What's wrong with that? What's wrong is that not all new weapons are bad. Some are needed to stabilize deterrence. When you freeze nuclear systems, you halt only half of the arms race. Improvements continue on (non-verifiable) non-nuclear defensive systems. Ban nuclear tests and the other side can proceed to, say, harden targets and improve its ability to shoot down bombers and hunt down subs. Since you cannot improve your offensive weapons to make sure they can still get through, your deterrent erodes. And the melancholy fact is that your safety and mine (Gorbachev's, too) rests on deterrence.
Consider one example. Deterrence is strengthened, and thus the world made safer, if nuclear subs can hide in more parts of the ocean. But for that to happen, submarine missiles must have longer range. For that to happen, their warheads must be smaller in weight and size. For that, you need to test.
Now, test-ban proponents know how important modernization is for maintaining nuclear stability. So they argue - in the alternative - that a nuclear test ban will not really prevent modernization. The MX, cruise missile, Pershing II, neutron bomb, Midgetman and Trident II systems can all proceed, the pro-moratorium Arms Control Association reassures us.
Columnist Tom Wicker, too, is reassuring. "Strong scientific evidence exists," he writes, "that American supercomputers can simulate nuclear tests to a degree that renders explosive testing obsolete and unnecessary." But if nuclear testing is redundant and replaceable, then stopping it will cure none of the nuclear ills that so upset Wicker.
You can't have it both ways. If a test ban prevents modernization, it endangers deterrence and thus U.S. security. And if a test ban does not prevent modernization - if it does not "halt the arms race" - it has no point.
Unless it is meant not to prevent new nuclear weapons, but to destroy the effectiveness of existing ones. If you can't test a weapon, you can't be sure it works, so you won't use it. In 1985, Rep. Pat Schroeder introduced a mutual test ban bill: "After several years of being in effect, (it) would cause both sides to question whether the weapons they still had left were working efficiently, and, therefore, they would be less and less apt to use them."
Now, this is an idea with some attraction. A test ban as a back door not to a freeze, but to a kind of functional disarmament. Have your weapons and disarm too, because neither side can be sure they will work.
Why is this not a good idea? Because the West is disproportionately dependent on nuclear weapons for its defense. It might have been a ghastly mistake, but it is now a fact: The West has chosen for 40 years to rest its defense on a nuclear deterrent. It did so because nuclear weapons are cheaper and thus less of a strain on democratic, consumer societies than are standing armies. Today the American security guarantee to Western Europe, where the Soviets have a vast preponderance of conventional forces, consists principally of a threat of American nuclear retaliation.
In the face of this melancholy fact, test-ban advocates argue - in the alternative - that nuclear tests are indeed not required to assure the reliability of our nuclear stockpile. Test ban advocates are in a box. Every time they extol the blessings of a test ban - ending the arms race, decreasing our reliance on nuclear weapons - they are forced to argue that they don't really mean it, that a test ban will really change nothing of importance.
And they rarely address two truly important functions of nuclear tests: (1) to develop safer, less sensitive explosives that cannot be detonated by accident and by terrorists; (2) to make other, often non-nuclear systems (like satellites) more survivable by testing their ability to withstand the effects of a bomb.
Why then a test ban? One suspects that the point is to have an agreement with the Russians for its own sake. But if the real point is atmospherics and confidence-building and good detentish feeling, then we might start with other agreements - simpler, more verifiable, and less injurious to national security. An agreement, say, banning the framing and imprisonment of journalists.