9 Jun, 2020
Top Democrats in Congress have voiced “deep concern” over reports that the White House is mulling the US’ first live nuclear test in some three decades, insisting the idea is dangerous and would only make Americans “less safe.”
“We write to express our deep concern regarding the revelation of high-level meetings within the administration on resuming nuclear testing,” five Democratic committee chairs wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette on Monday.
It is unfathomable that the administration is considering something so short-sighted and dangerous.
The harshly worded missive follows a report in the Washington Post late last month indicating that senior officials had discussed whether to break the US’ decades-long moratorium on live nuclear testing, with one anonymous official telling the Post that such a test would make for useful leverage in arms control talks with so-called adversaries, namely Moscow and Beijing.
In taking the government to task, the lawmakers invoked the administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review – a periodic assessment of the status of the US nuclear arsenal and the policies governing it – which vowed that “the United States will not resume nuclear explosive testing unless necessary to ensure the safety and effectiveness.” Based on those factors, according to US President Donald Trump’s own stated policy, the committee chairs said no nuclear test was needed.
The 2018 review also called on “all states possessing nuclear weapons” to similarly declare or maintain a moratorium on testing, warning that China is “modernizing and expanding” its arsenal. Though Moscow ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban treaty in 2000, swearing off live tests, Washington and Beijing never formally ratified the agreement, meaning neither are legally barred from testing. Observing that the US had conducted more nuclear tests than “every other nation combined,” the Democratic reps said Washington “benefits most” from a continued testing freeze, urging the administration to stick to its stated position.
Resuming testing would open the door for widespread global testing, which would only serve to benefit our adversaries and make Americans less safe.
The letter was signed by Adam Smith (D-Washington), Nita Lowey (D-New York), Jim Cooper (D-Tennessee), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and Pete Visclosky (D-Indiana), and follows a similar message penned by 80 other Senate and House Democrats earlier on Monday, deeming a new test an “unnecessary and provocative step.”
The renewed controversy over testing comes as the US and Russia prepare to negotiate an extension for the New START treaty, an arms control pact which limits the number of strategic nuclear deployments for both countries, set to expire next year. While Moscow has expressed willingness to ink a new deal, Washington has complicated the process, repeatedly insisting that Beijing be brought into the fold and accept limits on its own arsenal. As the talks draw closer, however, that appears increasingly unlikely, with China showing little interest in becoming a party to the deal – perhaps explaining the new high-level push for a US test, meant to ‘send a message’ to Beijing.