ACA Senior Fellow Greg Thielmann on Iran and the CTBT

Native Iowan and Arms Control Association Senior Fellow Greg Thielmann outlines the nonproliferation and security benefits of U.S. ratification of the CTBT in a January 22, 2010 op-ed in The Des Moines Register.

In order to contain Iran's nuclear program, the United States must pursue an effective "full court press" involving robust diplomacy, targeted international sanctions, and U.S. reconsideration and ratification of the CTBT, Thielmann argues.

U.S. ratification will spur other Annex 2 countries to ratify, and increase international pressure on Iran, he writes. "The United States no longer needs nuclear tests," Thielmann notes, but "Iran and other potential proliferators do. It's time for the [United States] to do its part in containing nuclear threats by ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty."

The full text of the op-ed follows.

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Worried about Iran? Ratify Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

The Des Moines Register, January 22, 2010

GREG THIELMANN, a native of Newton, is senior fellow of the Arms Control Association, and a retired foreign service officer.

Containing the Iranian nuclear threat short of war requires a full court press. This includes tougher, more focused sanctions to increase the political and economic costs to Iran of renegade behavior, as well as persistent efforts to engage Tehran diplomatically to ensure that opportunities to build confidence are not lost. Another important step is ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Without the nuclear weapon test explosions banned by the treaty, states like Iran would have trouble validating the advanced, smaller-warhead designs they need for ballistic missile delivery.

The United States ended 47 years of testing nuclear weapons in 1992. Since then, four successive administrations have judged additional tests unnecessary for maintaining the safety, security and credibility of America's 21st century nuclear deterrent. The United States was the first to sign the CTBT in 1996 and is now one of 182 signatories, but it has still not ratified the treaty. Doing so requires a two-thirds vote of the U.S. Senate.

President Barack Obama and a growing list of bipartisan leaders regard the CTBT as a linchpin of international efforts to reduce nuclear dangers, including the risk that Iran would decide to build or be able to build advanced nuclear weapons. U.S. ratification is key. Action by the Senate in 2010 would create a domino effect on other holdouts - most immediately on China and Indonesia. With each additional ratification, the international pressure on Iran and others to ratify the treaty would build.

We do not know whether Iran wants to build and deploy nuclear weapons - probably some years away in any event - or whether it seeks merely to become a state capable of building nuclear weapons (like Japan). Iran's production and stockpiling of low-enriched uranium is not in itself proof of a nuclear weapons intent; neither is Iran's production and deployment of medium-range ballistic missiles. But these activities, along with the regime's past history of clandestine programs to explore nuclear weapons technologies, vault Iran to the forefront of global proliferation concerns.

If Iran is considering taking the final steps to becoming a nuclear weapons state, it will be weighing perceived gains against the costs of admitting deception and suffering international reprisals. The opprobrium attached to a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) member detonating a nuclear device would be considerable. Despite its rhetorical defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, Tehran has shown itself eager to avoid the total isolation experienced by North Korea. Indeed, Iran reacted to U.S. exposure of its uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and near Qom by opening them to international inspection and monitoring.

A global test ban is particularly damaging to Iran's nuclear weapons option because of the way Tehran has presented its nuclear program to the Iranian people and the world. Unlike North Korea, which explicitly claims the need for nuclear weapons and has twice tested nuclear devices, Iran officially declares neither interest in nor any justification for such "un-Islamic" weapons

It has signed the CTBT, professed commitment to its obligations under the NPT, and continued to permit monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency. There is strong domestic support in Iran for nuclear energy, but not necessarily for a nuclear weapons program. CTBT ratification by any of the key hold-out countries would make it harder for Iran to explain why it should not also ratify. Moreover, ratification progress would further strengthen the treaty's global verification network, ensuring detection of any Iranian test. The United States no longer needs nuclear tests; Iran and other potential proliferators do. It's time for the U.S. Senate to do its part in containing nuclear threats by ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.