A lot has changed since 1999.
That is the case the Obama administration is making as it pushes for reconsideration of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which the U.S. Congress voted not to ratify in 1999.
The treaty, which was negotiated between 1994 and 1996, would ban all nuclear explosions for military and civilian purposes, including the testing of nuclear weapons.
The United States, along with China, Iran, Israel and Egypt, have signed the treaty, but have yet to ratify it. India, North Korea and Pakistan have not signed it.
In April 2009, in a speech he delivered in Prague, President Barack Obama called for U.S. ratification of the CTBT.
Now, his administration is working hard to convince Congress and the American public why the case for ratifying the treaty has grown stronger since its defeat in 1999, Rose Gottemoeller, acting undersecretary of state for arms control, told reporters.
“A lot has changed since 1999, and people have not had a chance to really look at the CTBT and understand what it can accomplish for U.S. national security,” Gottemoeller said.
One stumbling block in 1999 was the concern that it would be too difficult to verify whether countries were playing by the rules of the treaty.
“The International Monitoring System was barely getting off the ground back then,” Gottemoeller said. “Now, the international monitoring system is over 80 percent complete in its deployment and we can see its effectiveness.”
She cited its responsiveness to the accident last year at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, where the system was able to detect radioactive particles in the atmosphere.
The Department of Energy’s Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program has also improved in capability since 1999, according to Gottemoeller.
The program was developed to test U.S. nuclear capabilities without relying on nuclear explosions. The United States has had a moratorium on nuclear weapons testing since 1992. The program relies on simulation and other methods to ensure U.S. nuclear weapons remain reliable as they age.
“It has come a long way and it is developing quite a bit of capability,” Gottemoeller said.
She said she has been explaining these changes to members of Congress and their staff.
“I expect to be doing a lot more of that in 2012.
“We’re not going to set a deadline for ratification; we want to make sure the time is right,” she said. “Believe me, I was at the [Department of Energy] in 1999 and watched the treaty go down in flames. I don’t want to see that happen again.”
Gottemoeller said she was encouraged by the debate that surrounded ratification of the New START Treaty, which the Senate ratified in December 2010.
Congressional members were serious about learning the technical details, she said.
“I’m hoping that the same thing will happen with the CTBT and we won’t have people rushing to judgment, because truly a lot has changed in this time period.”