By Fang Xiaozhi
Defense News, an American website, reported that Drew Walter, performing the duties of the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Matters, said on May 26 that the military had found a suitable underground testing field in Nevada where the underground nuclear tests could be restarted within months if requested by the President. On May 15, the US President Donald Trump and other senior officials publicly discussed whether to restart nuclear test that had been suspended for nearly 30 years. Information so far indicates that Washington hasn’t decided to restart the test yet. Still, the discussion itself sent a dangerous signal that sparked vehement responses in the international community.
At present, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) serves as an important pillar of the international nuclear arms control system. After the US detonated the world’s first atomic bomb in the Alamogordo desert of the State of New Mexico in 1945, at least eightcountries have conducted about 2,000 nuclear tests, more than 1,000 of which were in the US. In October 1999, the UN passed the CTBT with an overwhelming vote, which was signed by five nuclear power states, including the US, that all pledged to “suspend nuclear test”. Although the treaty never took effect, the prohibition of nuclear tests has become an internationally acknowledged norm.
The US intention to restart its nuclear test amid the whole world’s opposition aims to cement its absolute strategic superiority in nuclear weapons. In fact, Washington has never given up nuclear weapon development in the past decades, even though it has been advocating for the comprehensive ban on nuclear tests. Boasting unique technological advantages and complete nuclear data, the US is fully capable of conducting nuclear weapon research through 3D simulation, which minimizes the demand for nuclear tests in a realistic environment. That’s the reason why the US took the initiative to stop the nuclear test in 1999.
The US has been promoting the development of small-sized and tactical nuclear weapons in recent years. It is even reported that the US has been developing low-yield mini nukes and attempts to use them on the battlefield. But it hasn’t accumulated sufficient data in that regard, analyzed foreign media, so nuclear tests have to be conducted to obtain and verify the data. Drew Walter once said better physical and computer models were needed to make up for data deficiency.
As far as future development is concerned, once the US restarts nuclear test, it will propel other nuclear states to follow suit, thus triggering an unprecedented nuclear arms race. The amount of nuclear weapons worldwide has been largely slashed after the Cold War, and none of the nuclear powers has conducted a nuclear test since the CTBT was signed, creating a relatively stable historical period for the international community. The CTBT has become the important cornerstone of global nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. If restarting the nuclear testing, that US would open the Pandora’s box, break the existing nuclear restriction regime, and cast a dark shadow of war over the world today.
Moreover, America’s restart of the nuclear test will also send a shock wave to the existing international strategic landscape and nuclear security situation, with a particularly profound impact on the future US-Russia relation. So far, Washington has backed out of a spate of important treaties on international arms control. It even relaunched a new missile development program like Pershing II Weapon System after the US withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Once it exited the CTBT, the US would have free rein to intensify its nuclear deterrence through large-scale nuclear tests, and Russia would definitely counteract against such aggressiveness by, for instance, stepping up the development and deployment of tactical nuclear weapons and resuming nuclear test as well. All these will considerably add to the risk of unexpected warfare between the two powers and are worth our close attention and high vigilance.