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The Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty's Relevance to Global Security

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When President Clinton initiated the United States’ ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in September 1997, he called it “the longest-sought, hardest-fought prize in the history of arms control”.1 And so it remains. A central challenge for global security is to reduce all dangers posed by nuclear weapons, be they from legacy arsenals of the Cold War, from new types of nuclear weapons or new nuclear-weapon states, or from terrorist groups. The CTBT is an integral part of a comprehensive approach to nuclear weapons,2 yet, over the past decade many US CTBT supporters have been more passive than passionate, in the mistaken belief that the norm against nuclear testing is strong enough to provide the primary security benefits of the treaty without the costs and risks of ratification. Far too many people have also accepted the Bush Administration’s assertion that the prize is no longer worth fighting for—i.e. that arms control is an outdated relic of the Cold War, which does more harm than good when applied to current security problems. But if the lengthy battle to ban all nuclear testing is viewed as a struggle between those who want to utilize nuclear weapons for national advantage and those who want to constrain them for mutual protection, then the stakes are clearly as high as ever.

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