Of­fi­cials: Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion dis­cussed first U.S. nu­clear test since 1992

Rev­er­sal of mora­to­rium could shift re­la­tions with other nu­clear pow­ers

The Washington Post - - THE CORONAVIRU­S PANDEMIC - BY JOHN HUD­SON AND PAUL SONNE john.hud­son@wash­post.com paul.sonne@wash­post.com

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has dis­cussed whether to con­duct the first U.S. nu­clear test ex­plo­sion since 1992 in a move that would have far-reach­ing con­se­quences for re­la­tions with other nu­clear pow­ers and re­verse a decades­long mora­to­rium on such ac­tions, said a se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial and two for­mer of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the de­lib­er­a­tions.

The mat­ter came up at a meet­ing of se­nior of­fi­cials rep­re­sent­ing the top na­tional se­cu­rity agen­cies May 15, fol­low­ing ac­cu­sa­tions from ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials that Rus­sia and China are con­duct­ing low-yield nu­clear tests — an as­ser­tion that has not been sub­stan­ti­ated by pub­licly avail­able ev­i­dence and that both coun­tries have de­nied.

A se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial, who like oth­ers spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to de­scribe the sen­si­tive nu­clear dis­cus­sions, said that demon­strat­ing to Moscow and Bei­jing that the United States could “rapid test” could prove use­ful from a ne­go­ti­at­ing stand­point as Wash­ing­ton seeks a tri­lat­eral deal to reg­u­late the ar­se­nals of the big­gest nu­clear pow­ers.

The meet­ing did not con­clude with any agree­ment to con­duct a test, but a se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said the pro­posal is “very much an on­go­ing con­ver­sa­tion.” An­other per­son fa­mil­iar with the meet­ing, how­ever, said a de­ci­sion was ul­ti­mately made to take other mea­sures in re­sponse to threats posed by Rus­sia and China and avoid a re­sump­tion of test­ing.

The Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil de­clined to com­ment.

Dur­ing the meet­ing, se­ri­ous dis­agree­ments emerged over the idea, in par­tic­u­lar from the Na­tional Nu­clear Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion, ac­cord­ing to two peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the dis­cus­sions. The NNSA, an agency that en­sures the safety of the na­tion’s stock­pile of nu­clear weapons, didn’t re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

The United States has not con­ducted a nu­clear test ex­plo­sion since Septem­ber 1992, and nu­clear non­pro­lif­er­a­tion ad­vo­cates warned that do­ing so now could have desta­bi­liz­ing con­se­quences.

“It would be an in­vi­ta­tion for other nu­clear-armed coun­tries to fol­low suit,” said Daryl Kim­ball, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Arms Con­trol As­so­ci­a­tion. “It would be the start­ing gun to an un­prece­dented nu­clear arms race. You would also dis­rupt the ne­go­ti­a­tions with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who may no longer feel com­pelled to honor his mora­to­rium on nu­clear test­ing.”

The United States re­mains the only coun­try to have de­ployed a nu­clear weapon dur­ing wartime, but since 1945 at least eight coun­tries have col­lec­tively con­ducted about 2,000 nu­clear tests, of which more than 1,000 were car­ried out by the United States.

The en­vi­ron­men­tal and health-re­lated con­se­quences of nu­clear test­ing moved the process un­der­ground, even­tu­ally lead­ing to a near-global mora­to­rium on test­ing in this cen­tury with the ex­cep­tion of North Korea. Con­cerns about the dan­gers of test­ing prompted more than 184 na­tions to sign the Com­pre­hen­sive Nu­clear-test-ban Treaty, an agree­ment that will not en­ter into force un­til rat­i­fied by eight key states, in­clud­ing the United States.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama sup­ported the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the CTBT in 2009 but never re­al­ized his goal. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion said it would not seek rat­i­fi­ca­tion in its 2018 Nu­clear Pos­ture Re­view.

Still, the ma­jor nu­clear pow­ers abide by its core pro­hi­bi­tion on test­ing. But the United States in re­cent months has al­leged that Rus­sia and China have vi­o­lated the “zero yield” stan­dard with ex­tremely low-yield or un­der­ground tests, not the type of many-kilo­ton yield tests with mush­room clouds as­so­ci­ated with the Cold War. Rus­sia and China deny the al­le­ga­tion.

Since es­tab­lish­ing a mora­to­rium on test­ing in the early 1990s, the United States has en­sured that its nu­clear weapons are ready to be de­ployed by con­duct­ing what are known as sub­crit­i­cal tests — blasts that do not pro­duce a nu­clear chain re­ac­tion but can test com­po­nents of a weapon.

U.S. nu­clear weapons fa­cil­i­ties have also de­vel­oped ro­bust com­puter sim­u­la­tion tech­nolo­gies that al­low for mod­el­ing of nu­clear tests to en­sure the ar­se­nal is ready to de­ploy.

The main pur­pose of nu­clear tests has long been to check the re­li­a­bil­ity of an ex­ist­ing ar­se­nal or try out new weapon de­signs. Every year, top U.S. of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the heads of the na­tional nu­clear labs and the com­man­der of U.S. Strate­gic Com­mand, must cer­tify the safety and re­li­a­bil­ity of the stock­pile without test­ing. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has said that, un­like Rus­sia and China, it isn’t pur­su­ing new nu­clear weapons but re­serves the right to do so if the two coun­tries refuse to ne­go­ti­ate on their pro­grams.

The de­lib­er­a­tions over a nu­clear test ex­plo­sion come as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion pre­pares to leave the Treaty on Open Skies, a nearly 30-year-old pact that came into force in 2002 and was de­signed to re­duce the chances of an ac­ci­den­tal war by al­low­ing mu­tual re­con­nais­sance flights for mem­bers of the 34-coun­try agree­ment.

The planned with­drawal marks an­other ex­am­ple of the ero­sion of a global arms-con­trol frame­work that Wash­ing­ton and Moscow be­gan hash­ing out painstak­ingly dur­ing the Cold War. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion pulled out of a 1987 pact with Rus­sia gov­ern­ing in­ter­me­di­at­erange mis­siles, cit­ing vi­o­la­tions by Moscow, and with­drew from a 2015 nu­clear ac­cord with Iran, say­ing Tehran wasn’t liv­ing up to the spirit of it.

The pri­mary re­main­ing pil­lar of the arms-con­trol frame­work be­tween the United States and Rus­sia is the New START pact, which places lim­its on strate­gic nu­clear plat­forms.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has been push­ing to ne­go­ti­ate a fol­low-on agree­ment that in­cludes China in ad­di­tion to Rus­sia, but China has re­jected calls for talks so far.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.