Thursday, October 7, 1999 Los Angeles Times

Balm for the Chinese Threat

   Security: Senate should ratify nuclear test ban treaty barring
nations from experimentation.


Remember the Chinese nuclear spying flap? The one that took
Washington by storm earlier this year and led to a major
reorganization of the Energy Department and strained
U.S.-China relations? Well, it appears that many Washington
senators have forgotten all about it. For if they had not, they would
be throwing their support behind the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
instead of threatening to defeat it.
     To actually damage U.S. security, nuclear weapons information
that may have been lost (or that may be lost in the future) must be
turned into weapons, and the treaty would create a very high barrier
against this. Whatever information on thermonuclear weapons China
may have obtained, it is not credible that Beijing would deploy
weapons that incorporate this information without first conducting
nuclear explosive tests outlawed by the treaty. China signed the pact
in 1996 and has not conducted any nuclear explosive tests since. But
the treaty cannot enter into force--and the verification system cannot
be fully implemented--until the U.S. Senate provides its advice and
consent to the president.
     The report of the House Select Committee led by Rep.
Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) states that "If [China] violates
the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by testing surreptitiously, it could
further accelerate its nuclear development." An even more serious
problem is that without the treaty, China would be entitled to conduct
nuclear tests openly and make gains that could in no way be
redressed by the resumption of testing by the United States.
     The Senate has the power to help prevent this from happening.
With the treaty in force and its verification system operational, China
and other nations would be unable to conduct clandestine nuclear
tests of even the triggers for smaller and lighter thermonuclear
warheads for use on long-range ballistic missiles. This is the central
security value of the treaty, and one the Senate cannot afford to
     We may never know whether Chinese nuclear weapons
development benefited significantly from espionage. According to the
April 21 damage assessment prepared by the U.S. intelligence
community and reviewed by an independent panel chaired by Adm.
David Jeremiah, "China's technical advances have been made on the
basis of classified and unclassified information derived from
espionage, contact with U.S. and other countries' scientists,
conferences and publications, unauthorized media disclosures,
declassified U.S. weapons information and Chinese indigenous
development. The relative contribution of each cannot be
     Even if China did acquire detailed design information on
sophisticated nuclear weapons, there is no basis to assume that China
would field a warhead based on this information without new nuclear
tests. Computer simulations alone cannot provide confidence that a
new thermonuclear weapon will perform properly.
     The likelihood that other countries with relatively little nuclear
weapons experience are involved in spying makes the case for the
treaty even more compelling. Nuclear explosive testing would be
more important to nations that do not already have sophisticated,
well-tested designs than it is now for China.
     Nuclear proliferation, aided by espionage or not, is one of the
greatest threats to American security. U.S. ratification and making
the treaty enforceable will strengthen the nation's ability to contain
this threat. To limit the damage from nuclear espionage, past or
future--or for that matter, from foreign nuclear weapons advances,
whatever their source--the Senate should ratify the test ban treaty.
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Richard L. Garwin Served on the Rumsfeld Commission, Which
Assessed the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States for This
Congress; a Physicist, he Is a Senior Fellow With the Council on
Foreign Relations. Kurt Gottfried Is a Physics Professor at Cornell
University and Chairman of the Board of the Union of Concerned