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"[Arms Control Today] has become indispensable! I think it is the combination of the critical period we are in and the quality of the product. I found myself reading the May issue from cover to cover."

– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
June 1, 2018
Shizuka Kuramitsu

The Case for Senate Action on the Protocol to the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone

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Volume 16, Issue 2
Feb. 9, 2024

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S. signature on the protocol to the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia (CANWFZ), also known as the Semipalatinsk Treaty. The CANWFZ treaty commits its five states-parties in Central Asia—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—from manufacturing, stockpiling, testing, developing, and possessing nuclear weapons. The CANWFZ is designed to reinforce the global nuclear nonproliferation system and safeguard the security of five key central Asian states that were once part of the Soviet Union and that now lie in the shadows of nuclear-armed Russia and China.

On May 6, 2014, the five nuclear-armed members of the UN Security Council signed protocols to the CANWFZ treaty. However, the United States remains the only one of the five nuclear weapon states that has not yet ratified the protocol to the CANWFZ treaty, which commits them to provide legally binding assurances that will not be used against the states in the zone.

Given the severe challenges facing the global nonproliferation and disarmament “architecture,” the United States can and should move expeditiously to ratify the protocol to the CANWFZ treaty to solidify legally binding negative security assurances against nuclear threats or attacks for key partners in Central Asia and to strengthen the global nuclear nonproliferation system.

As Yerzhan Ashikbayev, Kazakhstan's Ambassador to the United States said in a statement provided to the Arms Control Association, U.S. ratification of the protocol to the CANWFZ treaty "will become a clear demonstration of the United States' willingness to engage Central Asian States in the common objective to maintain peace, stability, and security in our part of the world." He noted that U.S. ratification of the protocol "will finalize the institutionalization of the Treaty" and "formalize the structure and legal status of the Zone" in which nuclear weapons are prohibited.

U.S. ratification of the protocol to the CANWFZ treaty would solidify its partnership with these states, which are home to some 78 million people, are located in a strategic region, and are leaders on nuclear nonproliferation. Kazakhstan, in particular, after securing independence in 1991, inherited the world's fourth largest nuclear arsenal but worked with the United States in the 1990s to dismantle it and protect nuclear material left on its soil from the Soviet era from terrorists.

To this day, and especially in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin's threats of nuclear use, Kazakhstan, along with the other central Asian states, values strong ties with the United States. In 2023, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said Kazakhstan appreciates the “continuous and firm support of the United States for [its] independence, territorial integrity, and sovereignty.”

The growing tensions between nuclear-armed states, the breakdown of key nonproliferation and arms control agreements, including Russia’s 2023 de-ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), and the absence of meaningful nuclear risk reduction dialogue between the major nuclear-armed states have put increasing stress on the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Article VI of the NPT obligates them to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control." Article VII of the NPT acknowledges the value of establishing regional nuclear-weapon-free zones.

In these challenging times, the U.S. Senate should pursue all feasible and effective measures to reinforce the NPT and bolster the legal and political norms against the spread of nuclear weapons, nuclear testing, and threats of nuclear weapons use.

One such way is to begin the overdue process of reviewing and providing advice and to consent for the protocol to the CANWFZ treaty. This is not only achievable but also carries a significant benefit to both the U.S. national interests and international peace and security agenda by strengthening a norm that nuclear-weapon states should never use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states.

The Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty

Among the five existing nuclear-weapon-free zones in the world—the Latin American Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone, the South Pacific Nuclear-Weapon-Free- Zone, the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone, the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone, and the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone—the CANWFZ is the newest. The CANWFZ treaty opened for signature Sept. 8, 2006, and entered into force March 21, 2009. The impetus for this nuclear-weapon-free zone, however, goes back even further to an international conference in 1997 “Central Asia- a Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons,” which took place in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in the aftermath of the extension of the NPT in 1995.

In order to keep the designated region under the treaty free from nuclear weapons, such nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties include protocols involving commitments by the five nuclear weapon states recognized in the NPT. The protocols to nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties are crucial to their success because they establish legally binding negative security assurances that five nuclear-weapons states under the NPT will respect the status of the treaty and will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices against the treaty parties.

Shortly after five nuclear-weapon states signed the protocol May 6, 2014, four of the five had completed their ratification processes by the end of 2015. The United States remains the only of the five nuclear weapon states that has not ratified the protocol to the CANWFZ treaty.

Apr. 27, 2015, then-President Barack Obama transmitted the protocol to the CANWFZ treaty to the U.S. Senate for advice and consent to ratification along with the U.S. State Department’s article-by-article detailed analysis of the protocol to the treaty.

For nearly a decade, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has failed to act, and neither the Obama, the Trump, nor the Biden administration have made its ratification a priority. Now is the right time to do so.

 

Ratification Would Strengthen Partners in Central Asia

There are several reasons why this issue requires urgent attention. U.S. partners in Central Asia, located in a strategic region sharing borders with Russia and China, are in need of legally binding negative security assurance as soon as possible. Given President Putin's attempts to use nuclear coercive rhetoric in the context of Russia's war on Ukraine, the importance of the CANWFZ treaty and its protocol is more important than ever. When and if it does, the five major nuclear-weapon states, including Russia, will be legally prohibited from using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against the five non-nuclear-weapon states in the CANWFZ. The United States can thereby help to push back against Putin’s territorial ambitions and unacceptable nuclear threats.

States-parties to the CANWFZ treaty are important U.S. partners, and these partners place high value on this treaty and the protocol. Since the early days of the establishment of the CANWFZ treaty, they have repeatedly endorsed the treaty through multilateral nonproliferation negotiations, such as resolutions at the UN General Assembly First Committee meetings. They called for international support in the initial phase, then later for the ratification of the protocol. At the 2022 NPT Review Conference, their joint statement emphasized “the hope to secure the earliest ratification of the Protocol by the United States so as to finalize the institutionalization of the nuclear-weapon-free zone in Central Asia.” The United States should heed this call to further strengthen partnerships with states-parties.

Particularly with Kazakhstan, “U.S.-Kazakh cooperation in security and nuclear-nonproliferation is a cornerstone of the relationship,” according to the State Department. That cooperation includes participation in the Nuclear Security Summit, bilateral cooperation for the removal of the former Soviet nuclear program, and the Highly Enriched Uranium minimization initiative.

Coincidentally, this year, Kazakhstan will play a crucial role in multilateral nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation negotiations. In 2024, Kazakhstan will preside over the second preparatory committee for the 2026 NPT review cycle and will convene a joint meeting of representatives from states-parties to all of the world's nuclear-weapon-free zones.

In 2025, Kazakhstan will also serve as a president for the third meeting of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The United States' ratification of the protocol to the CANWFZ treaty would help Kazakhstan build momentum for the nuclear-weapon-free zones, strengthen the NPT, and more broadly, solidify legally binding negative security assurances against nuclear attack or threats of attack against non-nuclear weapon states.

“The establishment of CANWFZ will provide legally-binding security assurances…thus strengthening the global nonproliferation and disarmament regime, especially in the current turbulent geopolitical environment. It will also result in positive externalities by fostering the intra-regional engagement among Central Asian states,” Kazakhstan’s ambassador Yerzhan Ashikbayev said in a Feb. 8 statement.

U.S. Ratification Would Guard Against Russian Attempts to Undermine the Treaty

Not only has Russia threatened the potential use of nuclear weapons in the context of its war on Ukraine, but it has walked back its commitments to important nonproliferation agreements, including the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). In November 2023, Putin decided to rescind Russia's ratification of the (CTBT), in part, to highlight the fact that the United States has not yet ratified the CTBT.

Although Russia says it will not resume nuclear explosive testing as long as the United States does not resume nuclear testing and, as a signatory to the CTBT Russia remains legally obligated not to test and to support the treaty's International Monitoring System, Russia's de-ratification of the CTBT is nonetheless a clear setback to long-running efforts to achieve entry into force of the treaty.

In light of Russia's cynical tactics on the CTBT, it is important that the United States denies Russia the same option with respect to the CANWFZ by ratifying the protocol to the treaty. It is conceivable that Russia might, in the near term, withdraw its ratification from the CANWFZ, which would weaken its commitments under the treaty not to threaten neighboring Central Asian states with nuclear weapons. As it took only a month for Russia to de-ratify the CTBT, it is imperative for the United States to ratify the CANWFZ protocol as soon as possible.

The Ratification Enhances Security for All at No Cost

The ratification of the protocol to the CANWFZ treaty is “in the best interests of the United States,” President Obama wrote to the Senate Apr. 27, 2015. “[E]ntry into force of the Protocol for the United States would require no changes in U.S. law, policy, or practice,” he wrote in his transmittal letter on CANWFZ protocol to the Senate.

On the day that the United States signed the protocol, May 6, 2014, the State Department released a media note that “the Administration is satisfied that the CANWFZ Treaty is consistent with U.S. and international criteria for such zones. The United States believes that such zones, when fully and rigorously implemented, contribute to our nonproliferation goals and to international peace and security. The United States has concluded that the CANWFZ Treaty and its Protocol will not disturb existing U.S. security arrangements or military operations, installations, or activities.”

The ratification of the protocol to the CANWFZ treaty is consistent with the U.S. security policy causing no negative impact. Rather, it will “promote regional cooperation, security, and stability and provide a vehicle for the extension of legally binding negative security assurances, consistent with the strengthened negative security assurance announced in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review,” the State Department assessed. Subsequent NPR updates have also reaffirmed these negative security assurances.

At the time of heightened nuclear danger --the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' Doomsday Clock stands at only 90 seconds to midnight--it is more important than ever that the United States does what it can to strengthen the barriers against nuclear proliferation, nuclear use, and nuclear coercion. Senators across the political spectrum should be able to agree that U.S. ratification of the protocol to the CANWFZ treaty is not only possible, but also beneficial, and it is overdue.—SHIZUKA KURAMITSU, research assistant

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The CANWFZ is designed to reinforce the global nuclear nonproliferation system and safeguard the security of five key central Asian states that were once part of the Soviet Union and that now lie in the shadows of nuclear-armed Russia and China.

New START to Expire in Two Years as Russia Refuses Talks

With less than two years to go before the expiration of the last remaining treaty limiting the world's two largest arsenals, Russian leaders continue to reject U.S. offers to discuss a new nuclear arms control framework. In late December, Russia sent a diplomatic paper rejecting the United States’ proposal to resume arms control talks, according to U.S. officials , and Russia's foreign minister announced Jan. 18 that Russia was interested in talks on a new arms control framework to supersede the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which expires Feb. 5, 2026. In a speech Jan. 17,...

The Nuclear Ban Treaty Is Taking a Step Forward

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Volume 16, Issue 1
Jan. 17, 2024

On the afternoon of the first day of December 2023, the UN conference room in New York was filled with long and powerful applause, when the state parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), known informally as the “nuclear ban treaty,” concluded the second meeting on implementation since it entered into force in January 2021.

It has been just five years since the treaty was concluded in 2017, but the TPNW is already helping to bolster the international nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament architecture by reinforcing the norms against nuclear weapons use and providing a path for non-nuclear weapon states and communities and populations adversely affected by nuclear weapons to engage in efforts to advance disarmament and address the damage done by past nuclear weapons testing and use.

Since the TPNW opened for signature, the number of states parties has grown to 70. Significantly, the number of non-signatory observer states that have joined the TPNW meetings to learn more about the treaty has also grown. Their participation underscores that states inside and outside the TPNW can advance progress toward their shared goals: preventing nuclear war and moving closer to the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.

Given the treaty is steadily becoming a part of international nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament architecture, it is imperative for the United States, nuclear-armed states and states under the U.S. nuclear extended deterrence "umbrella" to consider how they can also productively engage with the treaty and its states parties, including by participating as observers in the third meeting of TPNW states parties, which will be held in March 2025.

Impact of the TPNW Since Its Entry Into Force

When it entered into force in January 2021, the TPNW became the first international legally binding agreement to comprehensively prohibit all activities related to nuclear weapons, including possession, use, threats of use, nuclear explosive testing, production, and transfer. This treaty created a space for nonnuclear-armed states along with civil society to collectively act for nuclear disarmament, which is in line with the obligation set forth in Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."

The first meeting of states parties was held in Vienna in June 2022 with participation from 49 states parties, 34 observer states, and 85 NGOs. Coincidentally, the meeting was convened just a few short weeks after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine and its associated nuclear rhetoric.

TPNW states parties provided leadership by issuing a strong political statement condemning unequivocally nuclear weapons threats of any kind under any circumstances. The strong political declaration adopted in the first TPNW meeting accelerated the growing international effort to condemn and push back against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s implied threats of nuclear weapons use in the context of the ongoing Ukraine war.

Borrowing from the terminology of the TPNW states, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated Sep. 27, 2022, that “any use of nuclear weapons is absolutely unacceptable.” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz declared Oct. 8, “We need to give a clear answer to nuclear threats. They’re dangerous for the world, and the use of nuclear weapons is unacceptable.” On Nov. 4, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the international community should “jointly oppose the use of, or threats to use, nuclear weapons.” The powerful Group of 20 agreed Nov. 16 at their summit in Indonesia that threats and use of nuclear weapons are “inadmissible.”

Just as importantly, the first meeting drew up a 50-point action plan for treaty implementation, which includes, inter alia, the establishment of a Scientific Advisory Group and three informal working groups in relation to the topic of verification, victim assistance/environmental remediation, and universalization. This also led to the appointment of a focal point for implementing gender provisions of the treaty as well as facilitators to promote the TPNW’s complementarity with other treaties.

Humanitarian Perspective Remains in the Core of the Second TPNW Meeting

At the second TPNW meeting held from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1, 2023, a total of 59 states parties, 35 observer states, and representatives from 122 civil society organizations, including the Arms Control Association, participated in the week-long meeting to evaluate progress and to reaffirm their commitment to the realization of a nuclear-weapon-free world. Since the first meeting of states parties, seven more states had signed the treaty, bringing the total number to 93 states, and five more states have ratified it, bringing the total to 70.

Like the first meeting of states parties in 2022, the second meeting produced a political statement that underscores that the TPNW is compatible with the other key elements of the nuclear nonproliferation system, including the NPT, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and nuclear weapons-free zone treaties. The 2023 statement also sought to further reinforce the unacceptability of nuclear weapons threats, as well as question the morality and sustainability of nuclear deterrence as instruments of foreign and military policy. The states parties also took tangible steps to fulfill the key parts of their 2022 action plan, specifically, their obligations under the TPNW to assist populations affected by nuclear weapons testing and use.

Mexico’s Ambassador Juan Ramón de la Fuente, who served as the president of the second meeting, allocated significant time for a thematic debate on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. In 2022, Austria chose to organize a Conference on the Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons on the eve of the first meeting of TPNW states parties. This was the fourth such conference since 2014. Mexico chose to focus formal meeting time on the humanitarian impacts issue by inviting scientists from the Scientific Advisory Group, a speaker from the International Committee of Red Cross, and various representatives from NGOs and affected communities, including Australia, Kiribati, and Japan to share their perspectives and findings. This set the scene and reminded all participants of what is at stake and why progress on nuclear disarmament is so vital. The states decided at the meeting to regularize the practice by empowering “Presidents of future Meetings of States Parties shall have the option to convene thematic debates.”

Victim Assistance and Environmental Remediation Discussion Underway

As was the case with the first meeting, there was significant and tangible support from both state parties, observer states, and civil society on actions to provide assistance to victims of nuclear weapons use and testing and for associated environmental remediation, as mandated by Articles VI and VII of the treaty. In order to fulfill these so-called positive obligations of the TPNW, states agreed to continue intersessional discussions on a voluntary reporting system as well as the objectives for developing proposals to establish the international trust fund to support future assistance and remediation work. This effort is reflected in the decision adopted at the meeting, as two out of five decisions are devoted to this topic.

There remain many questions still to be answered about how this process will play out, some of which are outlined in the intersessional working group’s report. These include but are not limited to who is contributing to the trust fund; who can receive such funds; what administrative structures are necessary. Kazakhstan and Kiribati, co-chairs of an informal working group on this topic are exploring how those decisions can be made.

Kazakhstan and Kiribati successfully passed a relevant resolution at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in the fall of 2023 with 171 votes in favor, six in opposition, and four in abstention. This UNGA resolution, which was later adopted at the end of 2023, calls for further international cooperation and discussion on victim assistance and environmental remediation through multiple international frameworks and support for affected populations while recognizing the responsibility of nuclear use and testing. This voting result demonstrates the possibility that this implementation framework can be creative by extending to outside of the TPNW, and also contribute to the universalization of this key treaty objective.

Delegitimizing Nuclear Weapons

The second TPNW conference of state parties, like the first, issued a strong political declaration that underscores that “the continued existence of nuclear weapons and lack of meaningful progress on disarmament undermine the security of all States, aggravate international tensions, heighten the risk of nuclear catastrophe and pose an existential threat to humanity as a whole.”

TPNW states parties also decided to be more explicit regarding their concerns about the dangers of nuclear weapons and military policies based on the theory of nuclear deterrence. At the suggestion of the Austrian delegation, the meeting decided to establish a “consultative process on security concerns of TPNW states,” which aims to reframe the debate of nuclear disarmament as a necessary instrument to accommodate human security and national security for all states parties.

In parallel with the strategy of stigmatizing nuclear weapons by highlighting the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons, the states parties decided to “challenge the security paradigm based on nuclear deterrence” leveraging scientific research on humanitarian consequences as well as nuclear risks.

The political declaration argues that nuclear weapons do more harm than good to the human beings. “The perpetuation and implementation of nuclear deterrence in military and security concepts, doctrines and policies not only erodes and contradicts non-proliferation, but also obstructs progress towards nuclear disarmament,” the TPNW political declaration states.

The TPNW state parties further noted that “[T]his is not only a security issue. In a world where challenges persist in meeting basic human needs, the investment of substantial financial resources in modernizing and expanding nuclear arsenals is indefensible and counterproductive as it comes at the expense of investment in sustainable development for genuine human wellbeing, as well as disarmament, education, diplomacy, environmental protection, and health.”

The Role of Scientists and Research

Another unique facet of the TPNW is its newly established Scientific Advisory Group. Following the decision taken in the first meeting to establish a group of scientists to advise and “assist States Parties in implementing the treaty and in strengthening the credibility of the implementation process,” the group was formed earlier last year. The group is co-chaired by Dr. Patricia Lewis from Chatham House and Dr. Zia Mian from Princeton University. The TPNW Scientific Advisory Group presented its first report at the meeting and is expected to play an important role in advancing the TPNW, in part because most states parties do not have as significant technical experience and capacity on nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament as do the nuclear-armed states and their allies who play a more active role in other nonproliferation and disarmament treaty regimes, particularly the Nonproliferation Treaty.

Both thematic debate and the Scientific Advisory Group are bringing a “vibrant atmosphere and better collective learning,” according to Elayne Whyte, the 2017 TPNW negotiation conference president and former Costa Rican Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva.

Additional Observer States

As was the case with the first meeting, states parties welcomed the participation of 35 observer states at the second meeting, 12 of which had not attended the first meeting. Among the observer states were: Australia, Belgium, Egypt, Germany, and Switzerland. By attending the TPNW meeting as observers, these states were able to deepen their understanding of the treaty and engage with states that see nuclear weapons as a liability, not an asset.

Observers can support the TPNW without becoming a member state, by expressing their interests and sharing comments at the meeting. Switzerland and Germany, for instance, have expressed strong support for advancing the TPNW’s provisions on victim assistance and environmental remediation since the first meeting. During the intersessional period between the first meeting and the second meeting, a think tank that has close ties with the German Green Party, in collaboration with civil society, created a project titled “Nuclear Weapons and Their Humanitarian and Ecological Consequences.” Switzerland also said that it “continues to consider the humanitarian consequences as an area of work that can unite all stakeholders.”

Further, observer states can keep TPNW member states accountable for their goals. A meeting of states parties of the TPNW is not only a place to discuss how to advance the treaty, but also serves as an opportunity to ensure that member states and civil society are earnest about their commitments.

Looking Ahead

The states parties elected the next president for the third meeting of states parties, Akan Rakhmetullin, the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations, and agreed that the meeting would take place in March 2025. At an event co-hosted by the Kazakh embassy in Washington D.C. and the Arms Control Association Dec. 12, 2023, Kazakhstan highlighted that their presidency will focus on victim assistance and environmental remediation; universalization of the treaty (Kazakhstan will also convene a joint meeting of nuclear-free-zones in Kazakhstan in 2024); and building mutual trust between proponents and opponents of the TPNW.

What the past two meetings of states parties with observer states have proven is that TPNW is not widening the gap between opponents and proponents. The TPNW’s approach to nuclear disarmament is not counterproductive or causing potential repercussions, as often opponents of the treaty have persistently argued, rather, it has demonstrated that states outside of the TPNW can engage in discussions while not being part of the treaty and thus contribute to the common shared goal for all: the prevention of nuclear conflict and the total, verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons.

The United States, other nuclear-armed states, and some of their allies may not yet be ready to join the TPNW or engage with states parties, however, it is time for them to recognize that the TPNW is a reality. In the meantime, before the next meeting in March 2025, there are several ways for the United States can move engage with the treaty without harming the United States' or its allies’ national security interests.

First, members of Congress can and should more carefully evaluate the role of the TPNW in reducing nuclear dangers. At the second TPNW meeting, U.S. elected officials Representative Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Massachusetts State Representative Lindsay Sabadosa attended the meeting and parliamentary conference, where 23 parliamentarians from 14 countries including Canada, Japan, Germany, Scotland, Belgium, France, Italy, Australia, Norway, and the United States gathered. Those representatives shared “the collective sentiment that many pressing challenges underscore the urgency and relevance of the mission embodied by the TPNW” and reaffirmed their commitment to activate TPNW discussion in their respective parliaments and engage with their own governments and people, according to the joint statement.

As a result of the growing presence of the TPNW in the international nonproliferation and disarmament structure, the treaty can no longer be dismissed. In early 2023, Rep. McGovern introduced a resolution titled Embracing the goals and provisions of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons to the House and gained support from over 40 members of Congress.

To move forward, members of Congress should commit to engage more substantively on how to advance nuclear risk reduction options including TPNW, to question the U.S. government on national positions on this matter, and to respond to constituent concerns about how to advance nuclear disarmament diplomacy and avoid nuclear war.

Second, the White House and the State Department need to recognize that the TPNW has become more of an asset than a liability. Despite the skepticism from the governments of the world's nuclear-armed states, the TPNW is developing into a strong new force against dangerous nuclear policies. These efforts to both delegitimize and stigmatize nuclear weapons serve as an important safeguard against rising nuclear tensions between nuclear-armed adversaries and nuclear threats from the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un. The TPNW is also a reminder that the nuclear-armed states need to heed international calls for tangible diplomatic dialogue on nuclear disarmament, which they are obligated to pursue under the NPT.

More productive engagement with the TPNW state parties on the shared goal of advancing nuclear disarmament can also benefit U.S. national interest by building ties with states that share the goal of strengthening the NPT, advancing U.S.-Russian and U.S.-Chinese dialogue on nuclear arms control and disarmament and on reducing the risk of nuclear war. The TPNW originated from the frustration of non-nuclear weapons states and dissatisfaction with the lack of progress by the NPT nuclear-armed states in fulfilling their disarmament obligations under Article VI of the NPT. As the TPNW moves forward, the United States can and should join the conversation through the meetings of TPNW states parties.

The perception gap between states that believe nuclear weapons are essential to their security and the TPNW states parties that do not is both a challenge and an opportunity. Through TPNW meetings, the United States, other nuclear-armed states, and their allies can and should seize the chance to engage with TPNW states parties to better understand the wide range of perspectives and concerns about nuclear weapons. In today’s multi-polar world, this approach can help build bridges with the many states that seek to accelerate progress toward a world without the fear of the catastrophic impacts of nuclear weapons.—SHIZUKA KURAMITSU, research assistant

Description: 

It has been just five years since the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was concluded in 2017, but the agreement is already helping to bolster the international nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament architecture.

TPNW States Challenge Nuclear Deterrence Doctrine


January/February 2024
By Shizuka Kuramitsu

States-parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) have begun challenging the long-standing deterrence rationale for nuclear weapons in an effort to inject new momentum into their campaign to rid the world of these armaments.

Mexican Ambassador Juan Ramon de la Fuente (C), president of the second meeting of states-parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, Alicia Sanders-Zakre (L) of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), and Veronique Christory (R) of the International Committee of the Red Cross brief journalists on the outcome of the meeting on Dec. 1 at the UN. (Photo by ICAN)At their second annual TPNW meeting held Nov. 27 to Dec. 1 in New York, they approved a political outcome document that unveiled the new strategy, declaring that the states-parties “will not stand by as spectators to increasing nuclear risks and the dangerous perpetuation of nuclear deterrence.”

At the suggestion of the Austrian delegation, the states-parties decided to establish a “consultative process on security concerns of TPNW states” that aims to reframe the debate over nuclear disarmament as a necessary instrument to ensure human security and national security.

“This shift at the TPNW conference indicated in Austria’s working paper is important. There are deep flaws in the assumptions that underline the current nuclear paradigm, and deterrence, although [it] works most of the time, is inherently flawed and will fail over the long run,” Ward Hayes Wilson, executive director of RealistRevolt, told Arms Control Today.

Amid a deteriorating international security environment due to the Russian war in Ukraine and other factors, nuclear-armed states recently have reaffirmed the need to possess nuclear weapons on the grounds that such armaments deter adversaries. This nuclear deterrence doctrine has been at the core of NATO’s mutual security guarantee and collective defense since the alliance was created in 1949.

At the meeting, Germany, a TPNW observer state, stressed that, “confronted with an openly aggressive Russia, the importance of nuclear deterrence has increased for many states.”

“Germany, as a NATO member, is fully committed to NATO’s nuclear deterrence, the purpose of which is to preserve peace, deter aggression, and prevent nuclear coercion,” the head of the German delegation said.

Similarly, during a meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized countries in Hiroshima in May, world leaders reaffirmed their view that “our security policies are based on the understanding that nuclear weapons, for as long as they exist, should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression and prevent war and coercion.”

But in their political document, the TPNW states-parties countered that “[t]he renewed advocacy, [and] insistence on and attempts to justify nuclear deterrence as a legitimate security doctrine [give] false credence to the value of nuclear weapons for national security and dangerously [increase] the risk of horizontal and vertical nuclear proliferation.”

In addition, nuclear threats “only serve to undermine the disarmament and non-proliferation regime and international peace and security,” the declaration stated.

The states-parties named Austria as coordinator for the new consultative process and called for a report to be submitted at the next TPNW meeting with a set of arguments and recommendations.

The process is expected “to better promote and articulate the legitimate security concerns, [and] threat and risk perceptions enshrined in the treaty that result from the existence of nuclear weapons and the concept of nuclear deterrence,” the parties decided.

Further, states-parties in partnership with scientists and civil society decided “to challenge the security paradigm based on nuclear deterrence by highlighting and promoting new scientific evidence about the humanitarian consequences and risks of nuclear weapons and juxtaposing those with risks and assumptions that are inherent to nuclear deterrence.”

Reflecting this move to delegitimize nuclear weapons, Juan Ramón de la Fuente, the Mexican ambassador who served as the TPNW meeting president, told a press conference on Dec. 1 that “there is an incompatibility between nuclear weapons and international security. That is why we are more convinced now than before [that] the only way to really move towards [a] more secure world for all of us is with the prohibition of nuclear weapons.”

At Mexico’s initiative, the meeting reinforced the new strategy by elevating debate on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use and by including scientists from the newly established TPNW scientific advisory group, a speaker from the International Committee of Red Cross, and representatives of nongovernmental organizations and affected communities, including Australia, Kiribati, and Japan, to share their perspectives and findings.

“This was extremely important because it was the first time that we were addressing at this level [of an official UN conference] the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear detonation,” de la Fuente said.

Setsuko Thurlow, an atomic bomb survivor from Hiroshima, told the press conference that “[n]ow with the humanitarian initiative as a guide, we were able to look at the [nuclear weapons] issue as a human issue, to put human being[s] right in front and a center of discussion.”

Some 59 states-parties, 35 observer states, and 122 nongovernmental organizations, participated in the weeklong TPNW meeting, which elected Akan Rakhmetullin, Kazakhstan’s UN ambassador, as president of the next meeting, to be held in March 2025.

States-parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons challenged the deterrence rationale for
nuclear weapons in an effort to inject new momentum into their campaign to rid the world of these armaments.

U.S. Says Shift to Safer Nuclear Fuel Would Be Costly


January/February 2024
By Shizuka Kuramitsu

The United States is making progress in developing a safer low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel for use in Navy ships, but the project is very costly, and success is not assured, according to a report by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

The issue of nuclear fuel for navy ships has drawn increased attention since 2021, when the United States and the United Kingdom agreed to sell nuclear-powered submarines to Australia. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (L), U.S. President Joe Biden (C) and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak discussed the issue at a press conference in San Diego last March. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)The United States now relies on highly enriched uranium to provide safe, long-lived, and reliable naval propulsion fuel. But nonproliferation experts have been urging a switch to LEU, which is more difficult to convert for use in nuclear weapons.

In a message accompanying the report, NNSA Administrator Jill Hruby said she was “pleased with the progress…made in this technically challenging effort…[because in] fiscal 2021, we reached a critical milestone” with experiments that will produce the first information evaluating novel fuel-fabrication techniques, as well as fuel performance characteristics.

Nevertheless, the report struck a downbeat tone, concluding that “these initial activities are the first steps on a long, costly path to fuel development and success is not assured.”

It predicted a reactor fuel system design effort lasting 20 to 25 years that would cost more than $1 billion and detract from higher-priority nonproliferation and naval propulsion research and development activities.

“Even if successful, the propulsion system would be less capable, only [be] applicable to aircraft carriers and require several billion dollars, in addition to fuel development costs, to deploy the supporting engineering, manufacturing and testing infrastructure,” the report said.

It added that “the analysis showed that the use of LEU would negatively impact reactor endurance, reactor size, ship costs and operational effectiveness.”But the nonproliferation expert who obtained and publicized the report, which was sent to Congress in 2022 and kept secret until now by the government, argued that the expense for the LEU project should not be questioned. “The program’s price tag is a tiny fraction of the cost of the nuclear Navy or a nuclear terrorist attack,” Alan J. Kuperman, an associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and coordinator of the university’s Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project, told Reuters.

“These documents clarify three things for the first time: the program is vital to preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, is making rapid progress, and will be implemented only if it can preserve the performance of U.S. Navy vessels,” Kuperman said.

The NNSA has been researching LEU fuel use in Navy systems since 2018 with $50 million appropriated by Congress, but the program is now in doubt after a House subcommittee cut the funding, Reuters reported.

The nuclear fuel issue has drawn increased attention since 2021, when the United States and the United Kingdom raised proliferation concerns by agreeing to sell nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, which would become the first non-nuclear-weapon state to field a ship with an HEU-powered reactor.

The United States is making progress in developing a safer low-enriched uranium fuel for use in Navy ships, but the project is very costly, and success is not assured.

Russia Completes Last IMS Station


January/February 2024

Russia has completed construction of its 32nd and final seismic station designed to detect nuclear tests banned under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and the facility is now in operation.

The station, located at Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, more than 6,000 kilometers east of Moscow in the Oblast Republic, is part of a unique global monitoring network operated by the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) called the International Monitoring System (IMS). The system was established to verify compliance with the CTBT.

“The 32 stations in the Russian Federation’s now complete IMS segment are crucial components of the global network that helps maintain peace and security by making sure that no nuclear test goes undetected,” CTBTO Executive Secretary Robert Floyd said in a Dec. 14 statement on the organization’s website.

When completed, the IMS will consist of 321 monitoring stations and 16 laboratories hosted by 89 countries around the globe, according to the CTBTO website. About 90 percent of these 337 facilities are already operational, providing a steady flow of real-time data.

Construction of the station at Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk commenced in May 2021, but experienced several delays due to harsh winter conditions, deforestation, and unexpected discoveries of endangered plants. The station was finished in August 2023 and now transmits seismic data to the data center at the CTBTO headquarters in Vienna.

In November 2023, Russia rescinded its ratification of the CTBT. Nevertheless, it remained a signatory to the treaty and expressed its intention to continue adhering to the nuclear testing moratorium and operating IMS stations on its territory. (See ACT, November 2023.)—SHIZUKA KURAMITSU

Russia Completes Last IMS Station

China, U.S. Hold Rare Arms Control Talks


December 2023
By Shizuka Kuramitsu

China and the United States held long-awaited talks on nuclear arms control on Nov. 6, the first such meeting in nearly in five years.

After U.S. President Joe Biden (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in San Francisco on Nov. 15, they directed their teams to hold long overdue followup discussions on nuclear arms control and nonproliferation. The groundwork was set nine days earlier in discussions between senior Chinese and U.S. arms control officials in Washington. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)Although the meeting in Washington produced no specific result and no specific date for follow-on talks was announced, U.S. officials said the discussion, which occurred amid rising nuclear and geopolitical tensions, was worthwhile simply because it took place.

In separate statements issued shortly after the meeting, the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the U.S. State Department described the discussion between Sun Xiaobo, Chinese director-general of arms control, and Mallory Stewart, U.S. assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, as candid, in-depth, and constructive.

The State Department said the issues under discussion “related to arms control and nonproliferation as part of ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication and responsibly manage the [bilateral] relationship.”

The United States, it said, “emphasized the importance of increased [Chinese] nuclear transparency and substantive engagement on practical measures to manage and reduce strategic risks across multiple domains, including nuclear and outer space,” and “the need to promote stability, help avert an unconstrained arms race, and manage competition so that it does not veer into conflict.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the officials discussed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, cooperation among the five nuclear-weapon states, nuclear security, nonproliferation and export control, compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention, and outer space security and regular arms control.

According to Reuters, a senior U.S. official said on Nov. 7, “I wouldn't say we learned anything new from them or that they delved into a great amount of detail in terms of their own nuclear force, their buildup and whether or not their policy or doctrine could be shifting over time.”

The meeting occurred as Beijing and Washington sought to reengage after a prolonged estrangement and to find a way to manage their way forward as major competitors in an unstable world. The last bilateral meeting on arms control issues took place in 2018 in Beijing when Chinese and U.S. officials “exchanged views” on their respective nuclear policies and on mutual cooperation on nonproliferation, among other topics, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Among Washington’s major current concerns is Beijing’s nuclear weapons buildup and its refusal to allow more transparency into the country’s nuclear program.

In its latest report on China’s military power, the U.S. Defense Department estimated that China will possess in excess of 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030 and will accelerate development of its intercontinental-range ballistic missiles. (See ACT, November 2023.)

“Compared to the PLA’s [People’s Liberation Army] nuclear modernization efforts a decade ago, current efforts dwarf previous attempts in both scale and complexity,” the report said. Regardless, China’s arsenal is dwarfed by those of Russia, which has 4,500 warheads, and the United States, which has roughly 3,800 warheads.

Biden has long called for China to join in arms control talks. The United States is ready to “engage China without preconditions, helping ensure that competition is managed and that competition does not veer into conflict,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told the Arms Control Association annual forum on June 2.

“It’s our hope that…Beijing will be willing to include substantive engagement on strategic nuclear issues, which
would benefit the security of both of our countries and the security of the entire world,” Sullivan said.

During the Stewart-Sun meeting, the U.S. delegation “highlighted the need to promote stability, help avert an unconstrained arms race, and manage competition so that it does not veer into conflict,” the State Department statement said. Beijing, on the other hand, “emphasized that China and the United States should carry out dialogue and cooperation on the basis of mutual respect,” according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

China also “stressed that the two sides should adhere to the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security [in order to] realize lasting peace and universal security in the world.”

The meeting between Stewart and Sun preceded the Nov. 15 meeting in San Francisco between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden and followed other recent high-level bilateral engagements, including between the U.S. secretary of state and the U.S. national security advisor with their Chinese counterparts.

According to a readout by the White House on the Xi-Biden talks, the leaders agreed that their teams will follow-up their discussions in San Francisco with “continued high-level diplomacy and interactions, including visits in both directions and ongoing working-level consultations in key areas, including on…arms control and nonproliferation.”

The State Department reported that the two leaders agreed to resume military-to-military communications and to continue their bilateral engagements “in key areas, including on commercial, economic, financial, Asia-Pacific, arms control and nonproliferation, maritime, export control enforcement, policy-planning, agriculture, and disability issues.”

In 2014, Xi told U.S. President Barack Obama that “the Pacific Ocean is broad enough to accommodate the development of both China and the United States and our two countries to work together to contribute to security in Asia.” When he met Biden, Xi told him that “planet Earth is big enough for the two countries to succeed.”

The first such meeting in nearly five years produced no obvious result but it did begin a dialogue.

U.S. to Use Weapons-Grade Uranium in Reactor Experiment


December 2023
By Shizuka Kuramitsu

The U.S. Energy Department is expected to begin work in the coming months on a civilian research project that relies on weapons-grade highly enriched uranium (HEU), a fuel type that the United States and other countries have long sought to phase out for such energy uses.

Researchers at Idaho National Laboratory work on synthesizing and irradiating a molten chloride salt fueled with enriched uranium. The experiment is attempting to validate the safety and reliability of a simple reactor type that could efficiently provide electricity and heat for communities and industry. (Photo via Idaho National Laboratory)The project has raised concerns among nuclear nonproliferation experts, who say it conflicts with long-standing U.S. nonproliferation efforts to minimize the civilian use of HEU, which can be converted more easily than low-enriched uranium (LEU) for use in nuclear weapons.

A group of 20 experts, including university professors, heads of think tanks, and former U.S. government officials, urged the Energy Department to reconsider alternatives to HEU. But department officials rejected such appeals in September and said the project is consistent with U.S. policy.

The U.S. plan is to have government-funded civilian research reactors use more than 600 kilograms of HEU in a six-month experiment to prepare the design of a new type of reactor. Critics say the fuel to be used would be enough for dozens of nuclear weapons.

The project got underway in December 2020, when the Energy Department selected a civilian energy company, Southern Co., to conduct the new research reactor experiment, called the Molten Chloride Reactor Experiment, at the Idaho National Laboratory. The experiment is aimed at advancing the new TerraPower LLC Molten Chloride Fast Reactor technology.

Specific project details were revealed in March. On Aug. 1, the Energy Department issued a draft assessment that analyzed the potential environmental impacts associated with the project and concluded there would be “no significant impact.”

A 30-day public comment period in August generated expressions of opposition to the use of HEU fuel, concern about the project’s “potential effects on the U.S. nuclear nonproliferation efforts,” and laments about “lack of consideration of environmental concerns.”

But after the Energy Department’s Office of Nuclear Energy considered the comments, it affirmed its original support for the project, according to a department document released on Oct. 19.

The 20 nuclear proliferation experts who wrote to the department on May 30, including Alan Kuperman, an associate professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, and Frank von Hippel, a Princeton University physicist, urged the department to suspend work on the project until it considers an alternative design and prepares an assessment of the nonproliferation impact.

If the department “were to proceed with an HEU-fueled [Molten Chloride Reactor Experiment], the damage to national security could exceed any potential benefit from this highly speculative energy technology,” the experts wrote.

They argued that using HEU “would be a convenience rather than a necessity” and that the “reactor does not require HEU fuel.” Converting the project design to LEU fuel would “increase significantly the size of the facility and the amount of fuel, thereby incurring a delay and increasing some costs. However…other costs for security could be reduced,” they added.

In a written response on Sept. 5, the department said this experiment “requires the use of higher enrichment fuel to keep the size of the experimental reactor small.”

It reaffirmed the U.S. policy “to refrain from the use of weapons-usable nuclear material in new civil reactors or for other civil purposes unless that use supports vital U.S. national purposes.” But it also argued that using HEU is fully consistent with this policy because “the experiment will provide vital data to the U.S. national interests assuring the safety and security of this advanced nuclear energy technology” and emphasized that the later commercial operation of the new reactor would not use HEU.

“This experiment does not pose a security or nonproliferation risk akin to the use of HEU in a civilian reactor that operates for decades, continually refuels, and requires production or transport of HEU across distances,” the department letter stated.

Since the 1970s, the United States has led international collaboration to reduce and minimize the use of HEU for civilian purposes. It has converted a total of 71 reactors domestically and abroad from use of HEU fuel to LEU fuel. Over five decades, such diplomatic and financial efforts have contributed to the nonproliferation regime by strengthening HEU minimization norms.

The Energy Department will begin work on a civilian research project that relies on weapons-grade, highly enriched uranium, which the United States and other countries have long sought to phase out for energy uses.

 

Nuclear Ban Treaty Members to Meet in November


November 2023
By Shizuka Kuramitsu

States-parties to the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) will hold their second meeting in New York on Nov. 27-Dec. 1. Amid the crisis facing the international arms control and disarmament regime, they are expected to review and continue implementing their plans for a total ban on nuclear weapons.

The TPNW, which entered into force on Jan. 22, 2021, bans states-parties from involvement in any nuclear weapons activities, including the use, threat of use, production, development, possession, and stationing of these weapons. Spearheaded by non-nuclear-armed states and civil society groups, the treaty originated from their frustration over the long stalemate among nuclear-weapon states to engage in serious nuclear disarmament as called for by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

At their first meeting, in June 2022, TPNW states-parties produced two documents aiming to advance the treaty, a 50-point action plan and a political statement. (See ACT, July/August 2022.)

They established three informal working groups to make progress during the intercessional period on important topics such as nuclear disarmament verification, victim assistance, environmental remediation, and universalization of the treaty. In addition, the action plan agreed to create a scientific advisory group, to implement gender provisions in the treaty, and to promote TPNW complementarity with existing treaties.

For the November meeting, each working group is preparing reports on their respective intersessional activities. The meeting is expected to issue a final document, according to the provisional agenda and government officials.

The “expectation of all the parties is to continue implementing the plans [and] having a meeting that reviews what was agreed in 2022 and its implementation,” María Antonieta Jaquez, coordinator for disarmament, nonproliferation, and arms control for the Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretariat, told Arms Control Today.

She suggested that the states-parties would continue following the 50-point action plan from 2022 because it “cannot be reinvented or rewritten every year.”

One key focus is universalization of the treaty. “The treaty has to continue growing,” Jaquez said. She emphasized that the participation of all TPNW states-parties, as well as states that remain outside the treaty, should be “all welcomed” and “it is important that we have as many stakeholders [join the treaty] as possible.”

Meanwhile, deepening geopolitical divides continue casting shadows over the nonproliferation and disarmament regimes. After the first TPNW meeting concluded, two NPT-related meetings failed to achieve a consensus and concluded with no substantive final documents (See ACT, September 2023.)

A contentious issue likely to be raised in November is how TPNW states-parties interpret the treaty provisions. In April 2023, Russia conducted a test launch of a missile that can carry nuclear warheads from a test site in Kazakhstan, an active TPNW member state. Although the treaty bans assistance with nuclear weapons development, it leaves the definition of “assistance” open to interpretation. Since the last meeting of states-parties, seven more states have signed the treaty, bringing the total number to 93 states, and four more states have ratified it, bringing the total to 69.

Juan Ramón de la Fuente Ramírez, Mexico’s ambassador to the United Nations, will serve as president of the second meeting of TPNW states-parties.

Working groups are expected to report on plans to advance nuclear disarmament verification, victim assistance, and other priorities.

Russia ‘Deratifies’ Nuclear Test Ban Treaty


November 2023
By Shizuka Kuramitsu

President Vladimir Putin signed a law revoking Russia’s ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which has helped keep a lid on nuclear testing for 27 years.

Cable is laid on Wake Island as part of a complex hydroacoustic system that allows the Preparatory Commission for Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) to monitor potential nuclear tests by means of sound waves in the water. (Photo courtesy of CTBTO Public Information)

The law, signed on Nov. 2, reflects worsening tensions with the United States over Russia’s war in Ukraine and a further crumbling of the international arms control architecture. Putin’s move was expected after the Russian Duma’s lower house passed the bill in a 415-0 vote on Oct. 17; the upper house, in a 156-0 vote on Oct. 25.

Russia remains one of the 187 signatories to the treaty and, according to Russian officials, will continue to cooperate with the Preparatory Commission of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and its International Monitoring System, which was established to verify compliance with the treaty. But the Russian decision to deratify its membership is clearly a setback to long-running efforts to achieve entry into force of the treaty, which still requires ratification by China, the United States, and six other treaty-specified states for that to happen.

Russia’s deratification move has raised inevitable questions about whether it actually will resume nuclear testing. Asked about this on Oct. 5 at the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi, Putin replied, “I’m not ready to say now whether we really need or don’t need to conduct tests.”

Putin reiterated a longtime grievance with the United States, which signed the treaty in 1996 but did not ratify it, while Russia ratified the CTBT in 2000. "As a matter of principle, we can offer a tit-for-tat response in our relations with the United States," he stated.

In response, a State Department spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal the following day that the Russian move “needlessly endangers the global norm against nuclear explosive testing" and that Washington will continue to adhere to its nuclear test moratorium, which it has observed since 1992.

Vyacheslav Volodin, the Duma speaker, told the lower chamber on Oct. 17 that, “[o]ur vote will be a response to the United States for its boorish attribute towards its responsibilities to maintain global security.”

Ahead of the Duma vote, senior Russian Foreign Ministry officials asserted that Russia would continue to observe a nuclear test moratorium. “Withdrawing ratification by no means undermines our constructive approach to the CTBT and does not mean that our country intends to resume nuclear tests,” Vladimir Yermakov, head of the Foreign Ministry’s nonproliferation and arms control department, was quoted by Tass as saying on Oct. 16.

He reaffirmed that Russia’s position on the resumption of nuclear explosive testing was set out in February when Putin said that Russia would only conduct a test if the United States did so first.

Speaking to the annual meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi in October, Russian President Vadimir Putin is noncommittal about whether his country might resume nuclear testing. (Getty Images)But on Oct. 10, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov accused the United States of carrying out preparations at its nuclear test site in Nevada, according to Reuters.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson rejected the allegation, calling it “a disturbing effort by Moscow to heighten nuclear risks and raise tensions in the context of its illegal war in Ukraine.” They reiterated that Washington has no plans to abandon a 1992 moratorium on nuclear test explosions.

Satellite imagery shows that China, Russia, and the United States are all making improvements to military and experimental facilities at their former nuclear test sites. (See ACT, October 2023.) Independent analysts say the deratification is not necessarily an indication that Russia plans to resume nuclear explosive testing for development of its nuclear weapons programs.

Although the Duma vote is a concern, “neither the announcement nor actual withdrawal from the CTBT would change the fundamental calculus of nuclear threat and risk because they would not modify Russia’s incentives, nuclear doctrine or force posture,” according to a commentary published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute on Oct. 17. But others were not so sanguine. On Oct. 16, the Canadian delegation to a UN meeting in New York said in a statement that Russia’s deratification “undermines the treaty’s objective” and this action “stands in contrast with the recent Article XIV conference,” where states reaffirmed their commitment to the treaty.

In a statement issued on Oct. 19, CTBTO Executive Secretary Robert Floyd called the Duma’s decision “very disappointing and deeply regrettable” and said that “this decision goes against renewed global determination to see the CTBT enter into force.”

Floyd added that Russia “has stated that revoking its ratification does not mean it is withdrawing from the CTBT and that it remains committed to the treaty, including the operation of all CTBTO monitoring stations on its territory and the sharing of that data with all states.” Russia hosts 30 of the 300-plus seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound, and radionuclide monitoring stations that compose the treaty’s global verification network.

In the context of the CTBT, Russia’s move to withdraw its ratification has no precedent.

Some Russian officials say the country will adhere to its nuclear testing moratorium but President Vladimir Putin is noncommittal.

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