Statement by Ronald Lehman, Former Director, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Prepared for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on the CTBT

October 7, 1999

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Foreign Relations Committee

On numerous occasions, I have appeared before this distinguished panel to discuss the policy of the United States on arms control and nonproliferation.

From the perspective of various positions I then held in government, I addressed the nuclear testing question. More recently, you have asked me to testify as a private citizen. It is in that personal capacity that I testify today, and only in that capacity. Thus, you should not assume that these are necessarily the views of any administration, organization, or institution with which I am now or have been associated. Please take that admonition to heart.

The ability of individual citizens to keep their professional responsibilities and their private views in their proper place is the key to harnessing the diverse skills of this nation. I did not ask to testify, but I would never turn down your request. Given the burdens you shoulder, I recognize the importance of working together in a candid, nonpartisan way on behalf of the nation's greater good.

The views I express today are entirely my own. At the same time, this committee will recognize a consistency in my presentations over the years, although some of the details have evolved with changes on the international scene. There is one important difference, however. The theme of my previous presentations has been to emphasize what we are accomplishing. Sadly, my theme today emphasizes what we are failing to do. And by "we" I mean the aggregate foreign policy community of the United States including both executive and legislative branches of governments as well as concerned individuals such as myself.

Despite the best of intentions of talented people in and out of government, we as a nation have failed to articulate and implement a strategy that sustains the momentum toward a better, safer world achieved at the end of the Cold War. Indeed, many past accomplishments in arms control and nonproliferation have begun to unravel. In part, powerful trends such as globalization and technological advance have created new difficulties even as they offer new opportunities. In part, dealing with legacies of the past such as regional instabilities, ethnic conflicts, economic resentments, geopolitical ambitions, and domestic political divisions overseas and at home has been a larger challenge than expected.

And in part, we have all forgotten some of the basic principles that brought success in the arms control revolution at the end of the '80s and into the early '90s. These basic principles placed an emphasis on high standards of military merit, pressing the verification envelope, and creating the geo-strategic conditions for progress. They put a premium on solving problems, not on declaring them solved. These sound negotiating principles led to the two START treaties, the INF Treaty, the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the Joint Verification Experiment (JVE) at nuclear test sites, the Verification Protocols to the Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT) and Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty (PNET), and many other important agreements. These agreements were important and valuable, not because of signing ceremonies, but because they were part of a comprehensive national security strategy which very clearly served the interest of the United States and its friends and allies. Because these agreements were negotiated tenaciously, but directly and in detail with the relevant parties, they also had the effect of reducing tensions with potential adversaries. Because they were negotiated in the closest of bipartisan consultations, they were all approved by the Senate and supported by the Congress as appropriate ....

The current debate over the "zero-yield" Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) reflects all of these factors--new forces, painful legacies, and neglect of the basics. To put the current discussion in perspective, it might be useful to remember how we got to where we are. The history of nuclear testing arms control is complex, sometimes colorful, not always dignified, but always an important reflection of broader forces in play. This history is too lengthy even to summarize here. Yet, a clear American approach to the question of nuclear testing had emerged over the years.

The primary contribution of nuclear testing limitations had been achieved by the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty which banned tests everywhere but underground and thus dealt with health and environmental dangers associated with large nuclear tests in the atmosphere. These dangers were reduced somewhat further by the 150 kiloton restraint on underground testing of the 1974 TTBT, although dissatisfaction with its verification provisions (and those of the PNET of 1976) delayed ratification for sixteen years.

Concerns about compliance with the TTBT while the US continued a moratorium, however, ultimately led to the "fly-before-buy" Joint Verification Experiment and subsequently the Verification Protocols to the TTBT and PNET. These Protocols were negotiated with the very closest consultation with this Committee and the rest of the Senate. The resulting process and protocols radically transformed on-site inspection, set a new standard of effective verification, and resulted in the Senate giving consent to ratification unanimously by a vote of 98-0.Although the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Carter Administrations had explored more comprehensive negotiated and codified limitations on nuclear testing, none was able to achieve them, even given the easier standards of verification and military merit which had been developed in those earlier periods. All ultimately were compelled to explore more limited approaches to test bans in terms of less binding moratoria, or reduced thresholds, or partial bans, or time limitations, or combinations of these.

By the end of the Cold War, US policy had evolved a step by step approach to nuclear limitations that was cautious, and for good reason. Nuclear testing limitations were of increasingly limited arms control value in the superpower context. More useful approaches to arms control than nuclear test limitations were now possible, and increasingly we were exploring ever more cooperative and intrusive threat reduction. And frankly, the nuclear testing issue also had a greater potential to be divisive at home and abroad, thus diverting resources from more valuable nonproliferation efforts such as regional peace processes, "loose nukes," a timely cut-off of unsafeguarded fissile material production, and the growing concern about biological weapons and terrorism.

For a number of reasons, no next step after the TTBT was formalized at the end of the Cold War because at the substantive level, the nuclear testing issue had been overtaken by events. Implementation of the TTBT was to have provided technical experience for the next step, but this was overtaken by momentous events such as the breakup of the Soviet Union (including achieving START II and the adherence of Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus to the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty (NPT) under the Lisbon Agreement), and by domestic legislation. The TTBT itself, however, with its lower inspection thresholds suggested that some ratcheting down of permitted yields might be explored cooperatively. The end of the Cold War and improvements in testing instrumentation and science offered the possibility also that the number of tests could be reduced. Some thought was given to limiting the number of tests above a verifiable threshold.

The Executive Branch found no new subtantive reasons then to pursue immediately a near zero-yield CTB, much less a zero yield CTB, because the conditions under which they would be in the interest of the US and its allies were not seen on any horizon.

Generally, arms control is best defined broadly to include nonproliferation, confidence building, and the like. But one can define arms control more narrowly, as is often done, as meaning the negotiation of limits on weapons and forces and as something distinct from nonproliferation. From the perspective of that more narrow definition, the arms control merit of nuclear testing limitations was seen as of decreasing utility and increasing danger to the US the lower the limit. It was not a straight line, but generally that was the case. Why? Because the wrong nuclear testing limitations could put at risk the nuclear deterrent of the United States and undermine security guarantees and relationships under which other nations felt it possible to forgo nuclear options of their own.The impact of testing limitations on the US nuclear deterrent is a lengthy discussion on its own. I am prepared to address these issues, but in the interest of brevity, let me simply highlight several points related to arms control. The United States has never been fond of qualitative arms control measures because so often they work against advanced industrial democracies. The democracies look to technology to compensate for manpower and to free resources for other public goods. Limits on science and technology are difficult to define and frequently harder to verify than quantitative limits, so qualitative constraints here again tend to favor closed, authoritarian societies, all other things being equal (which of course they never are). Often, an undesirable tension is created between quantitative arms control goals and qualitative measures. In the case of nuclear weapons reductions, the inability to test makes it more dangerous to reduce the size of the nuclear weapons stockpile. To hedge against uncertainty, larger numbers, greater variety, and more spares are required to maintain the same confidence.

But more importantly, democracy as we practice it demands accountability. To maintain our nuclear deterrent we must be able to demonstrate to the American people and their elected officials that the weapons in the stockpile are safe, secure, reliable, and appropriate to their missions. When two physicists differ dramatically in their assessments, responsible officials want to know the truth. Nuclear testing has often been the only way certain disputes could be resolved with the necessary finality. Inherent in the debates over the "spirit of the CTB" are pressures to codify ignorance and police thinking in ways that create tensions with US interests, democratic responsibility, and the scientific method.

If, from a narrow arms control point of view, the CTBT has been so unattractive to the United States, why did the United States continue to refer to it as a long term goal to be pursued when necessary conditions were achieved? The answer has two parts. First, not everyone at home or abroad agreed with this assessment, and certainly the industrial democracies did not always lead in all areas of advanced weaponry. Second, some actually do put a premium on limiting the US. American technological prowess was a target not only of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but also of some other states that feared or resented the United States and/or the other nuclear weapons states. In some other cases, states appeared to be exploiting American reluctance to finalize a CTB as pretext to justify their own lack of restraint, and one frequently hears the argument that a CTBT will call their bluff. Unfortunately, I fear these states can create pretexts faster than we can negotiate them away or buy them off. Still others do see American technological advances as the source of most arms races. I should note that all of the arguments against the American nuclear deterrent that one has heard over the years are now being made about American advanced conventional capability and even so-called non-lethal weapons.The more compelling reason that the United States never walked away from the CTBT as a long term goal, however, was nonproliferation. Yet, even here, there were serious concerns about the impact of the CTBT. All but a handful of states (Cuba, India, Israel, Pakistan primarily) are already parties to the Nonproliferation Treaty. Except for the five nuclear weapons states these parties are obligated not to have nuclear weapons programs and thus should not have nuclear weapons to test. The main thrust of the CTBT actually involves very few states. Often, the CTB was seen in the West as a half way house for those states into the NPT. The problem is that some in those states saw the CTBT as an alternative regime to the NIT, one based on a more egalitarian principle under which all parties would be free to have nuclear weapons. They just couldn't test them.

The danger is that the CTBT then becomes a halfway house out of the NIT, or at least a less restrictive alternative approach to nonproliferation. This need not happen, but it could if we are not careful. Already it has become common in public discussion to speak of proliferation as having occurred only after a state has tested its nuclear weapons. This erosion of standards is very dangerous and again reflects the mistaken belief that proliferators must always test their weapons to have confidence in them. This involves more mirror imaging than is warranted. Their needs are not the same as ours. Also, as technology such as supercomputing advances and spreads, more and more states will be able to have confidence in more and more nuclear weapons capability without testing. To address these problems, the United States and like-minded states must work to address fundamental regional security concerns. Above all, it must avoid the neo-Kellogg-Briandism that would have us substitute grandiose, global pledges for the hard work of creating the conditions for a safer world by directly engaging states and regions of concern.

Already we have seen in the context of the CTB, a worsening of the situation in South Asia.

Still, it would be wrong to say that the CTBT only relates to a few. Many of the parties to the NPT have said that their commitment to remain in the treaty is related to the implementation by the nuclear weapons states of Article VI of the treaty. The NPT commits the nuclear weapons states to a cessation of the nuclear arms race and commits all parties to work toward general and complete disarmament. Most of these states have taken the position that achievement of a CTBT is required under Article VI, but most have said that Article VI also requires the ultimate elimination of all nuclear weapons themselves. And the official policy of the United States remains that this too is an ultimate goal.

Flow does the United States reconcile this view with its view that the nuclear umbrella and security guarantee it provides to key allies also is necessary for nonproliferation. The answer always has been that the United States will not give up its nuclear weapons until the conditions have actually been created in which they are no longer necessary. To do otherwise, would result in powerful pressures for nuclear proliferation. Half the world's population lives in countries that have nuclear weapons, and if we do not deal the legitimate security concerns of the others, more states will seek their own WMD programs. If a CTBT were to shatter confidence in safety, security, or reliability of the American nuclear umbrella, they may do the same. Yet if we invoke Safeguard F, involving the supreme national interest clause, we may provoke or legitimize similar acts. This safeguard carries almost the entire weight of the argument for this CTBT, yet it puts the United States in a "Damned if you do; damned if you don't" situation with respect to nonproliferation, especially if there are states simply looking for a pretext.

Mr. Chairman, It is my personal view that the arms control arguments for a zero-yield CTBT are not compelling, and that the nonproliferation impact of any CTBT can be very uncertain and involve foreseeable dangers as well as unintended consequences. A better way to proceed is a step by step process in 'which constraints are related to advances in verification, advances in a validated stockpile stewardship program, development of an appropriate weapons stockpile for a post-Cold War and testing limited environment, and advances in global and regional security. All of this is about why we didn't want to be where we are now.

But we are here now. What should be done now? With or without this treaty, we should continue to work with other nations, but most particularly with countries of concern to advance a more cooperative, but realistic security relationship. With or without this treaty, we should continue to address verification and compliance challenges, including those associated with nuclear testing restraints. With or without this treaty, we should exploit a vigorous stockpile stewardship program so that we can have confidence in our deterrent while also demonstrating the maximum restraint possible. With or without this treaty, we must continue to develop and implement a more coherent, bipartisan strategy for building a safer word.

If this treaty were time limited, were not zero yield, provided restraints at more verifiable levels, provided more clearly for the legitimacy of further testing (if and when it is needed), were not so prone to ever more restrictive interpretation down the road, and if conditions were such that the stated nonproliferation objectives will actually be achieved, then the debate would not be so intense. Unfortunately, this treaty, signed already by the United States is none of these things, and there is no easy way to fix it.

To approve this treaty may undermine years of accomplishments in arms control and nonproliferation. Yet, expectations about this very treaty have been built up around the world and here at home. The case for this treaty is weak, but, unfortunately, the explanations for why the conditions for this treaty do not exist have also not been made even to our allies. These explanations are only now finally being made to our own citizens. It is one thing to say we never should have gotten into this position. It is another thing to make a worse hash of it. The challenge to this Committee, and to the Executive Branch, is to find a way to get American nonproliferation strategy back on sound footing such that it earns bipartisan support and provides the US leadership necessary in the global arena.