Recently, one of my colleagues from the Senate, Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan, made a plea for the revival of Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban talks with the Soviet Union (op-ed, Sept. 19). While he offered several reasons for a resumption of these talks, his bedrock argument was that if we failed to do so, we would almost certainly receive a "diplomatic black eye from our closest friends," thus "embarrassing us" on the eve of the Reagan-Gorbachev summit.
The linkage between political considerations and national security policy is perhaps inevitable, but I fail to see the wisdom of advocating -- at this critical pre- summit juncture -- what has been a Soviet propaganda proposal for years.
President Reagan has stated repeatedly that he will not resume negotiations on a Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB) Treaty at the present time for one very important reason: our nation's security. Levin says we should continue, but for public relations reasons, which he somehow finds compelling. In any weighing of national security concerns against public relations considerations, the scales had better tilt toward security.
This entire issue, the banning of all nuclear testing, has grave consequences for our nation's security, not merely for our image abroad. Moreover, although Levin believes that our allies may reject our unwillingness to immediately negotiate a CTB, it is worth remembering that these same allies depend upon a credible U.S. nuclear deterrent. Nuclear testing plays an essential role in maintaining this deterrent in view of the massive and ongoing Soviet nuclear force modernization, as well as a lack of substantive Soviet nuclear arms reduction proposals at Geneva.
Overall, it is cause for worry that some prominent political figures have seized upon this issue, politicized it and treat it as a soft "confidence building measure," which it certainly is not. This attempt to decouple nuclear testing from national security is demonstrated by the fact that House Democrats have placed a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty resolution on the legislative fast track. Talk about "friends and allies" trying to embarrass the president on the eve of the summit! It seems that our armchair arms controllers have decided to take that upon themselves, at a time when bipartisan support for the president and our Geneva negotiators is imperative.
The Democrats' proposal, H.J. Resolution 3, will probably be before the House in early October. It is composed of two parts. Part one calls upon the president to submit the unratified Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty (PNET) and Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT) to the Senate for ratification. The second part calls upon the president to resume immediately negotiations with the Soviet Union on a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Many experts, including our chief negotiator of PNET and TTBT, Ambassador Walter Stoessel Jr., seriously question whether either of these treaties can be adequately verified. In fact, in recent public testimony before Congress, Dr. Donald Kerr, the director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, pointed out that on at least one occasion a Soviet test, which we knew about, was not seismically detected.
H.J. Resolution 3, by demanding that the United States resume immediately negotiations with the Soviet Union on a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, overlooks some recent history -- namely, that it was Jimmy Carter, not Ronald Reagan, who cut off CTB negotiations with the Soviets for several reasons, among them the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Democratic leadership seems to prefer political opportunism over common sense in this instance. Clearly a nuclear test ban is a logical follow-on to an arms reduction agreement, not a prelude to one. As an editorial in The Post Aug. 1 appropriately stated, "why give away through a test ban what the Soviet Union should be expected to pay in arms reductions. This is why a ban cannot be treated as a separate option distinguishable from the proposals on the table in Geneva."
Test ban proponents would have you believe that the best reason for a ban on all testing is that, as time passes, weapons makers simply won't trust their old systems and at the same time won't be able to test new ones. So, following this line of thinking . . . Voila! No more nuclear weapons, no more arms race. Unfortunately, the opposite will be the case.
Additionally, we must keep in mind that under a comprehensive test ban the nature of Soviet society and government would permit the Soviet Union to keep its most skilled technical people in their weapons program, whereas many U.S. experts would leave for more professionally active fields.
Nuclear testing is very significant for a number of reasons, but one of the most important is that it allows us to move away from large nuclear weapons with indiscriminate destructive power to smaller weapons designed to accomplish their military tasks more efficiently and with less collateral damage. A ban on testing will make this type of megatonnage reduction impossible, but it won't stop production. All nuclear weapons experts agree that the basic ability to build large, "dirty" nuclear weapons -- able to accomplish their goals by brute destructive force -- may always be available, without further testing.
So ironically, a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty -- which has not been preceded by an arms reduction agreement -- could well feed the arms race by increasing, or at least maintaining, U.S. megatonnage, precisely at a time when we are trying to minimize this aspect of our strategic forces through defense research and development as well as arms control efforts in Geneva.
Furthermore, in the absence of an arms reduction agreement limiting warheads, yet in an environment in which both sides are tied down by a testing ban, the United States could find itself forced to build larger, more destructive and unsafe warheads in order to insure a continued strategic balance. At the same time, the Soviets, who already rely on bigger and more destructive warheads, will be forced to continue to do so, since they may be unable to test smaller, less destructive warheads. In essence, it could spark an arms race in megatonnage.
As congressional test ban advocates frame it, this issue turns the world on its head. For the Soviets it is merely a propaganda exercise of unilateral challenges and "moratoriums." For the United States, it is a matter of vital security. But one thing it is not -- it is definitely not, as the Democratic leadership would have us believe, an innocuous confidence-building measure designed to save us "embarrassment" and show our "goodwill."