Imagine a world without nuclear weapons.
It probably won't happen in President Barack Obama's lifetime, but that's the course his administration has set.
And though it might seem to be a lofty goal, Rose Gottemoeller, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, told a gathering of international associates in Las Vegas this week that U.S. Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is "an essential step on the path toward a world without nuclear weapons."
In her address Wednesday to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Gottemoeller, the chief U.S. negotiator in new strategic arms reduction talks, said countries backing the treaty along with the United States are inching their way toward resolving Senate concerns that rejected ratification in 1999.
"Our view is there is a very good case to be made that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is now at a point" where Senate ratification is possible, she said in a telephone interview Friday.
"President Obama has said he recognizes this is a long-term goal, not a goal that can likely be achieved in his lifetime. But by putting the goal out there it really gets us working the problem."
The most pressing problem, according to the Obama administration's Nuclear Posture Review report, is keeping nuclear weapons and special nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists.
"Our greatest nuclear threat is no longer a large-scale nuclear exchange, but the danger that terrorists could acquire nuclear materials, or worse, a nuclear weapon," Gottemoeller said in her remarks to the ASEAN gathering at the Monte Carlo.
Since 1999, strides have been made to address the Senate's concerns for verifying the test ban treaty and answer questions about how it would affect the U.S. stockpile stewardship program, the effort by national laboratories and the Nevada National Security Site to ensure the stockpile is safe and reliable in the absence of full-scale nuclear weapons tests. Full-scale tests were put on by a moratorium that U.S. presidents extended indefinitely after the last test in 1992.
"I think we have a lot more evidence that the stockpile stewardship program is working well," Gottemoeller said.
As for the issue of verifying the treaty, the International Monitoring System -- a seismic network for detecting nuclear tests -- is 80 percent complete, she said.
Annika Thunborg, spokeswoman for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, said the United States has 37 of the 340 monitoring stations that are in 89 countries.
In addition, U.S. funding of more than $25 million per year, accounts for one-fifth of the organizations funding.
"The monitoring system is very large to make sure no nuclear tests go undetected," she said.
Gottemoeller said it was fitting that the ASEAN Regional Forum was held in Las Vegas, 65 miles from the Nevada National Security Site and 60 years after the first nuclear weapons test was conducted at the site.
"We felt it was very important in terms of talking to countries from across the region that they would have the opportunity to recognize the legacy of the Nevada Test Site ," she said.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations forum participants included representatives from China, Singapore, Pakistan and India.
Some of them, including Thunborg, visited the Atomic Testing Museum on Friday to learn about the test site's history.
Thunborg said the tour was "very informative" with an emphasis on the U.S. views. "It gives an American perspective on nuclear weapons. The Cold War history would benefit from having a larger international perspective," she said, noting that there should be more information on the downwinders movement and how other countries besides the United States and the former Soviet Union conducted nuclear tests.
"One thing that was missing was more mention of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty," Thunborg said.
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at email@example.com or 702-383-0308.