Russian Duma Approves Test Ban Treaty

May 2000

By Philipp C. Bleek

A week after approving START II and only days before the opening of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, the Russian Duma approved the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) by an overwhelming majority. Once it formally ratifies the treaty, Russia will become the third nuclear-weapon state, after France and Britain, to join the test ban. The U.S. Senate rejected the treaty last October, and China has submitted the test ban to the National People's Congress but has not indicated when it might approve the accord.

In a statement on the day of the April 21 vote, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov praised the Duma for taking a "very important first step…in the interests of Russian security and…international stability." The Russian lower house of parliament approved the test ban by a vote of 298-74, with three abstentions. In a necessary but largely symbolic step in the ratification process, the Federation Council, Russia's upper house of parliament, is likely to vote on and approve the CTBT in the coming weeks. President Vladimir Putin is expected to formally ratify the treaty shortly thereafter.

President Bill Clinton said that he was "pleased" that the Duma had approved the treaty. Administration spokesman Joe Lockhart called the vote "an important step," adding, "We hope that as time goes on…our Senate will follow the lead of many other countries around the world and ratify an important treaty."

Completion of negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty by 1996 was one of the conditions, formalized in a "principles and objectives" document, for indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995. The test ban is seen by the non-nuclear-weapon states as a litmus test of the nuclear-weapon states' commitment to eventual nuclear disarmament. The Duma's approval of the CTBT, together with Russia's recent ratification of START II, is likely to deflect criticism of Russia at the NPT review conference, being held in New York April 24-May 19, for the nuclear-weapon states' lack of disarmament progress.

Criticism of the United States for its failure to ratify the test ban last fall resurfaced in the first week of the NPT review conference. Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy echoed the concerns of many diplomats in his April 25 opening statement to the conference when he expressed anxiety about a U.S. "drift towards unilateral options," and called the Senate's rejection of the CTBT "a significant step backwards."

Since being opened for signature on September 24, 1996, the CTBT has been signed by 155 countries and ratified by 56. Of the 44 nuclear-capable states that must sign and ratify the treaty before it can enter into force, 41 have signed and 28 have ratified the treaty. The three signatory hold-outs are India, North Korea, and Pakistan.

The treaty's newest state-party is Morocco, which formally ratified the test ban April 17. On April 27 at the NPT conference, Belarus announced its parliament had approved the CTBT, but the instruments of ratification have yet to be deposited with the United Nations. The Chilean Congress approved the CTBT on April 5, and according to press reports, the Chilean government plans to file its ratification document with the UN soon. Belarus and Chile are two of the 44 states whose ratification is required for the CTBT to enter into force.