The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Deserves a Fresh Look

WASHINGTON -- Eight years ago, the Senate declined to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) following President Clinton's signature and endorsement. Even today, though, many lawmakers, analysts, and voters continue to push for it and the treaty remains on the calendar of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As nuclear politics have increased in importance -- especially following developments in Iran and North Korea -- Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) is reportedly attempting to revive a debate on the treaty by attaching a "sense of Congress" resolution to the annual defense authorization bill, now being considered in Congress, which will express support for the CTBT and call for its ratification.

The period of debate over CTBT ratification in the United States from 1997 to 1999 focused on two issues: verification of treaty compliance and maintenance of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal. While many other, more partisan issues were brought up in the debate -- including enforcement and general proliferation concerns -- these two issues were (and remain) among the most difficult to address.

To verify a global nuclear test ban, the CTBT aims to establish an International Monitoring System (IMS), which will analyze information from hundreds of seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound, and radionuclide monitoring stations placed around the world. Even though the treaty has not yet entered into force, work continues on placing these monitoring stations under the auspices of the Preparatory Commission for the CTBT Organization. So far, around 200 of the 321 monitoring stations are operational.

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