WASHINGTON — Unless the United States modernizes its inventory of nuclear weapons and develops a replacement warhead, the atomic arsenal's long-term safety and reliability will deteriorate, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Tuesday.
Gates also broke with the Bush administration by saying the United States "probably should" ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, an international agreement prohibiting new testing of nuclear weapons "if there are adequate verification measures."
Gates' remarks to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace are his most extensive comments on the nation's nuclear weapons program, as well as his first statement in support of the test ban treaty. The pact was signed by the Clinton administration in 1996 but has not been ratified by the Senate, and President Bush opposes it.
Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee for president, supports the test ban. His Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain, opposed the treaty in 1999.
George Perkovich, the endowment's vice president for studies, said Gates' endorsement of the treaty was important. "There isn't a high Republican officeholder who has said anything that clear on it," he said.