CTBT: State Department’s Misleading Fact Sheets

Baker Spring /

On September 29, the State Department released a fact sheet that unequivocally asserts that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is a “zero-yield” treaty. Under this assertion, the CTBT, once it enters into force, would bar all experiments on nuclear weapons that produce a self-sustaining fission chain reaction.

At the same time, the State Department released an accompanying fact sheet that provides past quotes from diplomats and political leaders from all five of the de jure nuclear weapons states (the U.S., China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom) that it sees as bolstering its interpretation of what is prohibited by the CTBT.

The fact is that CTBT does not provide a definition of what by its title it would purport to ban. While the fact sheets acknowledge this fact, they depart from the facts by offering an assertion by the State Department itself and by others regarding the central requirement of the CTBT that the CTBT is a zero-yield treaty. At that point, the fact sheets are no longer about facts. Other authorities disagree with the State Department’s assertion. For example, some members of the congressionally appointed Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, which issued its report in 2009, found that countries that interpret the CTBT differently than the U.S. may conduct tests with hundreds of tons of nuclear yield.

What is a fact is that the same commission, despite being divided on the issue of whether the U.S. should ratify the CTBT, unanimously recommended that the five nuclear weapons states adopt an agreement providing a “clear and precise definition of banned and permitted test activity” under the CTBT prior to Senate reconsideration of the question of ratification.

The commission made this recommendation in the context of the fact that the Senate voted to reject ratification in 1999, which the State Department chose not to acknowledge in its fact sheets.

It is also a fact that the State Department’s assertion about the meaning of the central provision of the CTBT is not the same as an agreement among the five nuclear weapons states regarding this provision. Do the State Department’s fact sheets represent an attempt on the Administration’s part to evade a clear recommendation of the commission? This is a question that Senators should demand that the State Department answer.