Special report: George Bush's America
by Rebecca Johnson
They pulled out of the Kyoto treaty, and I did not speak out, because I thought global warming wouldn't affect me personally. Then they trashed the anti-ballistic-missile treaty, but I did not speak out, because it was an old, bilateral agreement from 30 years ago.
Then they put private, commercial interests above implementing and verifying the treaties banning chemical, biological and toxin weapons, but I did not speak out because such weapons are too complicated for media coverage. Then they threatened the nuclear test ban treaty, and I did not speak out, because the United States is a major ally that I did not want to offend. Then the international arms control and non-proliferation regimes collapsed. Americans weren't bothered at first, for hadn't the government promised a super-sophisticated force field round the whole nation that no terrorist or missile would ever penetrate? So nuclear testing resumed in Nevada for new warheads to improve the kill prospects of missile interceptors and to penetrate deep into enemies' bunkers.
India had been waiting for just such a go-ahead, and Pakistan soon followed; both raced to test warheads to fit on to missiles, upping the tension in Kashmir and along the borders with China. Free now to resume its own testing, China boosted its programme to modernise and increase the size of its small nuclear arsenal. Somewhat reluctantly, Russia followed. Moscow suspended all further reductions and cooperative security and safety programmes for its still-large nuclear arsenal and facilities.
Within a few short years, the nuclear non-proliferation treaty was just another discarded agreement. Many governments with nuclear power programmes developed nuclear weapons as well, while others fitted anthrax or sarin on to weapons, just in case. Most hadn't wanted to, but fearful that their neighbours would, all felt compelled.
Regional rivalries grew quickly into major international problems.Alliances collapsed amid suspicion and recriminations. The burgeoning arms races even spread into outer space, threatening military surveillance, as well as public communication, entertainment and navigation. No one knew who had what.
Deterrence was empty, as defence analysts calculated the advantages of the pre-emptive strike. In that terrified atmosphere of insecurity and mistrust, someone launched first. And then it was too late to speak out. The Republicans hadn't yet managed to get missile defence to work. Such a doomsday scenario is not so fanciful. On July 7, the New York Times announced that President Bush wants to ditch the comprehensive test ban treaty. A week before, the administration asked nuclear laboratories to work out how quickly the US could resume testing after its nine-year moratorium. If Bush were to back out of the test ban treaty or break the moratorium on nuclear testing - undertaken with China, Russia, Britain and France - he would also explicitly breach agreements made last May, when 187 countries negotiated measures to strengthen and implement the non-proliferation treaty.
The test ban is no outdated cold war instrument, but a fundamental tool to prevent new, destabilising developments in nuclear weapons. Over several decades, from the Arctic to the Pacific, from the capitals of Europe to the deserts of Nevada, people have marched, petitioned, demonstrated and even sailed or hiked into test sites. Many have been imprisoned, and some even lost their lives trying to stop the nuclear weapons governments from polluting our oceans and earth with radioactivity from nuclear explosions, conducted for one purpose only - to make "better" nuclear bombs. It took three arduous years to complete negotiations on the comprehensive test ban treaty. It isn't perfect. No product of compromise ever is. The verification system is very thorough, but it also had to be affordable, financially and politically.
The treaty stopped short of closing and dismantling the known test sites or banning laboratory testing, which the weapon states said they needed to assure the safety and reliability of weapons in the stockpiles (pending achievement of their other treaty obligations to eliminate the nuclear arsenals completely). But it does ban all nuclear test explosions in all environments.
India panicked, because the treaty would close off its nuclear options. It refused to sign, and then let off a string of nuclear explosions in May 1998. Pakistan followed, to prove it could. Even so, the treaty held. Neither government has felt able to keep testing, which means their options for further developments were curbed.
Bush has embarked on a very slippery slope that could potentially put at risk the future of the citizens of even the most advanced military nation. Mumbling and grumbling won't keep us safe. It is time to speak out.
Rebecca Johnson is executive director of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy