How to dismantle an atomic bomb: toward an achievable ban on the testing of nuclear weapons.

Author:Landry, Matthew P.
 
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  1. Introduction

    On August 6, 1945, an American B-29 bomber airplane dropped the first nuclear weapon bomb ever used in conflict on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, leveling much of the city, dispersing deadly radiation into the atmosphere, and killing large numbers of at least 80,000 mostly noncombatants. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) One month prior, the American scientists who developed this awesome weapon conducted a highly-secret explosive test in the New Mexico desert to verify the proper functioning of the device before using it against Japan. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) This test culminated the United States' nuclear weapons development effort, and gave President Truman the necessary confidence to order the weapon's employment in actual conflict. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) The ensuing Cold War between the superpowers brought thousands of new nuclear tests, both from the United States and other countries who developed their own nuclear weapons. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT)

    Nuclear weapons represent the most indiscriminate killing power ever unleashed by man; thousands of nuclear explosions starting in 1945 dispersed radiation into the atmosphere, contaminated wide tracts of land, and led to serious illness and even loss of life. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) Despite the universally-acknowledged negative effects of nuclear explosions, live testing of these weapons is not yet prohibited by international law. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) The international community should build on the limited progress made since the end of the Cold War to eliminate the threat posed by these destructive weapons. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT)

    Despite the widely recognized political, environmental, and economic costs of nuclear testing, and even with a voluntary testing moratorium observed by the world's main powers, including the United States, the international community has nevertheless failed to agree on a permanent, legally binding end to this destructive practice. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) This Note argues that the leading such proposal, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) pending since 1996, should be laid aside in favor of smaller, more achievable short-term steps towards a permanent ban, which is unlikely in the short term. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) In part II, the Note outlines the history of nuclear testing since the first test in 1945: this history covers the Cold War, the India/Pakistan tests in 1998, as well as North Korea's nuclear activities over the last decade. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) it also addresses the potential for similar trouble from both North Korea and Iran. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) The Note explains why nuclear testing is a critical step in a country's nascent nuclear development effort, arguing that internationally binding restraints on testing can prevent or impede the development of ever more deadly nuclear weapons systems. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) Additionally, this part details both the political ramifications from nuclear explosions and the catastrophic effects on the environment and human life. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) Next, in Part III, the Note examines previous international efforts to limit nuclear testing and identifies reasons why more limited proposals succeeded while others, such as the CTBT, have not. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) After discussing why the CTBT is unlikely to survive a second effort at ratification in the U.S. Senate, the Note points to a history of success with a more limited approaches, and suggests this as opposed to merely continuing along the current all-or-nothing path. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) Finally, in Part IV, the Note argues that because the CTBT is so unlikely to come into force, a more incremental approach, focused on achieving some progress over the short term, might achieve positive results while advancing the international community towards a binding, permanent ban in the future. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT)

  2. A Brief History of Nuclear Testing

    1. Why Test Nuclear Weapon Designs?

      The simplest way to verify the correct operation of a nuclear weapon is to test one, see if it works as intended, and collect vital data to drive further refinement and research. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) Nuclear weapons are extraordinarily complex devices, requiring massive national investment and scientific know-how to produce. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) By conducting a live explosion of a weapon, scientists can collect detailed information about the design's reliability, as well as the efficiency of the actual explosion. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) This information, if properly studied and understood, can result in dramatic improvements to the nuclear yield without requiring additional fissile material. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) In an effort to abide by its current moratorium on nuclear testing, the U.S. has instituted alternative methods of verifying the design's functionality, such as conducting sub-critical experiments or advanced computer modeling. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) These efforts are offered as a substitute for live nuclear testing, and have been cited by CTBT advocates as one reason that nuclear testing could be ended without jeopardizing the reliability of America's nuclear arsenal, as critics contend. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT)

    2. A Brief History of Nuclear Testing Since 1945

      During the Cold War, the superpowers (the Soviet Union, China and the U.S.) conducted literally thousands of nuclear tests as they raced to develop weapons with ever-increasing range and explosive power. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) These tests, especially those conducted in the open atmosphere or underwater, caused massive environmental damage and dispersed radiation across thousands of miles. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) To avoid domestic fear or dissent, many countries, including the U.S., conducted nuclear tests in remote areas of the South Pacific without any regard for damage to the local environment. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT)

      Since the Cold War, the states that have developed or pursued nuclear weapons are regional actors seeking to expand their regional influence and internal stability. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) These states and their leaders are driven as much by political considerations as by potential scientific or military uses. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT)

      The best example of the "new" wave of proliferation is the escalating number of nuclear weapons present between arch-rivals India and Pakistan. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) Neither country has ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or CTBT, while each has publicly acknowledged that it has nuclear weapons in its military arsenal. (NOTEREF_Ref379730389 * \* MERGEFORMAT) The motivations for each country differ, however: India sees itself as a rising player on the world stage and views its nuclear weapons program as a matter of national prestige and a key step to a seat on the U.N. Security Council. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) On the contrary, Pakistan's motivation in developing its arsenal is nothing less than state survival; the Pakistani people have a historic fear of India and see their country's nuclear weapons as critical to matching India's vast military, geographic and economic superiority. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) Both nations conducted nuclear tests in 1998, which brought dramatic political escalation to an already volatile region. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT)

      Today, both countries continue to expand their arsenals and invest huge resources and funding into those efforts. (N0TEREF_Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT)

    3. What S Next: North Korea and ... Iran?

      North Korea poses the world's greatest and most imminent threat of nuclear testing. (N0TEREF_Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) in 2006, North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test in the village of Punggye, a remote site in the northeast part of the country. (N0TEREF_Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) News reports of the test were quickly confirmed by the CTBTO's seismic verification system. (N0TEREF_Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) Three years later, after a period of escalated rhetoric, the country conducted a second test at the same site. (N0TEREF_Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) These two tests brought swift international condemnation, yet this pressure utterly failed to alter Pyongyang's aggressive posture and decision-making. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) In 2013, the Security Council imposed even more sanctions on North Korea following the successful launch of its first satellite into orbit; however, in February 2013, the country responded by conducting yet another nuclear test--its third. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) This test, measured at 4.9 on the Richter scale, represented an exponential improvement in explosive force over the first two tests, strongly suggesting that North Korea is successfully gleaning--and applying--significant scientific knowledge from its past Tests. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT)

      As demonstrated by its repeated non-compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it is highly unlikely that North Korea would be deterred from future nuclear testing by any international legal mechanism such as the CTBT. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) For example, when the international community charged Pyongyang with violating the NPT in 2004, North Korea merely withdrew from the treaty and declared itself no longer bound by its provisions. (NOTEREF _Ref379730389 \h \* MERGEFORMAT) This incident demonstrated one of the...

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