In the wake of North Korea’s nuclear test explosion on Jan. 6, diplomats from several states have announced they will intensify efforts to accelerate progress toward entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which was opened for signature two decades ago.
Cristian Istrate, permanent representative of Romania to the international organizations in Vienna and chair of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), said on Jan. 25 in remarks delivered at a symposium in Vienna that plans are in motion for a “high-level ministerial meeting” during the organization’s scheduled June 13-15 meeting in Vienna. In addition to the foreign ministers, the meeting will involve UN officials, independent experts, and the media, Istrate said.
The high-level meeting “is an ambitious and good idea,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in remarks Feb. 1 following a meeting with CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo in Paris, according to the CTBTO.
Citing the Jan. 6 North Korean test and the impending 20th anniversary of the CTBT, Zerbo said in a Jan. 27 column in Le Monde that “it is imperative to redouble efforts” to get “real results” with regard to the CTBT’s entry into force.
Since the CTBT was opened for signature in 1996, 183 states have signed and 164 have ratified the treaty, including 36 of the 44 states referenced in Annex 2 of the treaty as being required for entry into force. The eight states listed in Annex 2 that have not ratified the treaty are China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States.
At the Vienna symposium, several government officials and nongovernmental experts suggested the treaty could serve as a confidence-building measure in the Middle East.
Israel’s representative in Vienna, Merav Zafary-Odiz, said in remarks at the symposium that a regional moratorium on nuclear testing “could enhance security and potentially lead to a future ratification of the CTBT.” She said that “Israel has announced its commitment to a moratorium” and that “it would be useful for others to do the same.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed the CTBT in 1996, but the country has not ratified the pact.
Other symposium speakers underscored the importance of U.S. leadership on treaty ratification decisions by other Annex 2 states.
Siddharth Varadarajan, a veteran Indian journalist, argued that U.S. ratification is essential to secure ratification by at least three other countries—China, India, and Pakistan.
“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,” Varadarajan said in his Jan. 26 remarks.
The Obama administration has said it is undertaking an effort “to reopen and re-energize the conversation about the treaty on Capitol Hill and throughout [the] nation,” as Secretary of State John Kerry put it last October. (See ACT, November 2015.)
Since then, State Department officials have been delivering speeches to audiences in several states, including Alaska, Colorado, Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Utah, on the benefits of a test ban.
In a Feb. 4 interview with the Albuquerque Journal during a visit to New Mexico, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said she was working “to get the American public again focused on the value of the CTBT to our national security.”
“We made a pass at ratifying the treaty back in 1999, and at the time…there wasn’t, I think, the clear knowledge that we could maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear stockpile without testing. The situation has changed quite a bit in the ensuing 17 years,” Gottemoeller said.
But she made clear that the administration was not pushing for a vote. “I don’t think [President Barack Obama] is unrealistic about trying to rush things through in 2016, but he definitely wants to lay some solid groundwork in the hope that the treaty, if it is not taken up in 2016, it can be taken up in the near future,” she said in the interview.
Some senators, including New Mexico’s Tom Udall (D) and Martin Heinrich (D), have expressed their support, saying they believe the technical questions surrounding the treaty have been addressed. The CTBT “is an important element of global nonproliferation efforts, and I believe the United States should ratify it,” Udall told the Albuquerque Journal on Feb. 4.
In a Feb. 3 article, Roll Call quoted Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) as saying that “there’s been no discussion” on holding a vote on the CTBT in his committee.