Policy Forum

Facing Nuclear Reality

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Science  23 Oct 1987:
Vol. 238, Issue 4826, pp. 455-463
DOI: 10.1126/science.238.4826.455-a


Nuclear weapons that are safe and secure, reliable, survivable, and effective will be a critical element of this nation's deterrent for the foreseeable future. The existence of these weapons reflects the tension that exists between the United States and the Soviet Union. Nuclear test bans will not reduce or eliminate nuclear weapons or this tension. Imprudent nuclear test bans, however, could impair the viability of this vital element of U.S. security.

New, more restrictive test limitations would not enhance our national security. They do not address the two most important issues—namely, major reductions in strategic and conventional forces of both the Soviet Union and the United States, and a widespread lessening of tension between our two countries. In fact, it is conceivable that the diversion of political attention from arms reduction efforts and the distrust generated by test-ban verification problems could actually increase tensions between the two countries.

We believe that more restrictive test limitations or a nuclear test ban should be considered only as part of an integrated and comprehensive approach to arms control. We must reduce the numbers of the most destabilizing weapons and the overall size of the strategic arsenals through negotiations. A restrictive test ban may be a proper last step in our quest for nuclear arms control and a stable peace, but it would, in our opinion, be an imprudent first step. Further test limitations will be consistent with increased stability and decreased tension between the United States and the Soviet Union only if they are instituted after major stabilizing reductions are made in the strategic nuclear and conventional forces of both countries.