[FOUNTAIN]U.S. tests nuclear treaty's limitsThe United States first tested the atomic bomb on July 16, 1945, three years after its development in 1942. The Soviet Union followed suit by announcing the existence of its own arsenal on Sept. 24, 1949. In October 1952, and February 1960, the British and the French, respectively, conducted successful nuclear tests, anointing them as members of the exclusive club. Nuclear weapons quickly became a symbol of national strength and pride.
Other countries, including China, India, South Africa and Pakistan, have joined the ranks of nuclear powers, listing self-defense as the common pretext for acquiring the weapons. Since 1945, more than 2,000 tests have been conducted in order to sustain and improve nuclear technologies.
These tests have left behind radioactive pollutants which have increased environmental awareness. In 1963, the Partial Test Ban Treaty was adopted, effectively banning nuclear explosions in the atmosphere, outer space and underwater. Still, the agreement had loopholes permitting underground experiments. Largely in response to pressure by environmental groups, the Threshold Test Ban Treaty was signed in 1974, restricting underground testing to 150 kilotons of TNT.
These efforts culminated with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty of 1996, which outlawed all forms of nuclear testing and explosions. The comprehensive treaty was criticized by India, Pakistan, Iraq and North Korea for allegedly securing a monopoly on the weapons by the existing nuclear powers. Albeit for different reasons, even the conservative constituencies within the United States opposed the agreement for fear of losing America's nuclear supremacy. They claimed that the treaty did not forbid small-scale nuclear explosions using plutonium 239 as long as they remain under the threshold, though only a handful of countries possess the technology to conduct such experiments.
Abiding by the rules of the comprehensive treaty, the United States in July 1997 conducted the first nuclear explosion under the threshold. This was by the very country that opposes the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and threatens preemptive military attacks on the countries it labels "rogue states."
Last Wednesday, the United States performed its sixth nuclear explosion under the threshold since President George W. Bush entered the White House. Perhaps it seems more than coincidental that "George Bush" sounds like the Japanese words for a "permanent warrior."
The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.
by Kim Seok-hwan