Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Conference Postponed

On September 20, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan postponed a conference on facilitating the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty’s (CTBT) entry into force after a majority of states that have ratified the agreement requested the delay. The CTBT bans all nuclear test explosions.

The conference was supposed to be held September 25-27 at UN headquarters in New York and was timed to coincide with the start of the UN General Assembly’s general debate. However, the debate was put off for security reasons after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, leading to the postponement of the CTBT conference. Forty-one foreign ministers were scheduled to attend the conference.

According to a UN spokesman, the conference will be held during the first week of the rescheduled General Assembly debate. The new dates for the debate have not yet been set, but diplomatic sources indicated the conference is likely to take place in mid-November.

Under CTBT Article 14, the UN secretary-general can convene annual conferences to review measures to “accelerate” the accord’s ratification process, at the request of a majority of the states that have ratified the agreement. The first such conference was held in October 1999, shortly before the U.S. Senate voted against ratifying the treaty.

The Bush administration has apparently not decided yet whether to send a representative to the meeting. Even if a representative is sent, the United States is expected to disassociate itself from the final conference document, which will likely call on states that have not done so to sign and ratify the treaty. The administration does not support the accord. (See ACT, September 2001.)

To date, 161 states have signed the CTBT, and 83 have ratified it. The treaty will not take effect until 44 states designated as nuclear-capable under the accord have ratified it. Thirteen of those states have yet to ratify, including the United States and China, and three have yet to sign: India, Pakistan, and North Korea.