Russia and US to spar over nuclear test ban treaty?


With The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock now set at “90 seconds to Midnight” and global tensions skyrocketing with potentially widening wars now between Russia/Ukraine and Israel/Gaza, it is a particularly precarious time to add the resumption of active nuclear weapons testing.

However, Russia’s envoy to the to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) announced that on October 6, 2023 President Vladimir Putin  instructed his country’s parliament to consider revoking its 2000 ratification  of the 1996 treaty banning nuclear weapons testing by October 18,  2023.  Though Putin says it does not mean that Russia will start testing its aging stockpile, Western security analysts fear that Russia is preparing to resume its underground testing program.

Russia is countering that it is the United States that is preparing to resume testing of nuclear weapons at the Nevada Nuclear Security Site, formerly the Nevada Test Site and decades old proving grounds.  US officials responded that there are no plans to abandon the prohibition on nuclear test blasts although Washington, DC, while a signatory to the CTBT, has yet to ratify the test ban treaty. In fact, the US Department of Energy (DOE), through its national laboratories, is preparing a series of underground “subcritical tests” by 2027 at the Nevada test site using a very small amount of fissionable plutonium to test “implosion” without actually detonating a nuclear explosion. The nation’s nuclear weapons laboratories have not physically validated the reliability of their warhead stockpile for more than three decades. Instead, the US national laboratories are relying upon  computer model calculations from previous weapons tests that today’s thermonuclear warheads will  be as enormously destructive as intended.

The CTBT was first opened for signatures by the United Nations General Assembly in September 1996. To date 187 nations have signed and of that number 178 nations have gone on to ratify the test ban which remains in the ratification stage. The treaty cannot enter into force until it has been ratified by the 44 specific “nuclear-capable” nation states, eight of which have yet to do so: China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, Iran, Egypt, and the United States. China and the United States are the only two remaining Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) signers who have not ratified the CTBT. Putin is proposing to join the United States and China as a NPT signer only which further undercuts confidence in treaty’s final ratification and “entry into force” of United Nations law and the resumption of weapons testing.

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