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US discussed conducting its first nuclear test in decades

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US discussed conducting its first nuclear test in decades

What to study?

For Prelims: CRBT- objectives, features and significance.

For Mains: Implications of Restarting of nuclear tests, what needs to be done?

Context: The Trump administration discussed last week whether to conduct its first nuclear test explosion since 1992.

Why now?

In mid-April, a report issued by the United States State Department on “Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments (Compliance Report)” raised concerns that China might be conducting nuclear tests with low yields at its Lop Nur test site, in violation of its Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) undertakings.

The U.S. report also claims that Russia has conducted nuclear weapons experiments that produced a nuclear yield and were inconsistent with ‘zero yield’ understanding underlying the CTBT, though it was uncertain about how many such experiments had been conducted.

Implications:

  • The United States has not conducted a nuclear test explosion since September 1992, and nuclear nonproliferation advocates warned that doing so now could have devastating consequences.
  • Such a test would be a significant departure from US defense policy and dramatically up the ante for other nuclear-armed nations.
  • If it were to go ahead it would be seen as the “starting gun to an unprecedented nuclear arms race”. 

What is CTBT?

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) is the Treaty banning all nuclear explosions – everywhere, by everyone. The Treaty was negotiated at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. It opened for signature on 24 September 1996.

The Treaty will enter into force after all 44 States listed in Annex 2 to the Treaty will ratify it. These States had nuclear facilities at the time the Treaty was negotiated and adopted.

India, North Korea and Pakistan have not yet signed the Treaty.

What is a “zero yield”?

A comprehensive test ban has been defined as a “zero yield” test ban that would prohibit supercritical hydro-nuclear tests but not sub-critical hydrodynamic nuclear tests.

Why is the CTBT so important?

The CTBT is the last barrier on the way to develop nuclear weapons. It curbs the development of new nuclear weapons and the improvement of existing nuclear weapon designs. The Treaty provides a legally binding norm against nuclear testing. The Treaty also helps prevent human suffering and environmental damages caused by nuclear testing.

Concerns ahead:

Both China and Russia have dismissed the U.S.’s allegations, pointing to the Trump administration’s backtracking from other negotiated agreements such as the Iran nuclear deal or the U.S.-Russia Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Tensions with China are already high with trade and technology disputes, militarisation in the South China Sea and most recently, with the novel coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. could also be preparing the ground for resuming testing at Nevada.

The Cold War rivalry was already visible when the nuclear arms race began in the 1950s. New rivalries have already emerged. Resumption of nuclear testing may signal the demise of the ill-fated CTBT, marking the beginnings of a new nuclear arms race.

Sources: the Hindu.