"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Author, "African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement"
July 1, 2020
Daryl Kimball

On CTBT Anniversary, UN Members Call for Action

October 2021
By Daryl G. Kimball

Member states of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) marked the 25th anniversary of the opening for signature of the treaty with a series of events last month at the United Nations, culminating in a special Security Council meeting on Sept. 27 convened by Ireland, which holds one of the rotating seats on the 12-member council.

Maggie Wanyaga of Kenya, a representative of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban-Treaty Organization Youth Group, addressed a UN Security Council meeting that discussed the CTBT on Sept. 27. The youth group is part of an effort to involve civil society in supporting the work of the CTBTO and the treaty. (UN TV)At the Security Council meeting, senior officials representing council members, including the six states that have conducted nuclear test explosions, spoke. The new head of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Organization (CTBTO), Robert Floyd; the head of the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs; and a civil society representative from Kenya also addressed the Council.

In a departure from the Trump administration, the U.S. envoy’s statement reaffirmed that the United States supports the CTBT and “is committed to achieving its entry into force.” China’s representative also reiterated Beijing’s support for the treaty. Both states have signed the CTBT but failed to ratify. Neither country’s representative indicated when they might seek to complete the ratification process.

India’s envoy told the council that his country “supports the realization of a nuclear weapons free world through a step for step process” and that India participated in the CTBT negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) but could not join the treaty “as it did not address our concerns.” He noted that India will continue to observe a nuclear testing moratorium and is committed to working on disarmament in the CD.

One hundred and eighty-five states have signed the CTBT and 170 have ratified it. Eight key states, including the United States and China and India, must still ratify the treaty for it to formally enter into force.

Since the tit-for-tat Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests of 1998, all states except North Korea have respected the strong de facto international norm created by the CTBT and upheld moratoriums on nuclear weapons testing. Since 2017, even North Korea has halted nuclear testing. The Security Council has condemned each of the handful of nuclear tests conducted since the CTBT’s opening for signature and imposed sanctions in each case.

The last time the Security Council addressed the CTBT issue was on Sept. 22, 2016, when it marked the treaty’s 20th anniversary with the adoption of Resolution 2310. In the resolution, the council stressed the “vital importance and urgency” of achieving the early entry into force of the treaty and urged all states to sign and ratify it. The council also recognized a joint statement from its permanent five members not to take any action that would “defeat the object or purpose of the treaty,” which is to halt “any nuclear weapon test explosion and any other nuclear test explosion.”

Due to opposition from France, however, this year’s special Security Council session did not result in a joint statement, according to multiple diplomatic sources.

Days earlier on Sept. 23 and 24, CTBT member states met for the Conference on Facilitating Entry Into Force of the CTBT, a meeting held every other year to “to promote cooperation aimed at promoting further signatures and ratifications.”

In a video address to the conference, Bonnie Jenkins, the U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs, said “an in-force CTBT is good for the security of the United States, and it is good for the security of all states.”

“I want to make clear,” Jenkins said, “the United States supports the CTBT and is committed to work to achieve its entry into force. This is no easy task. It is important to remember that no one country can make entry into force happen on its own. Within the United States, we recognize that securing the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate to ratification will require deliberate outreach and education to ensure that the benefits of an in-force CTBT are clearly understood by all.”

On Sept. 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement on social media that said: “Countries that are yet to join the treaty need to show political will. The agreement’s entry into force would serve the interests of the whole global community of nations.”

At the insistence of states including the China and the United Kingdom, the CTBT text includes an unorthodox entry into force section, which is spelled out in Article XIV, and is designed to require that India and other nuclear weapons-capable states all join the treaty before it enters into force. Article XIV requires ratification by 44 named states, members of the Conference on Disarmament that also appear in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) list of states with nuclear power reactors. Two of the eight key holdout states, China and the United States, have signed the treaty and have refrained from testing, but they have not yet ratified and have not indicated when they will do so.

Article XIV also established the option for states-parties to the treaty to convene conferences to exhort holdout states to sign and ratify. Germany and Algeria co-chaired the Sept. 27 conference, which was the 12th such conference since the treaty was concluded, and then reported on their efforts to promote the treaty. Italy and South Africa will serve as co-chairs for the coming year.

UN member states also reaffirmed support for an end to nuclear testing at another high-level meeting at UN headquarters on Sept. 8. That conference marked the closure of the former Soviet Union’s former Semipalatinsk test site in eastern Kazakhstan. Thirty years ago, on August 29, 1991, the site was officially shut down after more than 450 nuclear detonations. The UN now recognizes the date as International Day Against Nuclear Tests.

Magzhan Ilyassov, Kazakhstan’s UN ambassador, speaking to UN News said, “For us, the 29th of August is not a day in the calendar. It is a reminder about how traumatic nuclear tests can be for humankind because in Kazakhstan alone, 1.5 million people still suffer, and will unfortunately suffer for future generations, from genetic diseases, cancer, leukemia, which were caused by exposure to nuclear tests.”

In a Sept. 30 statement, UN Secretary General António Guterres said, “I once again urge those states that have not yet ratified the treaty to do so without delay. Eight states whose ratifications are necessary for the treaty to enter into force have a special responsibility. At the same time, all states should maintain or implement moratoria on nuclear explosions. The International Day Against Nuclear Tests is an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to outlaw all nuclear tests, by anyone, anywhere. There is no excuse to delay achieving this goal.”

U.S. President Joe Biden also recognized the day. “On behalf of the United States of America, I want to extend my best wishes to the people of Kazakhstan as you mark three decades since the closure of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site on Aug. 29,” he wrote in a Sept. 1 letter to Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. “The United States remains committed to its close partnership with Kazakhstan, including continued cooperation with your government to secure and remediate the former test site,” Biden wrote.

For CTBT advocates, the Biden administration’s rhetorical support for the treaty is a welcome shift from the policy of the Trump administration, which dismissed the value of the treaty even as it continued to support its global verification system. As recently as last year, some Trump officials reportedly discussed the idea of resuming U.S. testing to influence Chinese and Russian behavior in future arms control talks. Congress responded by prohibiting the use of funds for nuclear test explosions for one year.

The Biden administration is not expected to try to advance support for the CTBT in the U.S. Senate, which is currently divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans and requires 67 votes to provide advice and consent for ratification.

The 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty propelled nuclear-weapon states to halt nuclear weapons testing, but never formally entered into force. Some UN members are trying to motivate holdout states to ratify the agreement.

A Call for Changes to Outdated Nuclear Thinking

Inside the Arms Control Association September 2021 As the Pentagon begins a major assessment of U.S. nuclear weapons policies and capabilities, known as the Nuclear Posture Review, the Arms Control Association and more than two dozen other nuclear experts and disarmament organizations are calling on President Biden “to effect significant and long-overdue changes in U.S. nuclear policy that would dramatically reduce the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons to our nation and the world.” In a detailed September 15 letter organized by the Arms Control Association and sent to the White...

Preserving the Nuclear Testing Taboo

September 2021
By Daryl G. Kimball

For the first five decades of the nuclear age, nuclear weapons test explosions were the most visible symbol of the dangers of nuclear weapons and the omnipresent threat of nuclear war. Most of the 2,000-plus nuclear test blasts were used to confirm new warhead designs and develop more deadly weapons systems, which in turn fueled a dangerous spiral of global nuclear competition.

The Nevada Test Site was the location of 928 of the United States 1,054 nuclear weapons tests. The last U.S. nuclear test was conducted on September 23, 1992. President Clinton signed the CTBT on Sept. 24, 1996. Photo by Nevada National Security Site.Nuclear testing also produced radioactive contamination, not only immediately downwind from the test sites but globally. One independent study from 1991 estimates that nuclear testing led to nearly half a million additional cancer fatalities worldwide through the year 2000.

But since the conclusion of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), nuclear testing has become taboo. The treaty, which opened for signature on Sept. 24, 1996, has near-universal support with 185 signatories, including the five original nuclear testing states. All CTBT states agree that the treaty prohibits “any nuclear weapons test explosion, or any other nuclear explosion” no matter what the yield.

Even those nuclear-armed states that have not signed or not ratified the CTBT, including India, Israel, and Pakistan, observe nuclear testing moratoriums. Only one country has conducted nuclear test explosions in this century, and even that country—North Korea—halted nuclear testing
in 2017.

The CTBT has achieved its core goal: ending all nuclear testing. By this measure, the treaty is one of the most successful agreements in the long history of nuclear arms control and nonproliferation. Without the option to conduct nuclear tests, it is more difficult, although not impossible, for even the most advanced nuclear states to develop, prove, and field new warhead designs. The CTBT is a powerful brake on vertical and horizontal nuclear proliferation.

But we cannot take the nontesting norm for granted. It was only a year ago that some senior Trump officials suggested the United States should resume nuclear testing for the first time in 28 years to intimidate Russia and China. The treaty’s onerous entry-into-force requirement and the failure of eight holdout states, including the United States and China, to ratify the treaty has delayed its full implementation. As a result, the door to nuclear testing remains ajar.

Given the high stakes, there is no room for complacency from the U.S. and other governments, which should understand the importance of preventing the spread of ever more lethal nuclear weapons. States-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) should strengthen their call to action on the CTBT at the upcoming NPT review conference.

President Joe Biden, a long-time CTBT advocate, should reaffirm U.S. support for the treaty and its entry into force. As he declared in 2020, “We have not tested a [nuclear] device since 1992, we don’t need to do so now. A resumption of testing is more likely to prompt other countries to resume militarily significant nuclear testing and undermine our nuclear nonproliferation goals.”

As importantly, the Biden administration needs to pursue the adoption of additional voluntary measures designed to detect and deter possible low-level, clandestine nuclear testing by the major nuclear powers.

Today, the United States, China, and Russia—all CTBT signatories—continue to engage in weapons-related activities at their former nuclear testing sites. Only France has permanently closed its former test site. Although the treaty’s International Monitoring System is operational and far more effective than originally envisioned, very low-yield nuclear weapons test explosions can still be difficult to detect without on-site monitoring equipment or on-site inspections.

In May 2019, the director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency charged that “Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the ‘zero-yield’ standard outlined in the [CTBT].” In April 2020, the State Department claimed that, “during the 1995–2018 timeframe, Russia probably conducted nuclear weapons-related tests” at Novaya Zemlya. In April 2021, the State Department repeated the claim without specifying when such activities may have occurred.

Russia, which has signed and ratified the CTBT, has vigorously denied the charge and pointed to the failure of the United States to ratify the treaty.

If the U.S. government takes its own intelligence reports and arms control compliance seriously, it should develop a proposal for mutual confidence-building measures, such as notification and exchange of information about certain experiments and the installation of additional sensory devices.

Russia suggests such measures should only be pursued after entry into force. That is an unhelpful position. If Russia truly supports entry into force of the CTBT, it could leverage progress by agreeing to implement these voluntary, reciprocal transparency measures after the United States ratifies the CTBT.

A quarter century after it was negotiated, the CTBT has brought an end to nuclear testing. But to keep a de facto global nuclear test moratorium intact, friends of the CTBT will need to do more to rejuvenate efforts to achieve its entry into force and reinforce the taboo against nuclear testing.

For the first five decades of the nuclear age, nuclear weapons test explosions were the most visible symbol of the dangers of nuclear weapons and the omnipresent threat of nuclear war.

A Good Start, But Serious Challenges Lay Ahead

Inside the Arms Control Association July 2021 For nearly a decade, the nuclear arms control and disarmament process has been at a standstill, spending on nuclear weapons has risen to obscene levels and competition between nuclear-armed states has been accelerating. As a result, the risk of nuclear war is increasing. In response, the Arms Control Association has been working to get the U.S. and other major powers to step back from the nuclear brink. We’re making some progress - even as we deal with an unexpected new challenge . At their June 16 summit, President Joe Biden and President...

'A Blow' to Efforts to Reduce Nuclear Risks

For more than 40 years, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has been one of the largest and most important philanthropic institutions supporting work in the nuclear risk reduction and arms control field. But as a report published by Politico this week documents, the MacArthur Foundation’s board of directors decided earlier this year to phase out its work in the field by the end of 2023. Grants from MacArthur for non-profit research and policy advocacy centers, to major academic programs, to some projects led grassroots organizations which seek to advance efforts to prevent the...


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