"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
CTBTO Proves Relevancy at Symposium
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Arms Control NOW

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) hosted its 2nd CTBT Science and Diplomacy Symposium from May 21 to June 1, 2018 at the Vienna International Center against the backdrop of significant geopolitical developments: the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), U.S. declaration of a summit meeting with North Korea and deteriorating U.S.-Russia relations. Understandably, the interest of policymakers, scholars and technical experts gathered at the symposium were focused on a few key questions – Will North Korea sign and ratify the CTBT as a sign of their intent on halting nuclear testing? Will the Trump administration impose sanctions on Iran? Will the United States resume nuclear testing as the Nuclear Posture Review released by the Trump administration argues that the United States “must remain ready to resume testing if necessary to meet severe technological or geopolitical challenges”? In such a scenario, what will be the reaction of Russia? What are the political implications for the CTBTO?

The symposium’s curated expert panel discussions, high-level sessions, tour of CTBTO facilities and collaboration activities were important for three main reasons.

First, the discussions highlighted the preparedness of the CTBTO’s verification regime to monitor the globe for nuclear explosions. The CTBTO underlines that 90% of the 337 International Monitoring System (IMS) facilities are already in operation. At this point of time, the importance of IMS facilities cannot be more overstated. The CTBTO’s Preparatory Commission within its mandate is uniquely positioned to support verification of the closure of North Korean test site Punggye-ri. North Korea’s willingness to sign and ratify the CTBT and allowing technical experts of the CTBTO would be one of the first and more permanent steps to roll back North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Welcoming the historic US-DPRK summit between President Trump and Chairman Kim, Executive Secretary of the CTBTO, Dr. Lassina Zerbo issued a statement mentioning that the CTBTO is prepared and willing to contribute in ‘site characterization, site closure verification, post site closure and dismantlement verification and ongoing remote monitoring’. At the symposium, Karin Kneissl, the Federal Minister for Europe, Integration in Foreign Affairs of Republic of Austria, in her remarks urged that North Korea reach out to the CTBTO because North Korea’s self-declared moratorium is not a substitute to joining the CTBT.

The CTBTO’s ability to successfully conduct on-site inspection procedures are well documented in the major field exercises in Kazakhstan in 2008 and the large scale simulation of an on-spite inspection in Jordan 2014. While dialogue between the United States and North Korea is important, lasting peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula can only be achieved through verifiable denuclearization. History is testament to the fact that transparency and verification mechanisms form the bedrock of nuclear arms control. In the short-to-near term future, the international arms control community should ensure that North Korea is sanguine about its promises of denuclearization. The first stepping stone of its commitment would be to sign and ratify the CTBT and allow technical experts from IMS facilities to inspect Punggi-re.

Second, the symposium acted as a bridge between scientists, technocrats and policymakers and analysts to simulate creative thinking to address the challenges that the CTBT today faces and advance the treaty’s Entry-into-Force (EIF). The Science and Diplomacy Symposium provided a platform for the global scientific community and the nonproliferation and disarmament community from diverse countries to break barriers of language, culture, and history to engage in a bonhomie that is rooted in scientific collaboration. At the high-level session, Elba Rosa Perez Montoya, Minister of Science, Technology and Environment provided a strong defense of the importance of science and technology in policymaking. It is not surprising that the symposium devoted several sessions on understanding themes like radionuclide particulate and noble gas monitoring technologies, atmospheric transport modeling and data fusion, waveform monitoring and the status, purpose and challenges of the IMS. Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, reminded the participants that technological inventions from hand grenades to nuclear weapons concern every country. Therefore, it is important to secure our common future through actively pursuing the disarmament agenda. Maria Assunta Acili Sabbatini, Permanent Representative of Italy to UN in Vienna, mentioned that the CTBTO’s Science and Diplomacy Symposium provided a permanent platform for the interaction between scientists and policy makers who are working towards the CTBT’s EIF. While there was immense support for CTBT’s EIF as reflected from the statements made by NPT state-parties at the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference 2018 Prepratory Committee (PrepCom) in Geneva, the CTBT still lacks universalization. Eight states are yet to ratify: China, North Korea, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, and the United States (North Korea, India and Pakistan have also not yet signed the Treaty).

As a presenter in an academic panel discussing ‘Advancing the CTBT in Asia: Unexplored Linkages between China, India and Pakistan’, I argued the need for India and Pakistan to engage with the CTBTO and host IMS facilities in South Asia as the construction of IMS network would strengthen seismic data collection and bolster the region’s natural disaster preparedness in the earthquake and tsunami prone Southern Asia. The construction of IMS facilities in South Asia could constitute a powerful nuclear confidence building measure between India and Pakistan.

Third, the symposium’s prolife and significance was raised not only by the presence and remarks of leading nuclear nonproliferation experts like Laura Rockwood, Thomas Countryman, Tariq Rauf, Anton Khlopkov, and Alexander Bell among others but also by the active participation of CTBTO Youth Group (CYG) members. In December 2015, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a ground-breaking resolution on Youth, Peace, and Security, recognizing that “young people play an important and positive role in the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security”. One month after the UNSCR 2250 was passed, the CTBTO under the leadership of Dr. Lassina Zerbo in January 2016 launched CYG. The objective was to close the generational gap in discussing nuclear issues and preparing the youth to positively contribute to peace processes and conflict resolution. Therefore, the presence of youth actively participating in collaborative activities and crisis simulation exercise (a mock CTBTO Executive Council deliberation over an on-site inspection) was exemplary of the CTBTO’s critical efforts in investing in youth to shape the next generation and future policymakers. Sahil Shah, CTBTO Youth Group member, highlighted in his remarks that while the international nonproliferation community is doing a good job of increasing the plurality of voices discussing nuclear weapons issues, there are still significant challenges to increasing the plurality of voices that are heard on nuclear issues decision making. The CTBTO puts emphasis on bolstering the role of women in nonproliferation and disarmament. It is noteworthy that the CYG which has a growing membership of 400 plus members has exceeded gender parity and its membership base comprises of 56% women.

To conclude, through the Science and Diplomacy Symposium, the CTBTO has revitalized conversations on peace and security issues at all levels which is inclusive and sustainable. Even though the treaty has not entered into force since two decades when it was first opened for signatures, the political value and practical relevance of the Treaty stands undiminished. If anything, the treaty’s importance will grow manifold if the international arms control community is able to make sure that North Korea signs and ratifies the treaty and engages with the CTBTO’s verification regime as a first step towards denuclearization.

Sylvia Mishra is a Scoville Peace Fellow at the Nuclear Threat Initiative and a member of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization Youth Group. Her research focuses on nuclear proliferation and strategy, Southern Asian security and nuclear dynamics, and emerging and disruptive technologies.