The Window of Opportunity

Every 11 days since 1945, a nuclear weapon has been exploded by the United States or the Soviet Union. These tests have been instrumental in propelling the nuclear arms race by allowing the development of new weapon designs and checking the reliability of current stockpiles. More importantly, exploding these warheads has given the U.S. and Soviet military planners a look at the tools that would be used in a nuclear war. The continuing nuclear tests serve, in a very real sense, as dress rehearsals for nuclear war.

Since the dawn of the nuclear age, and especially since testing was driven underground by the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963, efforts have been made to ban all nuclear explosions. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, signed by this country and by 129 others, calls for the United States and the Soviet Union to actively pursue an end to nuclear testing. Negotiations toward a comprehensive test ban have been undertaken by each U.S. president since Dwight Eisenhower, with the exception of Ronald Reagan.

On August 6 of this year, the world was given its best opportunity in two decades to finally put a stop to nuclear weapons tests and make a historic break in the arms race cycle. On that day, the 40th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, the Soviet Union initiated a moratorium on the testing of nuclear weapons. The Soviets agreed to unilaterally stop warhead testing at least until January 1,1986. If the United States joins the test ban before that date, the Soviets have promised to extend the moratorium indefinitely.

The Soviet action gives the Reagan administration a unique and relatively risk-free opportunity to take a substantial first step toward ending the arms race. All Reagan need do is issue an executive order halting U.S. tests and again begin negotiations toward a test ban treaty.

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