For Second Year Running, U.S. a No-Show at CTBT Conference

Christine Kucia

For the second consecutive time, the United States will not send a delegation to a meeting of states belonging to the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which seeks to ban all forms of explosive nuclear testing. Many member states will meet in Vienna September 3-5 to examine ways to accelerate the treaty’s entry into force.

A U.S. official confirmed July 30 that the United States will not attend the September meeting. The United States, which has signed but so far refused to ratify the CTBT, also declined to attend a November 2001 meeting on speeding the treaty’s entry into force. The United States did attend a meeting in Vienna October 6-8, 1999, but several days later, on October 13, the U.S. Senate rejected the pact.

However, the decade-long unilateral U.S. moratorium on nuclear testing remains in place, Secretary of State Colin Powell reaffirmed August 7. He said, “The President has no intention of testing nuclear weapons. We have no need to.” Yet, Powell noted that the United States—obligated to maintain a safe, reliable stockpile—“can’t rule it out forever.”

Despite the U.S. absence, organizers intend the meeting’s final declaration to promote practical measures that over the next several years will help move the treaty toward enactment. “Now we’re underlining a perspective for the future,” Ambassador Tom Grönberg of Finland, chair of the meeting’s preparatory process, told Arms Control Today July 30. “We have to have a concrete program” to promote the CTBT’s entry into force.

A Bush administration official noted that, despite the U.S. decision not to ratify the treaty in the near future, the U.S. commitment to the International Monitoring System—a global network of stations that use scientific methods to measure whether seismic events resulted from nuclear testing—remains strong. Washington continues to help fund the system, contributing about $18 million in fiscal year 2003.

Although 104 countries have ratified the CTBT since it opened for signature in September 1996, it has never entered into force. The treaty provisions require a set of 44 countries listed as “nuclear capable” in the CTBT’s Annex II to ratify the treaty before it can enter into force; only 32 of the required ratifiers have done so. Algeria submitted its instruments of ratification on July 11, becoming the most recent Annex II country to ratify the treaty, according to the Preparatory Commission for the CTBT Organization. China and the United States are among the Annex II countries that have yet to ratify the pact, and India, Pakistan, and North Korea—also Annex II countries—have not signed the treaty.

Despite the strong support many CTBT member states expressed for the treaty at the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty preparatory meeting in May, the CTBT regime faces substantial new challenges. Recent tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs have raised concerns that Pyongyang might conduct a nuclear test. Experts have warned that Bush administration hints that the United States might resume testing could spur the resumption of nuclear testing among the other states recognized as nuclear powers by the international nonproliferation regime—China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and France.