How We Know Russia Is Probably (Not) Secretly Testing Nuclear Weapons Underground

David Axe

Key point: Despite some accusations, the evidence looks like Moscow is probably not doing secret nuclear tests. If Moscow was, it would be in violation of a treaty.

A senior U.S. intelligence official on May 29, 2019 accused Russia of secretly conducting nuclear tests in violation of an international treaty and the country’s own moratorium on such tests.

But there’s no hard evidence of these alleged tests, one arms-control group pointed out.

“The United States believes that Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the ‘zero-yield’ standard” outlined in the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty,” Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, Jr., director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said at an event at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C.

“Russia has likely been secretly carrying out very low-yield nuclear tests to upgrade its nuclear arsenal,” The Wall Street Journal the same day reported.

But the Arms Control Association in Washington, D.C. for one is skeptical of Ashley’s claim. “Ashley would only say that Russia had the ‘capability’ to conduct very low-yield supercritical nuclear tests in contravention of the treaty, a capability which Russia, China and the United States have long had. He did not say that Russia has conducted or is conducting such tests.”

No public evidence has ever been provided to support the claim of illegal Russian testing and Gen. Ashley didn’t provide any Wednesday.

Former Undersecretary of States for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller told the House Armed Services Committee in December 2015 that “within this century, the only state that has tested nuclear weapons ... in a way that produced a nuclear yield is North Korea.”

This begs the question of what, if anything, has changed since then that would support a different conclusion.

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