Under the Radar: U.S. Can Make or Break International Nuclear Monitoring System


I have no doubt that readers of this blog have noticed my more-than-occasional rants about insufficient U.S. funding for multilateral activities and institutions. Global poverty and U.N. peacekeeping are among the areas I’ve pushed for hardest through my ” day job,” but there’s another that’s just as much in need and even less noticed.
The shortfall in U.S. funding for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) threatens to undermine global efforts to monitor nuclear tests, especially in areas where the U.S. lacks access, like China, North Korea, and Iran. It’s one more example of the Bush administration’s unfortunate tendency to cut off its nose to spite its face.
To date, the only coverage of this issue was a short article in the Washington Times. It desperately deserves some more attention.
The brief history is as follows: President Clinton signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which prohibits nuclear tests, in 1996. The Senate has never ratified it, but the U.S. has remained a member of the CTBTO, which is charged with implementing the agreement.
To do that, the CTBTO has begun construction of an international monitoring system to detect nuclear tests. For example, it was the CTBTO system that confirmed that North Korea’s missile test last October was nuclear.
The administration rejects the CTBT and is split over funding for the CTBTO. It has never requested funding from Congress, and last year, the U.S. lost its voting rights in the Organization.
Without U.S. funds, which make up roughly a quarter of the CTBTO budget, the monitoring system won’t be completed. Stations planned in strategically important locations – locations near China, Iran, and North Korea, where the U.S. has no nuclear “eyes and ears” of its own – won’t be built.
And it would cripple one of the most critical nonproliferation tools available to the international community.
If the new leadership at State is really looking to heal some wounds with the international community, this is low-hanging fruit. Besides, do we really need fewer non-military tools to contain the proliferation of nuclear weapons?
Congress needs to right this wrong, pronto.
— Scott Paul
Note: In a previous post, I noted that the DNC endorsed the ONE Vote ’08 Campaign and urged the RNC to do the same. I have since been informed that the DNC and RNC have both endorsed the ONE Vote ’08 platform. Congratulations to both.


20 comments on “Under the Radar: U.S. Can Make or Break International Nuclear Monitoring System

  1. erichwwk says:

    jvarisco writes: “nukes are very good at stopping war”
    Mark Twain wrote: “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so”


  2. jvarisco says:

    I’m not quite sure why this is needed for non-profileration. No one seriously expects the major powers to disarm (nor should they – nukes are very good at stopping war); the system is not meant to be fair, any more than the security council is. In fact it should be more of a deterrent if we are able to create efficient counter-force weapons, as this would significantly reduce the capability of small nuclear forces (such as North Korea/Iran/etc.). We can simulate some of these, but testing may be necessary. And it’s not as if the NPT actually works against states that are really determined. It would be simple enough to just create our own system to detect tests.


  3. erichwwk says:

    Also, along the lines of monitoring, it is useful to recall the NSA Echelon program (eg the satellite dishes at Griesheim outside of Darmstadt, Germany originally monitoring USSR communications, but in 2001 were discovered to be monitoring European corporate communications, the insider information alleged to have cost the Europeans billions – similar snooping of the UN Security Council member deliberations has cost US citizens TRILLIONS, and its snooping on US citizens undermines our democracy) If we are going to have monitoring in general, a different format and decision making process is mandatory.


  4. erichwwk says:

    Also, for some local reporting: see:
    “Both sides lambaste Udall on LANL budget”


  5. erichwwk says:

    And finally, for those REALLY interested and willing to do something about USA violations of International Law and Treaties (and thus also violations of US law), read an article published in the Santa Fe New Mexican ” Both sides lambaste Udall on LANL budget”:
    A recent correspondence:
    Dear Mr. Lenderman:
    Thank you so much for your article on June 12, in the SF New Mexican, entitled “Both sides lambaste Udall on LANL budget”. I am one of the folks that received Greg Mello’s action alert, alleging (as you seem to confirm in your article) that Tom Udall is opposing the cuts for what many of us feel are at the heart of the new nuclear arms race (the RWW and the PIT production program that are not only reprehensible programs in their own right, but in violation on international law and treaties). That much does not seem in dispute.
    As best I can tell, the issue is the role this opposition by Tom Udall plays. Tom Udall’s seems to allege that his “opposition” is part of an overall strategy to use this “opposition” as a bargaining chip, as part of a broader political maneuver to insist that the loss of funds for building PITS be offset by a gain in funds for alternative missions. Greg seems to imply that the system does not work that way, cuts must precede new funding. The critical question to me: Is Tom willing to carry his support for LANL funding so far that he would accept the continuance of the nuclear arms race (and the building of new, illegal PITs)?
    To me, Northern New Mexico (through LANL) has played (and continues to play) a central role in influencing the policy of nuclear primacy and influencing the USA to chose violence before diplomacy to resolve international conflicts. We oppose this on both moral and pragmatic grounds. As we see in Iraq, it is neither morally acceptable nor cost effective.
    From your reporting, it is clear where Greg Mello stands. What is not clear, from reading the article is just where Tom Udall stands. As Chris Mechals wrote: “Some deeper reporting is mandated here, to help the public sort this out.”
    I hope you are up to, and supported in) meeting that challenge.


  6. erichwwk says:

    Foreign Affairs Council on Nuclear Primacy:
    Bruce Gagnon on the missile shield at the URL of my previous post (The URL on this post links to Greg Mello’s Los Alamos Study Group. IMHO, Greg Mello is the most knowledgeable and productive person leading the fight against nuclear proliferation in the USA, and the person most responsible for the proposals to cut USA nuclear weapons proliferation.


  7. erichwwk says:

    Foreign Affairs Council on Nuclear Primacy:
    Bruce Gagnon on the missile shield can be reached by clicking on the moniker of my previous post (this post links to Greg Mello’s Los Alamos Study Group. IMHO, Greg Mello is the most knowledgeable and productive person leading the fight against nuclear proliferation in the USA, and the person most responsible for the proposals to cut USA nuclear weapons proliferation.


  8. erichwwk says:

    jon writes”
    “Restricting the nuclear club to present members, however, is an excellent starting point, and has been for 40 years.”
    Isn’t that a bit like claiming “to fight monopoly, one should not allow new entrants into the market”? Isn’t the restriction what forces nuclear proliferation to take place, and EXACTLY the WRONG prescription?
    For the record, there is starting to be some movement towards drastic cuts in the house appropriations committee, at both Los Alamos and Sandia National Labs. Unfortunately, there is also an effort led by Tom Udall in the NM Democratic delegation to mount an opposition to those cuts, on the rationale that cushy government jobs at Auswitz are better than having to make some effort to find meaningful, socially productive jobs.
    Thankfully folks at TWN see through the Missile shield nonsense and see the attempt to monitor OTHER countries nuclear weapons programs as equally silly. Where the lens needs to be focused is at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratory (Albuquerque, NM) and Livermore National Lab (California). Until we do that, and stop OUR massive production of NEW nuclear weapons, efforts to detect and control what others are doing is beyond absurd.
    In case folks haven’t noticed, it is the USA that is the only country to have used nuclear weapons, to insist it has the right to use them whenever it feels like it, and that IT should retain nuclear primacy.
    As Hafez Al-Mirazi, said in Portland, Oregon, at the World Affairs Council meeting Steve Clemons cited: “U.S. insistence that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program, when the U.S. nuclear arsenal is a mighty power, appears to be simple hypocrisy in the Middle East” (Especially when the Iranian program is compliant with BOTH international law and international treaties, and the USA programs violate BOTH).


  9. rapier says:

    Is this CTBTO system really needed to detect tests? There can be no other answer but no. The stipulation being that the US can certainly detect any test anywhere in the world. If a test could be held which nobody but the US can confirm, an unlikely but perhaps possible event the question becomes, so what?
    It isn’t like we will keep any test a secret. We will shout it from the rooftops.
    The lack of support for the CTB is perfectly understandable from the Bush crowd. There is no reason to explain it here, as everyone knows the whys and wherefores of their contempt for anything they don’t control. The international detection system is simply a diplomatic nicety. That doesn’t make it bad or useless but not something which is all that important. Like say the biggest nuclear weapons issue in the world today which nobody talks about, The command and control of Pakistans nuclear arsenal.


  10. jon says:

    This just in: Breakdown in CFE (conventional Forces in Europe) treaty negotiations. Originally negotiated in 1990, updated in 1999, never ratified by the US… same old same old.
    MP mentioned MAD, which this administration’s embrace of the ‘missile shield’ contradicts, at least for lesser armed adversaries. Only those without an adequate shield will have to fear the effects of accurate nuclear blast. Of course, an intercepted missile’s components will have to go somewhere, whether dispersing in orbit, as fallout to the earth and water, as a deflected missile landing and exploding somewhere other than its intended target.
    I’m wondering if Bush has adopted the Nixon/Kissinger ‘madman’ theory as his modus operandi – Cheney sure seems to have done so. With his idiot(savant) bellicose swagger, he gives the impression that he might just be impulsive enough to launch that first strike, and in doing so deter others from their plans.
    Of course I thought that Bush’s buildup and brinksmanship prior to the Iraq invasion might be a stroke of brilliance – if he had only stopped short of launching a war of aggression. Let me now how that whole thing works out.


  11. jonst says:

    Waiting for the new ‘leadership’ at State heal wounds, low hanging one’s or not, is akin to waiting for Godot. First, and perhaps, foremost, the world is, generally, not in a mood to deal with these pricks. New ‘eyeglasses’ on the old face, notwithstanding. Nor will they be inclined to get in the mood as the election of 2008 here draws closer. Second, even if the world IS in a mood to deal with these clowns, albeit it new ones, they are incompetent. Though perhaps they are a nicer bunch to cocktail and commiserate than the neo-cons were.


  12. MP says:

    OT, but here is a very nice tribute to Kucinich and his presidential bid. It makes a lot of sense. I was impressed with it:


  13. MP says:

    POA writes: “This is THE FIRST Administration to openly discard the logic of MAD, and advocate nuclear weapons as tactical first strike tools. And this brinkmanship they are pulling with Russia with this so called “missile shield” lemon they want to place in Europe is dangerous,”
    Agreed. This is one of the strangest moves I’ve seen in a long time. There appears to be zero chance that Russia would use its missiles against Europe, so what IS the point of the missile shield? Unless it is, as POA suggests, designed to protect “us” against a second strike following our first strike (against Russia’s ally Iran?). Criminally weird.


  14. CKR says:

    What this administration fails to understand about arms control is that it gives us an insight into what the other guy is doing, too. Duh.


  15. liz says:

    While America’s legal system falls apart literally, Americans are supposed to support upping the ante of nukes world wide right? Well, to this middle age lady who was educated in America, none of this makes sense. The military option is the last option not the first. All Bush and Cheney want to do is fight. Fight with the Middle East, Asia, China, even the people they supposedly represent.
    And while so many hours and so many dollars go towards nuclear weapons and the arguments surrounding them, Americans are doing without.
    Americans are going without healthcare. Americans are going without representative government.
    All we hear are threats, retaliatory actions, more war and all about the last throes of insurgencies.
    Bush and Cheney lost all the credibility this country had…. I reckon they outsourced it too.
    I detest living in fear under ” dear leader”. And I never thought it would happen here……..
    we might as well be in a book in a time in history prior to WWII and living overseas in a small country….. yeah you know it.


  16. Sandy says:

    I do mark your words, POA. You’ve said it much better than I could have. My hair has been on fire about this for a long time now. Very disturbing.


  17. PissedOffAmerican says:

    This Administration, if allowed to continue in the direction it is headed, will inflict the same kind of terror on our children as many of us grew up with, “drop drills” in school, and the very real spectre of nuclear holocaust. This is THE FIRST Administration to openly discard the logic of MAD, and advocate nuclear weapons as tactical first strike tools. And this brinkmanship they are pulling with Russia with this so called “missile shield” lemon they want to place in Europe is dangerous, and will further alienate us in the world community. These monsters, with Cheney at the head, have started a new arms race. It is truly terrifying that our nation finds itself with these people wielding the power they do. They are absolute fanatics, maniacs. And they have thier finger on the nuclear trigger. If mankind is undone by nuclear holocaust, Bush and Cheney are the exact models of leadership one would expect to provide the spark.
    Mark my words, the Bush/Cheney legacy of death may well be measured in the millions.


  18. Sandy says:

    What effect would this have on Bush/Cheney and the Neo-Cons plans to nuke Iran before they leave office?


  19. jon says:

    This administration’s approach to proliferation has been shameful. Worse, it is not in the national interest and will benefit many who interests are opposed to ours. This behavior was unnecessary and easily avoided. Bush and his coterie sought it out intentionally.
    Bush and Kerry both agreed that nonproliferation was the most important foreign policy challenge facing the country. Yet less than nothing has been done. The ‘missile shield’ deployment is likely to encourage build up and proliferation more than it will rein in ballistic missile attacks. [Ask me in another week about North Korea. And Khadafy was trying to come in from the cold for a long time.]
    The signal accomplishment in this area has been to legitimize India’s nuclear program for precious little in return.
    For short money we could have rolled up all the poorly secured nuclear materials in the world. But we didn’t. We could have stayed in the ABN treaty, but we had to abrogate it. We could have set an example by meeting or accelerating the schedule for reduction of strategic weapons, instead we are looking at a new series of warheads to be inventoried in addition to the existing ones. We could have avoided researching, building and using threshold conventional weapons. Instead we are looking to put conventional warheads on weapons that have previously only carried nuclear payloads, possibly triggering a nuclear exchange should these missiles be used. We could have phased out depleted uranium munitions. Instead, it’s the mainstay high caliber round.
    You are right that the treaty should be implemented and strengthened. But what makes you think it will happen? This administration cannot see beyond its own, personal advantage on nearly any subject.
    JohnH makes an excellent point. Restricting the nuclear club to present members, however, is an excellent starting point, and has been for 40 years. It is astonishing that with nothing like the strategic threats of the Cold War era so little has been accomplished.


  20. JohnH says:

    Clearly the CBT is vital for the survival of the human race. So is full implementation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, whose non-nuclear signatories agreed not to develop weapons AND whose nuclear signatories agreed to move to complete disarmament. However, eventual disarmament (Article VI) has been conveniently ignored by the nuclear powers, who focus solely on restricting membership in their nuclear club.
    CBT is simply more of the same. The White House and much of Congress want to preserve Washington’s prerogatives to behave one way while insisting that the rest of the world behave another way: nuclear treaties are meant only for the rest of the world to obey…


Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *