Ratifying the CTBT Is Absolutely Necessary

Why do we sometimes ignore facts and stubbornly continue to believe in falsehoods?

A quick example: Not that I'd have a problem with it if he were, but President Obama is not a Muslim. Yet an unsettling percentage of Americans still believe he is. In March of this year, Harris found that overall, 32% of those polled believe President Obama is a Muslim. Five months later, the Pew Research Center released the results of its poll and found that a full 18% of respondents believe the same thing.

So, if sample and survey methodologies are intact, with a high degree of confidence, and if we can in fact make fair and accurate inferences about the American people based on these and other surveys, then we can conclude that at least a fifth of the American people believe in something that simply isn't true. Yet we persist in clinging to debunked myths.

Which brings me to my point: This Sunday, August 29, marks the first International Day Against Nuclear Tests, passed by the UN General Assembly in December 2009 to promote the total elimination of nuclear weapons testing, with a view to one day globally ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

And although President Obama has made the reduction of the global nuclear threat one of his top-priority foreign policy objectives, and despite the fact that the United States hasn't conducted a nuclear test of any sort since September 1992, Congress has yet to approve and ratify the CTBT, which was signed by the US in 1996.

Though the matter of ratifying the CTBT here at home and bringing it into force requires other nations to do the same in order to make it an internationally legally binding treaty, domestic politics of course have a tremendous hand in shaping the outcome of proposed Congressional bills. The CTBT, like many other proposals, is subject to the influence of the American people, who continue to believe that the United States needs nuclear weapons and therefore should retain its testing capabilities.

Earlier this month, Rasmussen released the results of a survey which revealed that a full 77% of those polled believe the US nuclear arsenal is important to national security, with more than half (57%) saying the US should not reduce the number of nuclear weapons in its arsenal. Moreover, nearly half of all respondents (46%) feel the United States should actually continue developing new nuclear weapons.

Compare these statistics to a 2004 survey conducted by the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, in which it was found that 65% of respondents (including 54% of Republicans) felt it is NOT necessary for the US to develop new nuclear weapons.

So it seems public opinion is once again shifting away from advocacy for decreasing reliance on nuclear weapons in foreign policy and statesmanship, and back towards dependence on weapons development and testing to ensure a credible and sustained level of deterrence. Which is deplorable, since the threat against which we can effectively "deter" is no longer the nation-state as a political entity, but rather amorphous terrorist groups that operate across national boundaries and therefore are much harder to target, either in prevention or retaliation.

If anything, this change in the nature of the nuclear threat should give our legislators more reason to push for ratification of the CTBT, since bringing this treaty into force is a critical component of a long-term, forward-looking plan to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world. And as the President continues working with Russian and other world leaders to mitigate the global nuclear threat, one thing all of us here at home can do is to make our voices heard by calling our Congressional representatives and telling them that ratification of the CTBT is a necessary step to prevent non-state actors from acquiring and using a nuclear weapon.

It is true that the CTBT in and of itself will not lessen the nuclear threat in any immediate or tangible way. But in looking at the big picture, we should understand that the only way to prevent nuclear terrorism from ever becoming a reality is to address this double-headed problem at its sources. And while the world's armed forces and intelligence agencies work every day to stop terrorism, the other half of the problem -- the actual nuclear weapons, materials, and delivery systems that terrorist groups covet -- must be addressed simultaneously.

Take away a nuke, and that's one less opportunity for the bad guys to get a hold of one and detonate it over a major city, American or otherwise, with nearly complete impunity.

Now, more than ever, and in anticipation of the upcoming International Day Against Nuclear Tests, let's again ask ourselves why CTBT ratification hasn't happened yet, and work to finally make it a reality. The polls show that most Americans still favor reliance on nuclear arsenals to guarantee our national security. Yet, sadly and ironically, this dependence actually weakens our security. Though it would be a small one, having the CTBT come into force would nonetheless be a significant step in the right direction once again.

And that's something we can all believe in.