the safety and reliability of American nuclear weapons in the absence of the ability to test. This system has been in place for the last few years. As he said, we've gone through three certifications, we are on the brink of a fourth.

That certification process involves a highly cooperative activity between the services, the Strategic Command, and the nuclear weapons labs. On an annual basis, each individual weapon has a working group that focuses upon it, develops a comprehensive plan for activity for the year in order to do diagnostics about the reliability and effectiveness of the weapon; they carry out that set of activities, relying increasingly on the new capabilities being developed under the Department of Energy in its science-based stockpile stewardship program. The supercomputers, the ability to do subcritical testing, that's high explosive testing with fissile material, but one which does not, in fact, create a nuclear chain reaction, and a series of other kinds of activities that simulate various elements of the combined activities that occur when a nuclear weapon explodes.

This activity is then reviewed independently by a group that works as an advisory panel for the Commander In Chief of Strategic Command. It is also reviewed by key figures within the Pentagon, and on the basis of that review, the Secretary of Energy and the Secretary of Defense, on an annual basis, provide a certification to the President, if they are confident from all of the information they have gotten, that our weapons are safe and reliable and no resumption of nuclear testing is required.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff have recently, within this past week, examined this question of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. They have concluded once again that in the presence of the six safeguards that were noted earlier -- safeguards that President Clinton made clear would have to be part and parcel, the conditions under which we could find it acceptable to sign and be part of a comprehensive test ban that, in the presence of those six safeguards, they are confident that they can sustain the nuclear capabilities of the United States and, therefore, they told the Secretary of Defense and told the President that they support the conclusion and ratification and entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

So we can sustain our nuclear forces, hopefully at increasingly lower levels, through the arms reduction process. But we will be able to sustain them in the absence of nuclear testing, thanks to the wonders of American science as was noted earlier.

This treaty is in the interest of the United States; we very strongly believe that the Senate ought to ratify it and we ought to go about getting the rest of the ratifications to bring it into force. Thanks.

Q John or Bob, how is it with all this information that you've failed to be able to persuade the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Majority Leader? What don't they see?

MR. BELL: Well, I would just caution against any rush to judgment. The President signed this treaty three years ago. In September, we submitted it to the Senate in 1997. For two years -- for two years -- we have been asking the Senate for a chance to make our case in a hearing in the Committee of Jurisdiction, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a very prestigious and historic American committee.

We have not had a single hearing on the CTB in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. We think we have a case. This case we just laid out for you which, if presented to the United States Senate and to individual senators in turn, is compelling and persuasive. But we are now very pleased to learn that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at the instruction of its chairman, Senator Helms, is going to have that first hearing this week, on Thursday, at which we will make this case that we just made to you. And we would hope that as many senators as possible would withhold judgment on this treaty until they hear all the facts, pro and con, and make a decision before they vote, but not before the hearings even begin.

Q Which case would you like to make if the United States, if the Senate does not ratify the treaty? What kind of case are you going to try to make two to three years down the road? What will the nuclear world look like?

MR. BELL: We are working very hard this week to win this, but I'm not going to get into hypotheticals. I'm not assuming failure; I'm assuming success.

Q Mr. Warner, or Dr. Warner, you talked about the verification process, or the certification process that the Department of Energy and the Pentagon go through each year. Let me raise not a hypothetical question, but a devil's advocate question. These reports are put together by a team of scientists and appointed political figures. Knowing that they get $4.5 billion a year to prove that these computer simulations work, knowing what result the administration wants and has politically made a judgment that it will accept, is there ever a Team B of scientists with access to the same data -- not people who are captive members of the nuclear labs and the nuclear priesthood -- that look at the same information from an outsider point of view, without taking a paycheck from the administration and marching to political orders?

DR. WARNER: There is precisely such a Team B in existence, and it has worked on each of these certification processes. The Commander In Chief of the Strategic Command has a group of voluntary individuals, former weapons scientists, former military officers, experts in defense and security issues, called the Strategic Advisory Group.

There is a sub-panel within that called the Stockpile Assessment Team. Within that team, we have individuals in most cases that are alumni of responsibilities, if you will, in the nuclear weapons fraternity over the last several years. This group has an opportunity to review in depth the individual reports, weapon by weapon by weapon, and then they provide an independent assessment to the Commander of the Strategic Command annually.

Q And have they always ratified the findings of the in-house team?

DR. WARNER: So far, they have, with each time, concluded that we did not need to initiate nuclear testing. They have identified problems in many areas and helped us identify -- and pushed us most certainly, to get about the process of fixing them. In most cases, we were already aware of these and the process was underway, but they do provide an independent, critical view of the state of our nuclear weapons stockpile.

Q Do they have access to all the highly classified information?

DR. WARNER: They do. They are cleared and they have access to all of the information that they seek.

WASHINGTON, xxx. xx /U.S. Newswire/ -- Following is a addition, there is a well-known, what we call a peer review process involving the two weapons design laboratories. Each laboratory that designed originally a specific weapon system in the enduring stockpile has the lead responsibility for the annual review, but that is then, in turn, reviewed by the other laboratory, and that review has never been described as terribly gentle.

MR. BELL: Let me just add one third point of reassurance. When this certification that the President submits to the Congress goes forward -- and as Secretary Warner said we've done, three of these, annually, so far, a fourth one is getting teed up to go up -- we don't just send the Congress a one-line bumper sticker "the weapons are still safe," We submit all of the supporting documentation from all of these scientific groups.

So there's another safeguard in place here. It was envisioned by the Constitution. It's called the United States Congress. They're getting all of the data, all of the views. They can parse that, they can hold hearings, they can call people in. If they think that someone's just being bought off here, there are many, many resources available to the United States Congress to exercise its constitutional oversight role.

But, in fact, what the Congress has done through the last several years -- and Secretary Moniz always can give you the details, has funded this $4.5 billion stockpile stewardship program as we've requested, plus or minus, you know, on the margin. So they must have some confidence that this could work, because they are appropriating and authorizing the expenditure of these funds for this purpose.

Q Mr. Bell, the point has been made by the Chairmen of the Armed Services and the Foreign Relations Committee and the Majority Leader that the time isn't right to ratify this treaty, that until such time as the United States can with absolute confidence verify subcritical nuclear testing, the United States should neither give up the stick of deterrence that testing provides or the ability to develop new weapons. How do you allay those fears?

MR. BELL: Well, first, let's be clear. Any testing that's done sub-critical -- below the threshold in which the explosion achieves nuclear criticality -- is permitted by the treaty. The United States insisted on that; that's one of the means we intend to use to maintain confidence in the weapons. We conducted such a sub-critical test just last week. We've been doing two or three a year --


MR. BELL: -- the last couple of years. That's part of the program.

The issue is extremely low-yield testing, like in the tens of tons -- the kind of test that would be comparable to an explosion at a construction site, or setting off a large-yield conventional weapon. Now, my question would be this: how better to get a handle on that than to have an on-site inspection option? Because you're never, ever -- it is beyond the realms of American science -- as good as American science is as we know it today -- to imagine a seismic monitoring regime, with stations in place, that could detect and discriminate a nuclear test of, say, ten tons, from a lot of tests that are going on all around the world of conventional weapons; from construction activity that's going on around the world; or from the background earthquake noise that's going on around the world.

So there is a natural physical limit to how low you can go with absolute verification, if you're relying on seismic detection. That is why the crucial breakthrough for the CTB was the American success in persuading the world that there had to be on-site inspection. That wasn't a given. When we started the negotiation, there were a lot of countries that fought that. And we worked hard to get on-site inspection into the final treaty. That's the means to do it.

My recommendation to Senator Warner -- who I worked with for many years and have great respect for -- would be to consider how we're going to do this monitoring task, how the Intelligence Committee is going to do that, absent the tools that the CTB will bring to bear on the problem.

Q And are you confident that if you petition the North Koreans, under the provisions of the treaty, for an on-site inspection, they'll open the doors and welcome you in?

MR. BELL: Well, they don't have any choice, if the international organization that will implement the CTB decides to approve an on-site inspection. It's not at the subject -- it's not at the volition of the challenged state. If the international organization votes to send in the inspectors, they must be received -- or they are then found in violation of the treaty. And the treaty contains provisions on sanctions for states that are in violation.