The following appeared as an Op-ed in the Saturday, January 23, 2010 issue of the Salt Lake Tribune.
In April, President Barack Obama addressed the people of Prague. In that speech he committed his administration to pursuing U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), putting an end to the fear any Utah - or U.S. - citizen living downwind from the Nevada Test Site would ever again face the deadly threat from nuclear testing.
This is the best opportunity since the conclusion of the Cold War for the U.S. to move toward eventually meeting its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. As President Obama stated last April, “The basic bargain [under the NNPT] is sound: Countries with nuclear weapons will move towards disarmament, countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them…”
The United States currently has about 9,400 nuclear weapons. That’s down about 1,000 from 2002, but still far more than any reasonable nation could claim to need to deter a nuclear attack. President Obama pledged last January not to authorize any new nuclear weapons, yet some within the Pentagon and the military industrial complex are already pushing back against Obama’s commitment to permanently ban nuclear testing and are resisting efforts to incorporate into the Nuclear Posture Review plans to significantly reduce the size of America’s nuclear arsenal or change its role in America’s military defense strategy.
A nation committed to moving toward a community of nations where no country possesses nuclear weapons has no reason to test them. Our pleading with other nations they not develop these weapons of mass destruction will not be taken seriously so long as we continue to persist in keeping the option of “improving” or “maintaining” our own arsenal through possible future testing of our own.
The CTBT is verifiable, and has been ratified by 148 nations and signed by another 32. An analysis of the nuclear stockpile stewardship program by the independent, highly-respected JASON defense advisory group found that the U.S. can maintain a reliable nuclear arsenal without testing for decades. Ratification of the Treaty is supported by former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Senators Sam Nunn and Jake Garn, and many other prominent Democrats and Republicans.
The human and financial cost of nuclear weapons testing and production has been staggering. In the United States alone millions of citizens were exposed to fallout with tens if not hundreds of thousands developing cancer or other illnesses as a result. From the mining and processing of the uranium ore right through the making of the bomb and frequent testing that continued up until the last of an estimated 1,054 nuclear tests on September 23, 1992, Americans of every race, creed and economic status have paid dearly for what has been done in the interest of keeping them safe.
The time has come to close the door forever on that shameful era of lies, cover up and death perpetrated by our own government in our name.
The Pentagon's Nuclear Posture Review, due out this spring, should reflect the new policy announced by the Commander in Chief in Prague last year. The U.S. should abandon expensive, unnecessary and provocative plans to rebuild its bomb-making capacity and develop new nuclear weapons, pursue diplomatic efforts to achieve further reductions in nuclear arms worldwide, and design its military structure and capabilities to address post-Cold War realities.
Senators Hatch and Bennett – who voted against ratification of the CTBT in 1999 - should stand with their Utah constituents who overwhelmingly oppose new nuclear testing and declare they are ready to back up that new policy with an “aye” vote on the CTBT when it is brought before the U.S. Senate. In the words of our president, Americans “seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
Craig Axford is the executive director of the Citizens Education Project. Steve Erickson is CEP policy analyst.