Nuclear weapons test ban

Current Affairs

When I was studying physics back in the ’80s the vast majority of job opportunities for PhD’s and Masters folks were being found in weapons research contained under the SDI (strategic defense initiative or “Star Wars”) umbrella. The only serious opportunity that came my way while I was a grad student was the opportunity to study cellwall integrity at high pressure. And that meant taking chimpanzees, putting them (alive) into very high pressure vessels and seeing how well they survived.

I turned it down.

And along the way I also decided that whatever happened, I was not going to plan on working in weapons research. I have a lot of good friends who decided to accept jobs in the defense industry, all people who I like and respect, and whose decisions I respect. But for me, as I was working through my own rule of life being influenced by the new pacifist writings of Yoder and Hauerwas, and deepening my sense of vocation, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to join my friends.

I was thinking about what it felt like to have to make that personal choice about what our relationship should be with weapons as Americans and as Christians again this Fall was the re-ratification of the START treaty between the US and Russia.

The Senate ultimately did find a two thirds majority in favor of the renegotiated treaty. And I think most people, including folks in the military that I talked with, were delighted to see that happen. Both because it means we keep that important agreement in place, but also because it represents a renewed willingness to engage the question about how America defends itself with its stockpile of weapons of mass destruction.

Perhaps the time is coming for us to continue this conversation with the Russian government and other nuclear nations. I saw this editorial in the Press Herald a while ago and am finally getting around to linking to it:

“What is needed starting in January is further nuclear arms limitations and treaties. The next Congress should begin by ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. It should then give attention to updating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and its enforcement mechanisms.

There are thousands of nuclear weapons in the world that could fall into the hands of terrorist groups and rogue nations. We need to do more to secure those weapons, in the interest of our national security.

We should be thanking the lame-duck Congress for ratifying New START, and asking our leaders in Washington to consider that treaty just what its name implies, a new start to further diplomatic efforts and international cooperation toward world peace.”

Read the full editorial here.

It’s a good point the writers make. We are in a different place as Americans today than we were during the height of the Cold War. It’s said that generals spend most of their time thinking about how to fight the last war and not enough preparing for the next one. My friends in the military assure me that is no longer the case in the American military. But I wonder if our government and diplomatic core might not been in as forward thinking a place as our military is right now.

At any rate, here’s hoping that something comes of this call to further the work on new START by taking further steps in the conversation on a CTB (comprehensive test ban). In addition to the world being a different geopolitical place, I hear from my friends that our ability to model weapon yields has progressed to the point where there is little need to cook off a nuke to see what it can do anymore.

And perhaps other nations might follow if we and our allies lead the way.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...

1 Comment

  1. Rev Liana Rowe says

    Banning explosive testing of nuclear weapons designs makes nothing but good, rational sense and Senator Kyl suggested during the New START floor debate that such thinking is too touchy-feely for him to engage.
    Along with banning explosive testing, we definitely need to have the conversations/negotiations/a new treaty with the Russians around Tactical (deployed) nukes. Many called for that during the floor debate on New START, here’s a chance to put some substance behind the reductions of Strategic weapons.
    Bottom line is that nuclear weapons are a threat to creation itself, the only morally defensible position is to work toward eliminating those that we have and prevent new ones from being developed.

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