This September marked two important anniversaries. You probably heard about one of them, but I would be willing to bet that you did not hear much about the other. The first of these was the 10th anniversary of the tragic attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The second was the 15th anniversary of the adoption and signing of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). On Sept. 10, 1996, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the CTBT and on Sept. 24, 1996, it was opened for signatures. The United States was one of the founding signatories of the treaty. Yet 15 years later, the CTBT has still not entered into effect.
The CTBT is a remarkably important treaty that would ban all nuclear explosions anywhere by any party — a major step toward world peace. The CTBT couldn’t completely prevent the threat of nuclear annihilation, but it’s about as close as we could ever come.
Over the past 15 years, the CTBT has been ratified by 155 countries. In order for it to go into effect, however, it must be ratified by all 44 nations with nuclear capabilities, and only 35 of these have ratified it. China, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran and Israel have signed the CTBT but have not yet formally ratified it. India, North Korea and Pakistan have yet to sign the CTBT. And the ninth country not to ratify the CTBT? That would be one of the founding signatories, the United States.
Why has our government not yet ratified the CTBT, especially considering we signed it on the first possible day? That answer is, predictably, political. The Senate has refused to go through the process of ratification since day one, and no one is willing to spend the political capital to push it through.
In 2008, some thought that might change. A certain charismatic, young senator named Barack Obama — you might have heard of him — said he would “reach out to the Senate to secure the ratification of the CTBT at the earliest practical date and…then launch a diplomatic effort to bring onboard other states whose ratifications are required for the treaty to enter into force.” Although President Obama would win the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts toward nuclear non-proliferation, his strategy didn’t work. As a liberal Democrat, and as someone who is just the teensiest bit worried about World War III, I’m disappointed. That’s not to say that Obama hasn’t tried. He has been stymied every single step of the way by idiotic, obstructionist Republicans. But the fact remains that both parties should make this a much higher priority.
If the United States were to ratify the CTBT, imagine the message it would send the world. The world’s strongest nuclear power, the country responsible for more than half of all nuclear explosions ever, and the only country to ever use nuclear weapons would be supporting non-proliferation. Other countries would surely follow our example. To those who say that it would leave our country vulnerable or unsafe, you’re wrong. The United States is already under a self-imposed moratorium to stop all nuclear tests, and we would still technically be allowed to develop more warheads (using the Stockpile Stewardship Program) until the CTBT goes into full effect.
If we learned anything from the Cold War, let us apply that knowledge now. It is paramount that the United States — and then the rest of the world — ratify the CTBT to make sure we never get that close to nuclear war again.
This September marked two important anniversaries, one that makes me very sad and one makes me very, very nervous. But we should not forget that terrorism and nuclear proliferation are global security issues that are closely linked. While in no way diminishing the importance of 9/11 or the impact it had on this country, we ought to consider the destructive potential of future acts of terror.
I call upon President Obama and the Senate to ratify the CTBT. I call upon the countries of the world to follow what I hope will be our example. I call upon Yale clubs that lobby politicians, especially the College Democrats and the College Republicans, to make this a higher priority. I just called my senators to tell them to ratify the CTBT. If you have a spare moment today, I hope you will do the same.
Scott Stern is a freshman in Branford College.