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US leadership needed to prevent nuclear testing by North Korea

North Korea’s nuclear weapons test explosion underscores the need for stronger US leadership to prevent the testing, spread, and use of the world’s most dangerous weapons. US ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty would set a clear international standard.

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Well-wishers line the streets of Pyongyang, North Korea on Feb. 20, waving red flower bouquets as buses carrying North Korean nuclear scientists and other officials behind the country's Feb. 12 nuclear test arrived for a celebration. Op-ed contributor Amb. Thomas R. Pickering says the US 'is not reaping the full security benefits [of the nuclear test ban treaty] because it has not yet ratified the pact.'

Jon Chol Jin/AP

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Four years ago, President Obama warned that “the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up.” Last week, North Korea’s nuclear weapons test explosion – its third and the world’s 2,053rd – underscored the urgent need for stronger barriers to prevent the testing, spread, and use of the world’s most dangerous weapons.

In his first term, Mr. Obama made significant progress to reduce nuclear dangers. This included cuts in excess US and Russian cold-war nuclear stockpiles and locking up vulnerable nuclear material from terrorists. But there is more to be done.

US leadership is especially critical to the implementation of the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which bans all nuclear test explosions. The United States and 183 other nations have signed the test-ban treaty, but America must still ratify the treaty to bring it into force.

The US has not conducted a nuclear test explosion for more than 20 years. Since there is no technical or military need to do so ever again, ratifying the treaty would not hinder US nuclear readiness. Other countries like North Korea, or even China, however, could use further nuclear tests to perfect more sophisticated and deadly warhead designs. US ratification of the treaty would send a clear message to nuclear capable countries like Pakistan, India, and North Korea that are not signatories. And it would establish a clear norm for countries like China and Iran that have both signed, but not ratified, the treaty.

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