In our opinion: Ratify test ban treaty

Published: Friday, Sept. 30 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

President Clinton signs the historic Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty at the United Nations in New York Tuesday, Sept. 24, 1996.

Associated Press

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More than a decade after the end of the Cold War, the arguments against the United States ratifying a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty are growing threadbare. September marks the 15th anniversary of the United States signing the treaty. With the month ending, it's time for the Senate to finally ratify it and add the United States to the list of civilized nations that understands this is a step toward a more secure world.

As it is, the United States is on a select list of nations that, for whatever reason, won't ratify. That list includes China, North Korea, Iran and Pakistan. By contrast, 155 of the 182 signatory nations to the treaty have ratified it, including many key U.S. allies. Many of them convened at the United Nations recently to urge the holdouts to comply. Unless all 44 nations identified as nuclear technology holders ratify, the treaty cannot enter into force.

This no longer is an issue that ought to divide the nation along traditional ideological lines. Republicans remain the main holdouts, but many prominent former leaders with conservative credentials have spoken out in favor of ratification. One of those, former Utah Sen. Jake Garn, did so recently in a Deseret News op-ed. In it, he said, "We must move beyond Cold War-era thinking: Explosive nuclear weapons testing jeopardizes our nation's security instead of ensuring it."

Indeed, it does. With the treaty in place, nations would have the ability to do on-site inspections to verify compliance. This is in addition to hundreds of monitoring stations already in existence around the world, capable of detecting just about any nuclear activity. Those who worry about national security should be reassured by the size of the U.S. arsenal, as well as by recent studies that show existing weapons have a much longer shelf-life than previously thought.

Utahns, perhaps more than any other people in the United States, should understand the need to ensure that nations do not renew their testing. Despite assurances from the federal government, thousands of Utahns were exposed to radiation during above-ground nuclear tests in the Nevada desert in the 1950s and '60s. Congress reluctantly provided compensation to many cancer victims here, but it never has been particularly interested in learning the true scope of the problem. Six years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention abruptly cut funding for a research project that was studying connections between testing and thyroid conditions.

The government gave similar assurances about the safety of underground tests in Nevada that continued into the 1990s. The United States has not tested warheads since then. Presidents have maintained a de facto testing ban.

The world may never be able to rid itself of all nuclear arsenals or of the knowledge and means to build more, but the treaty would bind most nations of the world in ways that would make it easier to ostracize them if they acted irresponsibly. The benefits of ratification far outweigh those of continuing to hold out.

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