Published On: Tue, Oct 17th, 2023

Will Nuclear Weapons Testing Return Amid Rising Global Tensions?

Will Nuclear Weapons Testing Return Amid Rising Global Tensions?
Will Nuclear Weapons Testing Return Amid Rising Global Tensions?

Russian Lawmakers Vote on Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Rollback

Image Credit: Russian Defense Ministry Press O/UPI/Shutterstock

Nuclear Tensions Rise as Russian Lawmakers Consider Rolling Back Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

Nuclear tensions have escalated since the invasion of Ukraine, with reports of nuclear-armed powers updating dormant weapon test sites. Russian lawmakers have voted to begin the process of rolling back a treaty banning such tests. Are we on the brink of a return to the era of the world’s most destructive weapons?

The moratorium against nuclear testing relies on a patchwork of international treaties. The Limited Test Ban Treaty, signed by the UK, US, and Soviet Union in 1963, prohibits testing of these weapons in the atmosphere, underwater, or in outer space but allows underground trials. In 1996, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) theoretically ended underground testing as well.

However, the CTBT remains unfinished. Despite 178 states having ratified it, the treaty will not officially come into force until eight more nations take action. China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, and the US have signed but not ratified the agreement, while India, Pakistan, and North Korea never signed it.

Nuclear test bans have been effective. Over 2000 tests occurred between the first US detonation, Trinity, in 1945, and the drafting of the CTBT. Since then, India and Pakistan conducted a few tests in 1998, and North Korea is the only nation to have tested a nuclear weapon in the 21st century, with its most recent test in 2017.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing war may have altered its stance on testing. Although Russia ratified the CTBT in 2000, on 17 October, the Duma, its lower parliamentary house, voted to revoke ratification. Further steps are needed to officially revoke Russia’s ratification, but this signals the nation’s potential return to testing that ceased in 1990, with the Soviet Union’s last detonation.

Russia has recently tested new nuclear delivery systems without live nuclear warheads, and there have been calls within the country for a resumption of nuclear tests.

In a recent speech, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin did not confirm the necessity of nuclear tests but emphasized the need to ensure that new weapons work without failures.

All three major nuclear powers, including China and the US, appear to be preparing for tests, raising concerns about the future of nuclear non-proliferation efforts.

However, experts suggest that there is no logical reason to test a nuclear bomb at this stage as computer simulations can predict the performance of new designs with a high degree of confidence.

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