Remarks of the Honorable John D. Holum
Director, Arms Control & Disarmament Agency
and Under Secretary, Department of State
Keynote Address to Sandia National Laboratories'
Eighth International Arms Control Conference
April 3, 1998 -- Albuquerque, New Mexico

It is a pleasure to be here this evening. I must say, this international conference is well-timed -- for American arms control achieved much with partners around the world last year and because our arms control agenda for 1998 is even more ambitious and far-reaching.

In 1997, the Senate ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention so the United States could be an original party -- eventually joined by Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Cuba, and 102 other nations, in ratification.

On strategic arms, in Helsinki, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin sketched a vision for further deep reductions on nuclear weapons and for new kinds of controls, once START II is in force. We formally agreed on an extension of the START II timetable and on early deactivation of covered weapons. And after nearly four years of negotiation, we finally agreed with Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus on succession under the ABM treaty, and on the demarcation between prohibited strategic defenses and permitted theater ones.

It was both a productive and a painful year on antipersonnel landmines. Though the U.S. has led international efforts to control long-lived, non-detectable mines, we could not find a way consistent with our security responsibilities to sign the Ottawa Convention. But the United States leads the world in removing the immediate humanitarian threat -- more than 100 million mines already in the ground in some 60 countries. The President recently ordered that our demining funds be tripled, and Secretary Albright and Secretary Cohen launched "Demining 2010," with a timetable for removing this humanitarian scourge.

In the midst of this, we also negotiated and then worked out most of the details for a new governmental structure for arms control, nonproliferation and disarmament. That has required enormous extra effort from and inflicted a great deal of uncertainty on, our staff in both ACDA and State. If you like the "walk and chew gum at the same time" metaphor, I'd say we have been trying our best to show how simultaneously to pole vault and prepare a seven-course gourmet meal. And because Congress still has to authorize our merger, we're trying to accomplish all that while suspended in mid-air.

1998 is shaping up every bit as challenging.

We are deeply engaged in implementing START I, encouraging Russia to ratify START II, and preparing for START III. Russia's decision on START II ratification is profoundly important -- whether you consider the consequences in stalled disarmament and the risk to our wider relationship if it fails, or the new opportunities for deeper cuts, dramatic savings, greater security and broader cooperation if it succeeds. When START II is operational we'll be right back at the table to negotiate deeper cuts -- down to 80 percent below Cold War peaks -- and, for the first time, direct constraints not only on delivery systems but on nuclear bombs and warheads themselves.

We will also intensify our efforts against the mounting danger that weapons of mass destruction will fall into the wrong hands. Memories of poison gas in Tokyo's subways ... the specter of Iran's missile ambitions ... Iraq's perpetual efforts to conceal nuclear, chemical and biological programs ... all these are warning enough of the immediate dangers to civilians and servicemen and women at home and abroad. To counter the efforts of would-be proliferators, we need to strictly enforce the international standards we have -- and build stronger ones where they are needed.

That latter task will include, in particular, intensified efforts on a significant gap in coverage. Humanity has labored for centuries to banish such diseases as plague, anthrax and botulism. Saddam Hussein and a number of others are engaged in perverse efforts to preserve and multiply those same deadly organisms for use as weapons of terror and war.

The 1972 Biological Weapons Convention is a thin reed, depending heavily on voluntary reporting and compliance. It needs teeth.

President Clinton specifically made this a priority in his State of the Union address early this year -- called for the framework of a legally-binding BWC compliance protocol by the end of 1998. We think it should include mandatory declarations of relevant BW facilities and activities, voluntary visits to gather information, acceptance of some visits to resolve questions about declarations, and on-site challenge investigations of possible noncompliance.

The Ad Hoc Group's efforts since 1995 have made some headway. But with only seven weeks of formal negotiations left this year, we need political resolve to find common ground. I've been traveling to capitals in search of it, and the BWC has become a leading part of our agenda for all relevant high-level interactions.

We also have hard work ahead in designing the details of on-site activities that will affect commercial as well as governmental sites. Consider that in 1995, 150 primary patents were issued worldwide for significant new products in the biotech area -- and 122 of those 150 patents were issued to U.S. firms. Any BWC protocol has to balance national security needs with protecting proprietary information, economic promise, and contributions to health and well-being.

So a stronger BWC is a complicated issue. But revelations in Iraq, coupled with recent terrorist scares in Britain or nearby Las Vegas, underscore the need to transform this treaty, too, into a truly effective instrument against genuinely appalling weapons we renounced more than a quarter-century ago.

There is another item on the broad 1998 agenda that I want to address in particular this evening, because it is both a top priority of President Clinton and an historic opportunity for the United States. That is the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty now pending in the U.S. Senate.

Since the first test near Alamogordo in 1945, nearly 2,000 more nuclear explosions have been detonated -- more than 1,000 by the United States, some 700 by the Soviet Union, China's reported 41, others by the U.K. and France, and one by India.

All these tests led to the development of dozens of different types of nuclear weapons -- with varying explosive yields, with different combinations of blast, radiation, and thermal effects. They were designed for delivery by aircraft, missiles, and artillery; to explode in the atmosphere, underground, or underwater. They can destroy missile silos, fleets of ships at sea, tank formations, command and control capabilities, and, of course, cities, and millions of people.

As you know, a main purpose of testing was to make weapons more efficient -- a bigger bang and taller mushroom cloud in a smaller, lighter package. Success in that opened new technical avenues, including multiple independently-targetable re-entry vehicles, or MIRVs, allowing a single missile to strike separate targets many miles apart. This, coupled with improvements in accuracy and maneuverability, led to the geometric growth of stockpiles, and warfighting plans employing literally thousands of warheads and bombs.

Still, American leaders, beginning with President Eisenhower, understood the peril inherent in nuclear weapons and sought ways to rein them in.

Some thirty-five years ago, President Kennedy argued that such weapons "must be abolished...the logical place to begin is a treaty assuring the end of nuclear tests of all kinds...."

He did not succeed in that. But important progress was made:

  • The 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty ended testing in the atmosphere, underwater, and in space.

  • The 1974 Threshold Test Ban Treaty limited U.S. and Soviet underground nuclear weapons tests to 150 kilotons.

  • And, in 1976 the Threshold Ban limit was extended to what we now recognize as an oxymoronic term, "peaceful nuclear explosions," which were also confined to the 150 kiloton limit.

But nuclear explosive testing and further refinement of nuclear arsenals still proceeded.

Now, at last, the original goal is at hand.

In 1993, President Clinton directed resumption of the U.S. effort to achieve a comprehensive test-ban treaty. And by September 1996, wielding the pen John Kennedy used to sign the 1963 partial test ban, he became the first world leader to sign the result -- a comprehensive ban on nuclear explosions of any size, by anyone, anywhere, forever.

The CTBT was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, 158 to 3, and now has almost 150 signatories.

What will it accomplish?

With a ban on nuclear testing in place, we pour cement on any possibility of a renewed arms race. Make no mistake, there are more possibilities -- to focus the energy from nuclear weapons, or enhance radiation, or otherwise advance the art or lower the threshold to use. But without testing, nuclear weapon states will not be able confidently to develop advanced new nuclear weapons types. For without testing, there is no way of being certain that a new weapon will function as designed, as intended, or at all.

The CTBT and the strategic arms reduction process will be mutually reinforcing. The test ban provides confidence that neither side is making significant qualitative improvements in its arsenal, thus fostering a stable environment for further reductions. The CTBT will not eliminate nuclear weapons, but it will clearly enhance the START process and advance disarmament.

The CTBT is also a nonproliferation treaty. It throws another tall obstacle in the way of anyone who aspires to nuclear arms.

Of course a primitive fission bomb can be made without testing. But remember, they had to dig a hole under a B-29 bomber to load our first one aboard. It is a much harder task to get nuclear weapons down to the sizes, shapes, and weights most dangerous to us -- deliverable in light airplanes, rudimentary missiles, even a terrorist's luggage. That is where the prohibition of all nuclear explosions comes into play.

The simple fact is that our security is enhanced to the extent we can lock all nations in place on the nuclear weapon learning curve.

Politically, as well, the test ban backs up the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in drawing the noose ever tighter around the nuclear ambitions of rogue regimes.

Remember that the NPT is our basic international law against nuclear weapons -- the basis for our efforts to prevent them in Iraq, in Iran, in North Korea, and elsewhere.

Remember, too, that the nuclear weapon states' commitment to conclude a test ban in 1996 was instrumental in gaining indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995. For the test ban was, from the 1960s onward, seen as part of the NPT bargain under which all members but five agreed to completely forego nuclear weapons, so long as "good faith" disarmament efforts were pursued.

Also consider that in 1997, we finally succeeded in reaching agreement in the International Atomic Energy Agency on much stronger safeguards, using new access and technologies better able find clandestine weapons efforts. They represent our reaction to discovery of Iraq's ambitious program in 1991. But they require negotiation of new safeguards agreements with each member country. Obviously we want global political impetus behind those agreements. To risk unraveling the NPT bargain is not the way to get it. Continuing U.S. leadership in advancing the test ban is.

As I suggested at the outset, enforcing nonproliferation is no easy task. Will the test ban solve the problem? Obviously not. Will it help? Absolutely, by adding another physical obstacle, and by reinforcing international standards and political will to come down hard on proliferators. And given the stakes, we should deny ourselves no tool that will help simplify the challenge.

At least not unless the price is exorbitant to us. But, manifestly, the comprehensive test ban's price is easily bearable, because we have already willingly incurred it. The United States has already left the testing business. Congress in 1992 put sharp legal restrictions on further testing, which remain in effect. We have no plans and we have no military requirements to test. Why, then, not hold others to the same standard we already observe, and thereby capture the arms control and nonproliferation value?

What awaits, quite simply, is U.S. leadership to ratify the CTBT and put real muscle behind it.

The effort begins with strong popular support. A recent nationwide poll showed 70 percent of the people, Republicans and Democrats alike, favor a treaty to prohibit underground nuclear explosions worldwide. Only 12.5 percent are opposed. Rarely does any proposition command such overwhelming support.

Still, ratification will not be easy. At least three main strands of argument against it have already emerged. Let's review them.

Some will argue that the Treaty cannot be verified. They are wrong.

When it is brought into force, the CTBT will rely on a broad network of some 320 sensors capable of detecting, at considerable distances, the different kinds of signals nuclear explosions emit depending on where they occur -- seismic vibrations; underwater noise; very low frequency sounds in the atmosphere; and radioactive gases or particles. These sensors will blanket the globe.

In addition, the United States will bring to the table its own considerable national technical means of verification. The right to use these is specifically recognized in the Treaty.

And if any of these suggest there may have been a nuclear explosion, Treaty parties can call for on-site challenge inspections to root out the facts.

Remember that with or without the CTBT, the United States will continue to monitor nuclear testing worldwide. The CTBT will make that indispensable job easier.

We had a practical demonstration of some of these capabilities last summer. In the Kara Sea, near a former Soviet nuclear testing facility where there had been ongoing activity, sensors detected a seismic event.

It had a seismic signal equivalent to about one-tenth of a kiloton, and was detected and confidently located even though a major seismic station in the region was out of commission. After analysis, we were satisfied that there was no nuclear explosion, based solely on remote sensing and study.

It may be possible to conduct an underground nuclear explosion too small to be seen, heard, sniffed, or felt by these remote sensors. But this does not negate the value of a "zero yield" Treaty. Remember that the objective is not to warrant honesty but to enhance security. We assume some countries will want to cheat. We want to limit their options to avoid significant consequences to us. And the likelihood is that an explosion too small to be detected would also be too small to provide any substantial value to a nuclear design program, such as for boosting yields and making weapons smaller, lighter, and easier to deliver.

The aspiring cheater would also have to worry about unintended consequences of complicated evasion schemes, such as the so-called "oops factor" -- a very small explosion turning out bigger than intended, and so drawing unexpected attention.

And the cheater can never confidently fix the dividing line between escape and detection -- and so must always consider that the overlapping international sensors, or our national technical means, or perhaps a whistle-blower, would reveal the test and bring down international action.

U.S. monitoring thresholds reflect our interest in detecting and identifying a test with very high confidence. This calculation is only a part of what goes into a judgment about verifiability. The bottom line is deterrence. If, for example, a would-be cheater assesses that there is even a 50 percent chance, or perhaps even less, of getting caught, isolated, and sanctioned, testing likely would be an unappealing choice.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty can and will be effectively verified. It will effectively deter tests that would have an impact on our security.

A second issue will likely be the long-term safety and reliability of the enduring nuclear stockpile. For we will rely upon nuclear deterrence for the foreseeable future.

It is important, however, that with the end of the Cold War and progress in disarmament, we are not designing new nuclear weapons, which was our main reason for tests, and we have no plans to do so.

We are also maintaining much smaller arsenals with fewer different designs -- dropping from scores of different weapons to fewer than ten. All of those designs are well-known and well-tested and have been certified safe and reliable.

Indeed, when Congress adopted a testing moratorium in 1992, it authorized 15 tests for adding specific safety or reliability features to existing weapons. Those tests were never conducted, because the military saw no improvements requiring tests that would be cost-effective.

The question, then, is whether we can sustain the necessary level of confidence without testing. Here I have to rely on technical experts. As I understand the answer, it is "yes, if." And the condition is a rigorous, fully funded Stockpile Stewardship Program to identify, address, and repair any problems that may arise in the enduring arsenal. And such a program has been in place for the past three years.

Moreover, we have a safety valve. Like most arms control treaties, the CTBT has a provision allowing members to withdraw on grounds of "supreme national interest." The President has determined that the safety and reliability of our nuclear weapons is a supreme national interest.

He has also created an annual certification program for stockpile weapons. If the senior officials in charge are unable to certify with high confidence that they will continue to work as planned, and if tests are needed to remedy the problem, they can happen. There is no reason to believe that situation will arise. But if it does, we're fully protected.

Finally, some will counsel delay. The condition for the Treaty's entry into force is ratification by 44 specifically identified countries -- members of the Conference on Disarmament possessing nuclear power or nuclear research reactors. India, Pakistan and North Korea are on the list, but have not even signed. So why hurry? Let's get all the elements of stockpile stewardship in place, make sure they work, and then think about ratification.

But if problems do arise in the stockpile, it will likely be years down the road, in 2005 or 2010 or later, as the weapons age, and when the new facilities will be in operation; the National Ignition Facility in 2003, for example, new Sandia pulsed power machines in 2001, and the DARHT 2nd axis by 2002. So delay in anticipation of stockpile failure would be long-term perpetuation of a truly useless combination -- no testing, but also no test ban, and no good purpose or U.S. interest served.

Given that we have the safety valve, the better answer is to bet on success, and take home the Treaty's arms control and nonproliferation values. The way to move reluctant signatories is to make them feel the sting of isolation on this issue -- and not let them use U.S. hesitation to excuse their own inaction.

The earliest the CTBT can enter into force is this September. It will have been pending in the Senate for a year. That is an emminently reasonable timetable for Senate action.

The question of timing depends to some extent on how we see our country. Should we lead the world on such issues, or trail behind? President Clinton thinks we should lead. The U.S. needs to be in the business of promoting ratification, not complicating it.

At its core, here is what the CTBT issue comes down to, and what the Senate must decide: The nuclear arms race is over; arsenals are shrinking; our dramatically fewer remaining weapons can be kept safe and reliable by other means; we don't need tests; proliferators do; the American people overwhelmingly want testing banned.

Under these circumstances, who really wants to argue that what the world needs now is more nuclear explosions? Who would champion the cause of making the Nevada desert shake again with nuclear blasts, and assuring more such events at China's Lop Nur test site or Novaya Zemlya in Russia, or other places known and unknown around the world?

Nearly forty years ago, Dwight Eisenhower reflected upon his White House years and said not achieving a nuclear test ban, "would have to be classed as the greatest disappointment of any administration -- of any decade -- of any time and of any party..."

The ebb and flow of history have brought us the chance to remedy his frustration.

The negotiators have done their part. Now it falls to the United States Senate, to help close this explosive nuclear chapter in human experience, to help approach a new millennium with yet another strong tool to ward off dangers to our people and build a safer planet.

I hope the Senate will act well, wisely -- and soon -- and not constrain us, but let us forge ahead with a broad agenda to fight some of the greatest perils of our time.