The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) marks 20 years since it was open for signature on September 24. Adopted by the UN General Assembly, the multilateral treaty bans all nuclear explosions, for both civilian and military purposes, in all environments. The CTBT is included into the agenda of the UN General Assembly opened on September 19.
In the days of the Cold War nuclear explosions sent ripples to put precarious peace under duress. The effort to outlaw nuclear testing was unifying factor in the global push to stop the arms race. The Moscow Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Tests in Three Environments, also known as the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT), negotiated by Russia, Britain, and the United States, was the first important step on the way.
In 1974, a step towards a comprehensive test ban was made with the Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT), ratified by the US and Soviet Union, which banned underground tests with yields above 150 kilotons. In 1976, the two states reached agreement on the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty (PNET), which concerns nuclear detonations outside the weapons sites discussed in the TTBT. It was a gradual progress to the final goal of achieving comprehensive prohibition of nuclear tests.
The CTBT is supposed to be a working test-ban treaty to make the world safer. The date of September 24 should be a cause for celebration, but it’s not as the treaty remains in legal limbo. The treaty will enter into force 180 days after the 44 states listed in Annex 2 of the treaty have ratified it. These «Annex 2 states» are states that participated in the CTBT’s negotiations between 1994 and 1996 and possessed nuclear power reactors or research reactors at that time. Eight specific states have not yet ratified the treaty: the United States, China, Egypt, Iran, Israel have signed but not ratified it; India, North Korea and Pakistan have not signed it.
North Korea continues to test nuclear devices in open challenge to the international community. By contrast, 164 of the 182 signatory nations to the treaty have ratified it. Many of them convened at the United Nations recently to urge the holdouts to comply. Russia signed the CTBT on 24 September 1996, the day it opened for signature. It ratified the Treaty on 20 June 2000.
Russian ratification was concluded with the expectation that the United States would conclude its own ratification process despite the rejection of the treaty by the US Senate in October 1999. Rather than wait for the United States, Russian leadership supported the CTBT when its future was not clear.
Russia is the second-largest host country of International Monitoring System facilities after the United States. It hosts and operates the second-largest number of facilities (32 of the 337 facilities) in the international monitoring system, which are certified and sending data to the CTBTO’s International Data Centre in Vienna.
The Vienna-based Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) was created to build the verification regime, including establishment and provisional operation of the network of monitoring stations, the creation of an international data centre, and development of the on-site inspection capability.
The organization polices the world for any sign of nuclear tests with its global network of monitoring stations but it cannot go on site to inspect for tests till the treaty enters into force. It greatly reduces the concern about cheating – clandestine testing of a low-yield nuclear device in an underground cavity. No matter the treaty is not in force, the related verification procedures contribute greatly to global security.
Foreign ministers and representatives from 69 states and international organizations gathered in Vienna on June 13-14 for a special meeting to mark the 20th anniversary of the opening for signature of the CTBT and to explore options for advancing its entry into force.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini suggested the CTBT could contribute to the realization of a Middle Eastern zone free of nuclear weapons, all other weapons of mass destruction, and their means of delivery. The United States did not send a cabinet-level official to the meeting, which prompted other members of the group of five original nuclear-weapon states to downgrade their level of representation.
If the United States ratified the document, it will very likely be followed by China. Then the world would be in a much better position to pressure India, Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, and Israel to ratify. It will facilitate a dialogue with North Korea. Diplomacy can influence countries that have acquired, or are moving to acquire, nuclear weapons to change their plans even without the CTBT.
After all, it worked with South Africa, the states of the former Soviet Union and, most recently, Iran. «Pakistan will not sign and ratify the CTBT as the smallest and weakest of the nuclear-armed states before India does, India will not do the same until China does and the Chinese will not do it until the U.S. does», Siddharth Varadarajan, an Indian journalist and editor of The Wire, speaking on a panel at a Vienna conference commemorating the 20th anniversary of the treaty being opened for signing.
China has already made progress through cooperation with the CTBTO on building and certifying the five seismic monitoring stations on its territory that are part of the International Monitoring System. Data from these stations has begun to flow to their International Data Centre in Vienna.
The US would lose nothing by ratification. It hasn't performed a nuclear explosive test since 1992 anyway as computer modeling now appears to make such live tests unnecessary. After all, there is a precedent – Israel has become a nuclear state without ground testing.
During the September, 2016 congressional hearing on the CTBT, Senator Benjamin Cardin, Maryland Democrat, said, «Year after year our National Laboratory Directories have certified the Stockpile Stewardship Program provides us with 100% confidence that the United States’ nuclear weapons are reliable without nuclear testing. We do not need nuclear active testing to have our deterrent stockpile».
Besides, the CTBT, like every treaty, has a provision that each state party has the right to withdraw from the CTBT if the state party decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of the treaty have jeopardized the state party’s supreme national interests.
Ratification by all nuclear capable states would make it easier to build an international coalition to pressure Pyongyang into compliance. Besides, the existence of any nuclear weapons presents a cumulative risk for accident, unauthorized use and theft.
In the US anti-treaty minded Republicans already rejected ratification in 1999. Today, the ratification is still strongly opposed by many senators, mainly Republicans, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). Opponents believe that with appropriate measures, the risks are acceptable compared to foregoing nuclear testing forever in an uncertain world.
They also doubt that US accession to the treaty will dissuade some countries, such as North Korea, or subnational groups, such as Islamic State (IS), from pursuing the nuclear capability. Opponents of the CTBT believe that ultimately, absent some confirming nuclear test, the credibility of the US stockpile will erode, and its deterrent value will wither away. The divide between supporters and opponents of the CTBT has not been bridged during the recent 20 years.
The Obama administration has publicly pledged to «aggressively pursue» a global ban on nuclear arms tests. His famous Prague speech seven years ago — when he made CTBT ratification a top priority for his administration — raised expectations, but they were short-lived.
It has been reported recently that the president would seek a United Nations Security Council resolution that calls for an end to nuclear testing to temporarily bypass a debate on ratification in the Senate to reignite the fight between supporters and opponents of the CTBT.
In 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry vowed to «re-energize» efforts for congressional approval. But with the president’s days in office numbered, that appears to be hope against hope. According to Benjamin Rhodes, assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, «Senate ratification of CTBT is not going to happen this year».
There is another reason some states strive for nuclear capability. Some countries, such as Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, fell victims to outside interventions being non-nuclear states. A nuclear deterrence seems to be the only deterrence they may rely on. That’s what the North Korea’s leadership says to justify its nuclear program.
The failure to ratify the CTBT is a part of a broader picture. Actually, the United States launched the arms control erosion by withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. It breaches the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968 by modernizing the tactical nuclear weapons (B61) in Europe earmarked for delivery by national aircraft of these non-nuclear states- something the treaty bans. The United States is in violation of the 2000 Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA).
The US also does not comply with the provisions of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (IMF).
President Obama has said so many nice words about his plans to enhance international security and his stated 2009 dream of a «world without nuclear weapons». He will, probably, do it again during the 71st United Nations General Assembly. But there is each and every reason to believe his words will not be matched by deeds, as it has happened so many timed during his tenure.