More than a quarter century ago, as U.S.-Soviet Cold War tensions peaked, President Ronald Reagan declared, "The only value in possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure they can't ever be used. I know I speak for people everywhere when I say our dream is to see the day when nuclear weapons will be banished from the face of the Earth."
Reagan would later put into motion nuclear-arms reduction agreements with Russia, culminating in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty — START — which helped end the Cold War. Today, the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation to additional countries, and even terrorists, make Reagan's vision of a world without nuclear weapons more important than ever.
A growing list of national security leaders — including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; Reagan's secretary of state, George Shultz; and President George H.W. Bush's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft — have called for stronger U.S. leadership to curb the nuclear threat beginning with deeper, verifiable U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons reductions, and ratification of the global Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Today, we stand to gain more than any other nation from a global, verifiable ban on all nuclear weapons testing. After more than 1,000 nuclear explosions, many of which produced deadly fallout on our state, we ended nuclear testing in 1992 and four years later signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which "prohibits any nuclear weapon test explosion" and establishes a powerful global network to verify compliance. However, in 1999, the Senate failed to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty over issues regarding the long-term maintenance and viability of our arsenal in the absence of testing, and concerns about the ability to detect surreptitious nuclear weapons tests by "cheater" nations.
Over the past decade, advances in our stockpile stewardship program mean that we do not need nuclear explosive testing to maintain the effectiveness and reliability of our remaining arsenal, which is the most fearsome and effective in the world. In 2006, the Department of Energy released the finding of lab studies that show that key plutonium parts in warheads last at least 85 to 100 years, which is much longer than previously thought.
The global network of seismic and other monitoring stations set up to verify compliance with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, together with U.S. intelligence, mean that no would-be cheater could confidently conduct an undetected nuclear explosion large enough to threaten our security. Once the treaty enters into force, we would also have the option to pursue short-notice, on-site inspections to investigate suspicious events.
Today, one of our greatest security interests is to discourage nuclear weapons testing by others. A global verifiable ban on testing would help block the ability of nuclear-armed countries, such as China, to develop more advanced nuclear weapons. Without nuclear weapon test explosions, could-be nuclear-armed nations — like Iran — would not be able to proof test the smaller, more sophisticated nuclear warhead designs that could be used to arm ballistic missiles.
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Ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty will make our country safer, as we will be better able to work with the international community to prevent nuclear proliferation and to strengthen the security of existing weapons and weapons-usable materials.
As Shultz said in an April 2009 speech, his fellow Republicans "might have been right voting against it (the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) some years ago, but they would be right voting for it now, based on these new facts."
While much work lies ahead for the realization of Reagan's dream, a next major step is U.S. Senate approval for ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Jake Garn is a former U.S. senator for Utah.