U.S. Funding for CTBTO Lags

Daryl G. Kimball

Accumulating shortfalls in the U.S. contribution to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) could slow its effort to complete a global monitoring network and conduct data analysis designed to detect and deter treaty violations, according to diplomats and congressional staff. The deficits are mounting even as that network recently scored some new successes in registering North Korea’s Oct. 9, 2006, nuclear test.

In fiscal year 2006, which ended Sept. 30, 2006, the Bush administration requested and Congress approved $14.4 million for the CTBTO, which was more than $6 million short of the $22 million assessed by the Vienna-based organization. A stopgap fiscal year 2007 spending bill approved by Congress in February set spending at the same levels, which meant it fell even further short of last year’s U.S. assessment of $23 million.

The Bush administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2008, which begins Oct. 1, calls for an $18 million U.S. contribution. Although closer to the CTBTO’s current-year assessment, it would still fall about $3 million short.

A few other, smaller states also are behind in their contribution to the CTBTO. The United States is the single largest contributor, however, making any funding shortage significant. The CTBTO’s budget for 2007 is $102 million.

The budgetary shortfalls could directly affect the CTBTO’s ability to complete construction and certify for use the remaining stations in the International Monitoring System (IMS), diplomats say.

“While it is difficult to understand how shortfalls in contributions from specific countries will affect the CTBTO, less money is less money,” said a senior diplomat based in Vienna. “The main victim will likely be the completion of the remaining IMS stations, as well as maintenance and recapitalization for some existing stations, some of which are nearly 10 years old,” the diplomat said.

The 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) calls for the establishment of 321 monitoring stations to collect data worldwide and transmit them in real time to the International Data Center (IDC) in Vienna. When fully completed, the system will consist of 170 seismic, 60 infrasound, and 11 hydroacoustic stations capable of detecting tremors and waves caused by a nuclear explosion. The system will also include more than 80 radionuclide stations, supported by 16 analytical laboratories, to measure air samples for radioactive material associated with nuclear explosions.

The IMS stations and IDC analyses provide a baseline capability for detection that is augmented by national intelligence gathering techniques, as well as thousands of civilian seismic monitoring stations. Among the IMS stations yet to be completed are those in more remote regions, such as Turkmenistan, and those involving more sophisticated and expensive technologies.

According to the diplomat, “If this continues, the United States could also lose its voting rights sometime in 2008-2009, which depend on states-parties making their assessed contributions to the CTBTO.”

Under Article II of the CTBT, which the United States has signed but not ratified, “a member of the Organization which is in arrears in the payment of its assessed contribution to the Organization shall have no vote in the Organization if the amount of its arrears equals or exceeds the amount of the contribution due from it for the preceding two years.” CTBTO member states may make an exception if they believe the failure to pay is due to “conditions beyond the control of the member.”

IMS Assets Detect North Korean Test

Although only 60 percent of all IMS stations have been certified and are transmitting data, more than 10 of the IMS primary seismic stations detected the ground tremors produced by the Oct. 9, 2006, North Korean underground nuclear test explosion near P’unggye, according to the January 2007 newsletter of the CTBTO, Spectrum. The North Korean test blast was estimated by various national, international, and scientific monitors to be less than 1 kiloton (TNT equivalent) in yield. (See ACT, November 2006. )

More significantly, one of 10 experimental “noble gas” monitoring stations that are to be part of the IMS detected trace amounts of unique radioactive material that confirmed the explosion was nuclear. The station, which is located near Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territories, detected two spikes in xenon gas readings, on Oct. 22 and 25, which, on the basis of atmospheric modeling, were consistent with the North Korean test, according to diplomats from two countries who are familiar with the data.

On Oct. 11, 2006, U.S. national monitoring assets also detected “radioactive debris” that indicated the explosion was nuclear, according to a statement from the office of the U.S. director of national intelligence.