Amid Russia and China tensions, US mulls first nuclear test since 1992 — report
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Amid Russia and China tensions, US mulls first nuclear test since 1992 — report

Top security agency officials said to hold talks on possible test ahead of negotiations with Beijing and Moscow over weapons treaty

Illustrative: A US nuclear bomb test at the Marshall Islands, 1954. (Wikicommons/US Department of Energy)
Illustrative: A US nuclear bomb test at the Marshall Islands, 1954. (Wikicommons/US Department of Energy)

Senior US officials have discussed carrying out the country’s first nuclear test since 1992, the Washington Post reported Friday, amid increasing tensions with Russia and China.

A senior administration official and two former officials familiar with the discussions said the suggestion was raised at a May 15 meeting of top security agency officials after the Trump administration accused Russia and China of carrying out low-yield nuclear tests. Beijing and Moscow have denied the accusations.

An unnamed official told the newspaper that it was suggested a test could be helpful to Washington’s negotiating position as the US begins new nuclear arms control talks with the Kremlin aimed at replacing an expiring weapons treaty with a modern and potentially three-way accord that brings China into the fold.

Such a test would be a significant departure from US defense policy and dramatically up the ante for other nuclear-armed nations. One analyst told the newspaper that if it were to go ahead it would be seen as the “starting gun to an unprecedented nuclear arms race.”

According to the report, no decision was made about carrying out a test but it is “very much an ongoing conversation.” However another person privy to the discussions said it was ultimately decided that other steps would be taken instead.

This June 29, 2011 file photo shows the Los Alamos Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Beatrice Fihn of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the group that won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, warned a Trump nuclear test could “plunge us back into a new Cold War.”

“It would also blow up any chance of avoiding a dangerous new nuclear arms race. It would complete the erosion of the global arms control framework,” she said in a statement.

The US has not ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, known as the CTBT, which has 196 member states — 183 that have signed the treaty and 164 that have ratified it.

The treaty has not entered into force because it still needs ratification by eight countries that had nuclear power reactors or research reactors when the UN General Assembly adopted it in 1996: the United States, China, Iran, Israel, Egypt, India, Pakistan and North Korea.

The reported deliberations came days before US President Donald Trump said that Russian violations make it untenable for the US to stay in a treaty that permits 30-plus nations to conduct observation flights over each other’s territory, but he hinted it’s possible the US will reconsider the decision to withdraw.

Senior administration officials say Trump’s willingness to leave the Open Skies Treaty is evidence of how prominently arms control verification and compliance will feature in the new talks.

The Open Skies Treaty that governs the unarmed overflights was initially set up to promote trust and avert conflict between the US and Russia. The Trump administration informed other members of the treaty that the US plans to pull out in six months — which is after the presidential election — because Russia is violating the pact. The White House also says that imagery collected during the flights can be obtained quickly at less cost from US or commercial satellites.

US President Donald Trump speaks with reporters about the coronavirus in the James Brady Briefing Room of the White House, May 22, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien said the president has made clear that the United States will not remain a party to international agreements being violated by the other parties and that are no longer in America’s interests. He noted that Russian violations are also what prompted Trump last year to pull out of a 1987 nuclear arms treaty with Russia.

That treaty, signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, banned production, testing and deployment of intermediate-range land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (310 to 3,410 miles).

New START Treaty, which expires in February shortly after the next presidential inauguration, now is the only remaining treaty constraining the US and Russian nuclear arsenals. It imposes limits on the number of US and Russian long-range nuclear warheads and launchers. Russia has offered to extend the treaty, but Trump is holding out in hopes of negotiating a three-way agreement with Russia and China.

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