Republicans Seek to Cut CTBTO Funds

March 2017

Republican lawmakers are seeking to cut U.S. funding for the intergovernmental organization responsible for maintaining the global monitoring system to detect nuclear test explosions, such as those conducted by North Korea. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) introduced legislation Feb. 7 to “restrict” all funding for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), except for its International Monitoring System (IMS), because the United States has not ratified the underlying treaty.

The legislation’s potential impact is difficult to assess because the IMS is directly or indirectly supported by many elements in the CTBTO budget, such as staff time and the International Data Centre, which processes information provided by IMS operations. The CTBTO’s budget in 2016 was about $128 million, and the United States provides almost a quarter of the annual CTBTO budget. In a press release, Wilson recognized that the IMS “improves our global nuclear detection capability,” but did not discuss how defunding the CTBTO would affect that capability.

The legislation also calls on Congress to declare that a Sept. 23, 2016, UN Security Council resolution does not “obligate…nor does it impose an obligation on the United States to refrain from actions that would run counter to the object and purpose” of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which President Bill Clinton signed in 1996. The objective of that provision is unclear because Resolution 2310, adopted on the 20th anniversary of the signing of the CTBT, does not impose any new obligations on the United States. Rather, it encourages states to “provide the support required” to the CTBTO and the IMS, and it takes note of a Sept. 15 joint statement by the five permanent Security Council members, which “recognized” that a nuclear explosion would “defeat the object and purpose of the CTBT.” (See ACT, October 2016.) As long as the United States remains a signatory of the CTBT, it is obliged not to take actions that would defeat its object and purpose. 

The CTBT was rejected by the Senate in 1999, but was not sent back to the executive branch. The United States has continued to fund the CTBTO, which provides ongoing global nuclear detection capabilities that augment U.S. national monitoring capabilities.—SHERVIN TAHERAN