A most interesting aspect of the current debate on nuclear arms control is the lack of comment on the Reagan administration's foreclosure of further negotiations on a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTB). There were news stories reporting President Reagan's decision to stop negotiations for a treaty, but I've seen no follow-ups of any substance anywhere in the media or on Capitol Hill.
Reagan's sincerity on nuclear arms control and eventual disarmament is once again in question.
The president's excuse for ceasing efforts to obtain a CTB is that his administration will instead seek to upgrade, or perfect, the Threshold Test Ban (TTB) and the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions (PNE) treaties, with respect to the means of verification of those instruments.
"Verification" is the question raised consistently by those who have time after time opposed any ban on the testing of nuclear explosives. Arms designers and some in the military have raised this scarecrow every time it appeared likely that any administration was going forward with a test ban treaty, and they have propagandized Congress and the nation with it.
Now Reagan has abandoned an effort started during the Eisenhower administration and carried forward by every president since, on which considerable progress has been made.
The whole idea of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is to make verification unnecessary. With a CTB in force, the world could simply watch its seismographs, and any suspicious "earthquake" would be subject to immediate question. "National Technical Means" of observation -- a euphemism for spy satellites -- insure observation of any atmospheric tests.
It is generally agreed among arms control specialists that the provisions for verification of nuclear explosions already included in the TTB, the PNE and in SALT II could render Russian cheating almost immediately observable. Experts from a variety of public and private agencies here generally agree that if the provisions already accepted by the Soviet and American negotiators were ratified and therefore functional, a nuclear explosion of 0.5 kilotons could be verified almost immediately anywhere in the world. Yet the Reagan administration continues to allege that an explosion of 150 kilotons, or 300 times as large as 0.5 kilotons, would be unverifiable.
The Russians have a justified reputation for being tough negotiators. The Standing Consultative Commission (SCC), a super-secret joint American-Soviet body established under the provisions of the SALT I Treaty, which became effective in 1972, provides part of the record on Soviet capacity to live up to agreements. A former U.S. representative on the SCC, Sidney N. Graybeal, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1979: "I do not believe that the Soviets would enter into any agreement which required them to cheat in order to attain their military objectives, or on which they planned to cheat."
Graybeal pointed out to the committee that the Russians have lived up to the letter of any nuclear arms treaty they have signed. "This is not to say that they will not press the agreement to its limit . . ." Graybeal said. However, with respect to the Soviet propensity to cheat, Graybeal also concluded that "the risk of being caught is always greater than zero."
The Soviets, in fact, have agreed to verification methods for the three treaties in question that would have been unthinkable in the political climate 25, or perhaps even 10 years ago. These methods include the use of tamper-proof instrumentation for on-site installation and on-site seismic devices. The Soviets have even agreed to allow on-site inspection by specialists in case of ambiguous events. This is an unprecedented political concession by the Soviets and, if acted upon by the United States could have lasting effects on the ability of the two superpowers to control nuclear arms.
It is this last fact that scares the pants off the weapons designers and the military. As one analyst here in Washington has said, the Joint Chiefs "turn pasty white at the idea" of Soviet specialists running around the testing sites of Nevada and New Mexico. The military and the weapons designers want to conduct a whole new series of tests of a new generation of weapons, and that is their reason for being unenthusiastic about the appearance of Russian technicians at American test sites. They have been talking for years about the need for verification and now, with verification nearly at hand, they are backing away.
The cries about verification, in the context of the new Russian willingness to verify, also lends credence to the general belief among arms specialists that the Reagan administration wishes to depend on nuclear weapons for our security, instead of negotiating arms control or limitations on arms.
With a CTB, we could -- or perhaps will -- establish the principle that the United States is committed to arms control. We will have gotten major concessions from the Soviet Union. However, a CTB is not the be-all and end-all. It will represent, if we can attain it, only one more step down the road to the control and possible banning of the use of nuclear weapons.
Arms control specialists are disturbed that the Reagan decision to end efforts for a CTB is evidence that the administration is caving in to the demands of the weapons designers and the military -- the whole bureaucracy at the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, which manufactures the bombs, and other elements that oppose nuclear arms control.
Some officials at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency are concerned that the White House staff, some at the Department of State and many at the Pentagon seem to believe that the nuclear freeze movement here and abroad will wither away. If this is so, they and Reagan must be depending on the silence of the press and the preoccupation of Congress for help in preventing examination of the record.