Imagine that the United States and Russia had both ratified the treaty some 20 years ago and that this issue came up after many years of peaceful implementation. The two sides would have first been encouraged to resolve this concern among themselves. Treaty membership would also have come with the ability to request assistance from the technical secretariat of the treaty’s monitoring organization, or even the full weight of the executive council, the treaty’s highest decision-making body. International inspectors can’t stop a treaty violator, but they can make a violator lose face and standing, forcing it to unconvincingly obfuscate its transgressions.
If the hypothetical US attempt to resolve the compliance issue failed, the United States could have requested an on-site inspection. If Russia had nothing to hide, it would have allowed it. But if Russia did have something to hide and tried to foil the investigation, a breach of the treaty would have been established in the minds of many other governments. From the US perspective, this would be a much better diplomatic starting point than relying on its own—mostly unshareable—national assessments. It is much easier to marshal a sustained diplomatic offensive to rectify bad behavior when evidence is widely shared and neutral third parties can be convinced.
Additionally, state parties are free to reach further agreements under the treaty. For instance, the United States and Russia, if both were parties, could agree to mutual visits falling short of on-site inspections. They could decide on close monitoring of nuclear test sites. They could agree on the notification and monitoring of permitted activities, such as subcritical testing. Because the United States has not ratified, these options are not on the table. But it’s not too late.
As the coronavirus crisis shows, we need science now more than ever.
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