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Making America Feared Again: The Trump Administration Considers Resuming Nuclear Weapons Testing

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tags: nuclear weapons, Donald Trump



Lawrence Wittner (https://www.lawrenceswittner.com/ ) is Professor of History Emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press).

Americans who grew up with nightmares of nuclear weapons explosions should get ready for some terrifying flashbacks, for the Trump administration appears to be preparing to resume U.S. nuclear weapons tests.

The U.S. government stopped its atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in 1962, shortly before signing the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963.  And it halted its underground nuclear tests in 1992, signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996.  Overall, it conducted 1,030 nuclear weapons test explosions, slightly more than half the global total.

Nuclear tests, of course, enabled the nine nuclear powers to develop bigger and more efficient nuclear weapons for the purpose of waging nuclear war.  Along the way, millions of people in the United States and other nations died or developed illnesses caused by the radioactive fallout from these tests.

The CTBT, which banned all nuclear weapons tests, has been signed by 184 nations, including the United States.  This century, only North Korea has flouted the treaty, triggering an avalanche of condemnation from other nations.

But the Trump administration now seems to be preparing to ignore treaty constraints and world opinion by reviving nuclear weapons explosions.  A Washington Post article reported that, in mid-May 2020, a meeting of senior U.S. officials from top national security agencies engaged in serious discussions about U.S. nuclear test resumption.  According to one official, the idea was that test renewal would help pressure Russia and China into making concessions during future negotiations over nuclear weapons.

In an apparent follow-up, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) introduced an amendment to the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would give the Trump administration “no less than $10 million” to conduct a nuclear weapons test, “if necessary.”  Taken up by the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 10, the amendment passed by a vote along strict party lines.  Currently, Congress is debating the NDAA.

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