Jeffrey LewisCTBT Scope Note

I’ve been meaning to write something about the scope of the CTBT — this ongoing debate about whether the Russians believe so-called hydronuclear tests are permitted under the treaty

I don’t find compelling the evidence that Russia has a different definition, let alone that they are conducting tests that over time will alter the military balance but I accept that my judgment is not a very good proxy for the sixty-seventh vote in the United States Senate.

RIA Novosti quotes Russian President Medvedev as saying something that would suggests the Russians think zero means zero:

“Under the global ban on nuclear tests, we can only use computer-assisted simulations to ensure the reliability of Russia’s nuclear deterrent,” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said. “Therefore, the most powerful supercomputers will be placed in federal nuclear centers.”

The interesting question, I suppose, is precisely what he said in Russian.

Little help? Spasiba.

Update | 11:36 Is that a yellow car on the right side of image? Does this mean that Russian nuclear complex officials, like their American counterparts, insist on using lame automobile analogies? That is something that Obama and Medvedev could sign — a Treaty Banning Automotive Metaphors (T-BAM) in nuclear weapons policy making.


  1. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    The automotive stuff is way too fun. I am imagining captions:

    “Imagine, Comrade President that you have pregnant wife and Soviet-era Zaporozhets. Now, you can remanufacture Zaporozhets to original specification, but cannot start engine …”

  2. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Or …

    Americantski nuclear weapons manufacture before test moratorium are like Mustang, while our nuclear weapons are like East German Trabant … — you remember, car in third U2 video for hit song, “One.”

  3. tbaum (History)

    That should be the “Treaty Banning Automobile-Using Metaphors” or T-BAUM.

  4. tbaum (History)

    And for your caption:

    We have made significant progress in automobile design— a car that has no roof. However, we have no analogue for nuclear weapons. But it sure is fun to drive!


    I am sweating profusely because I am 0.5 meters away from the president of my country and I am using a red laser pointer. I hope it is not considered a weapon.

  5. anon

    Great — so now our military-industrial complex gave the Russian military-industrial complex another idea…start talking of “the reliability of Russia’s nuclear deterrent” to get supercomputers and other goodies. Nice work guys.

    I sure am a-hoping our reliabilities are much bigger than those Russians’ tiny reliabilities.


    F*ck me.

  6. Pavel (History)

    Here is the full transcript of the meeting in Sarov. What Medvedev said was

    при глобальном запрете на ядерные испытания проверить надёжность ядерного комплекса, ядерного щита можно, только используя компьютерное моделирование

    The RIA Novosti translation is reasonably accurate – I think he actually said

    the only way we can ensure the reliability of Russian nuclear complex, nuclear shield, is by using computer-assisted simulations

    There is another quote there, from the director of the Sarov lab, Valentin Kostyukov:

    фактически численные эксперименты на супер-ЭВМ стали основой работ по ядерному оружию

    in essence, numerical calculations on supercomputers became the foundation of our work on nuclear weapons

    The problem, though, is that in Russia this kind of statements normally say little about actual policy (one way or another).

  7. Suzanna (History)

    I can help translate, but I need the original quote in Russian. Link?

  8. Anya L. (History)

    This sounds naive, but why doesn’t anyone just nicely ask the Russians what their take on the issue is? Now, that would be fun…

    In any case, here is what he said: “because with the global ban on nuclear testing, checking the reliability of the nuclear complex, nuclear shield, is only possible with the use of computer modeling.”

    See the statement:

    “Второй пункт нашей повестки дня – это утверждение проектов по направлению супер-ЭВМ. Конечно, мы об этом тоже не случайно говорим в Сарове, потому как при глобальном запрете на ядерные испытания проверить надёжность ядерного комплекса, ядерного щита можно, только используя компьютерное моделирование, мы сейчас об этом говорили. Поэтому самые мощные в стране суперкомпьютеры будут располагаться именно в федеральных ядерных центрах.”

    I’m open to corrections…

  9. Smith (History)

    On a somewhat related note, I just submitted a pocket reference of the CTBT to Apple as an iPhone application, so anyone interested in having a quick reference to it on their iPhone… go nuts. It should (hopefully) be approved and go live in a week or two.

  10. Zak Johnson (History)

    In January 2000, Duma member Y. Kapralov said the following about the Russian Federation’s interpretation of the commitments of the CTBT:

    “Qualitative modernization of nuclear weapons is only possible with the conduction of actual and hydronuclear tests with any fission energy yield that contradicts the CTBT directly. There is a danger of concealment of hydronuclear experiments from the verification mechanism of the CTBT. However, we think that they can be detected by special equipment located in the immediate proximity from experiment site. In principle this problem can be solved within the framework of the CTBT verification mechanism.”

  11. Zak Johnson (History)

    The recent 2009 Strategic Posture Review offered the following criticism about the CTBT:

    “The (CTBT) remarkably does not define a nuclear test. In practice this allows different interpretations of its prohibitions and asymmetrical restrictions. The strict U.S. interpretation precludes tests that produce nuclear yield. However, other countries with different interpretations could conduct tests with hundreds of tons of nuclear yield—allowing them to develop or advance nuclear capabilities with low-yield, enhanced radiation, and electro-magnetic-pulse. Apparently Russia and possibly China are conducting low yield tests. This is quite serious because Russian and Chinese doctrine highlights tactical nuclear warfighting. With no agreed definition, U.S. relative understanding of these capabilities would fall further behind over time.”

    I would like to know why this made it in the SPR. Any help?

  12. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Dear Zak:

    That is the statement of those members who oppose ratification of the CTBT. (Note that it is unsigned. Partisan id is a useful but not perfect indicator for who supported which statement.)

    There was a separate statement by those who thought the US should ratify the CTBT.

    Those members who support CTBT ratification would dispute, as I do, most of the assertions in that statement.