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"Low Yield" Nuclear Experiments: Should They Be Permitted Within a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty?

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Working paper

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After relying on nuclear testing for 47 years as a means to positively verify the reliability of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, President Clinton broke with the past and set a new course supported by an integrated, six-point set of safeguards. Although this dramatic announcement was very popular within nuclear disarmament circles, other communities greeted it with less enthusiasm. After evaluating the pros and cons of this zero yield testing provision, I believe that it will not accomplish its intended objectives. To the contrary, low yield nuclear experiments should be permitted within the provisions of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty CTBT. I will explain my disagreement with the national zero yield testing policy by sequentially stepping through the entire range of issues that bear on the problem. In its simplest form, I will examine the requirements for nuclear weapons evaluate the alternative methods of ensuring their safety, security, and reliability and assess the political landscape in which decisions are being made. To examine the requirement, I will discuss the national policy statements, the projected force structures, the historical arms control framework, and the provisions of the CTBT. To evaluate the alternative methods of ensuring the safety, the security, and the reliability of the stockpile, I will sequentially explore nuclear testing and Science Based Stockpile Stewardship. The chapter on nuclear testing will include the evolution of nuclear weapons, the contributions of low yield nuclear experiments, and the legacy of 50 years of nuclear testing. The subsequent chapter on SBSS will include the elements of the program, the long-term implications, and the likely impact on proliferation. To assess the political landscape in which decisions are being made, I will analyze the anatomy of the zero yield decision, the dynamics of the domestic political stage, and the impact of actors within the international political arena.

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  • Government and Political Science
  • Nuclear Weapons

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