Login/Logout

*
*  

"[Arms Control Today is] Absolutely essential reading for the upcoming Congressional budget debate on the 2018 #NPR and its specific recommendations ... well-informed, insightful, balanced, and filled with common sense."

– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
CTBT & Nuclear Testing

Close the Door on Nuclear Testing


September 2019
By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

Everybody knows that nuclear weapons have been used twice in wartime and with terrible consequences. Often overlooked, however, is the large-scale, postwar use of nuclear weapons: At least eight countries have conducted 2,056 nuclear test explosions, most of which were far larger than the bombs that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The United States alone has detonated more than 1,030 nuclear explosions in the atmosphere, underwater, and underground.

Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association, outside the P-1 area at the Semipalatinsk Test Site in Eastern Kazakhstan, August 2018.Hundreds of thousands of people have died and millions more have suffered from radiation-related illnesses directly caused by the fallout from nuclear testing. The global scale of suffering took too long to come to light.

Secrecy ruled over safety from the start, such as 70 years ago, on Aug. 29, 1949, when the Soviet Union conducted its first nuclear test in eastern Kazakhstan near the secret town of Semipalatinsk-21. Authorities understood that the test would expose the local population to harmful radioactive fallout, but they pushed ahead in the name of national security, only acknowledging the damage after information leaks in the late-1980s revealed that far more people were exposed to radiation, with more harmful effects, than the Kremlin had previously admitted.

Today, the Kazakh government estimates that Soviet-era testing harmed about 1.5 million people in Kazakhstan alone. A 2008 study by Kazakh and Japanese doctors estimated that the population in areas adjacent to the Semipalatinsk Test Site received an effective dose of 2,000 millisieverts of radiation during the years of testing. In some hot spots, people were exposed to even higher levels. By comparison, the average American is exposed to about 3 millisieverts of radiation each year. The rate of cancer for people living in eastern Kazakhstan is 25 to 30 percent higher than elsewhere in the country.

By 1989, growing concerns about the health impacts of nuclear testing led ordinary Kazakh citizens to rise up and demand a test moratorium. They formed the Nevada-Semipalatinsk anti-nuclear organization. The grassroots movement grew, and popular pressure against testing surged, prompting the Kazakh political establishment, including then-president of Soviet Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to finally shut down all nuclear testing at Semipalatinsk on Aug. 29, 1991.

On Oct. 5, 1991, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev announced a one-year nuclear test moratorium, which led a bipartisan U.S. congressional coalition to introduce legislation to match the Soviet test halt. In 1992 the bill became law over the protestations of President George H.W. Bush. The following year, under pressure from civil society leaders and Congress, President Bill Clinton decided to extend the moratorium and launch talks on the global, verifiable Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which were concluded in 1996.

The CTBT has established a powerful taboo against nuclear testing. Global support for the treaty, which now has 184 state signatories, is strong, and the treaty’s International Monitoring System is fully operational and more capable than originally envisioned. Today, for the first time since 1945, no nuclear-armed state has an active nuclear testing program.

Yet, the door to further nuclear testing remains ajar. Although the treaty has been signed by 184 states, its entry into force is being held up by eight states, most notably the United States, China, and North Korea, which have refused to ratify the pact.

Making matters worse, the Trump administration has accused Russia of cheating on the CTBT without providing evidence, has falsely asserted there is a lack of clarity about what the CTBT prohibits, and has refused to express support for bringing the CTBT into force.

Given their existing nuclear test moratoria and signatures on the treaty, Washington and Beijing already bear most CTBT-related responsibilities. But their failure to ratify has denied them and others the full security benefits of the treaty, including short-notice, on-site inspections to better detect and deter clandestine nuclear testing.

The treaty’s entry into force also would prevent further health injury from nuclear testing and allow responsible states to better address the dangerous legacy of nuclear testing. In Kazakhstan, for example, access to the vast former test site remains restricted. Many areas will remain unusable until and unless the radioactive contamination can be remediated.

In the Marshall Islands, where the United States detonated massive aboveground nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s, several atolls are still heavily contaminated, indigenous populations have been displaced, and some buried radioactive waste could soon leak into the ocean. The U.S. Congress should act to include the downwinders affected by the first U.S. test in 1945 in the health monitoring program established through the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990.

For the safety and security of future generations and out of respect for the people harmed by nuclear testing, our generation must act. It is time to close and lock the door on nuclear testing by pushing the CTBT holdout states to ratify the treaty and address more comprehensively the devasting human and environmental damage of the nuclear weapons era.

Everybody knows that nuclear weapons have been used twice in wartime and with terrible consequences. Often overlooked, however, is the large-scale, postwar use of nuclear weapons: At least eight countries have conducted 2,056 nuclear test explosions, most of which were far larger than the bombs that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Probabilistic Verification: A New Concept for Verifying the Denuclearization of North Korea


September 2019
By Mareena Robinson Snowden

Although U.S.-North Korean talks have stalled, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has abided by an apparent moratorium on nuclear testing, keeping alive hopes that an agreement can be reached to denuclearize North Korea. Implementing such an agreement with North Korea, if one can be negotiated, would constitute an unprecedented challenge for the international community.

IAEA inspectors used seals such as these, among many other tools, when it was asked to verify the shutdown of North Korean nuclear activities in the past. The IAEA has maintained readiness to participate in a future verification regime if any nuclear agreement is concluded. (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)Verifying such an agreement would require building a monitoring regime that goes well beyond traditional international safeguards and bilateral arms control approaches while accommodating legitimate North Korean concerns over intrusiveness, which would practically preclude “anytime, anywhere” inspections. Creativity will be needed to design a verification scheme to which the United States and North Korea could agree and that could be implemented in affordable and practical ways and that politicians would deem credible.

Verification is the means by which parties to an agreement assure themselves that the agreement is being implemented faithfully. A central tension lies at the heart of verification: the need to balance confidence on one side with the sensitivities regarding intrusive monitoring on the other. In nuclear activities negotiations, verification traditionally has been accomplished through two means: international safeguards inspections on fissile material production and bilateral arms control monitoring of nuclear delivery vehicles, such as missiles and bombers. Both systems focused narrowly on just a few activities or items intrinsic to nuclear weapons and constructed monitoring approaches that would provide high confidence of detecting noncompliance.

Over time, the distinctions between these two types of verification regimes have blurred as some states pursued clandestine nuclear weapons programs. In South Africa in 1990, Iraq after 1992, and Libya in 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) undertook activities that went beyond the narrow confines of fissile material accountancy to verify that all three states had ceased nuclear weapons-related activities. More recently, the IAEA investigated “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear activities, including experiments related to nuclear weapons design and testing.

The North Korean verification challenge is more substantial than these prior examples. Complete, irreversible denuclearization would require defining and implementing “disarmament” of a whole category of weapons and the pertinent infrastructure to develop, produce, and upgrade them—in real time. Still, as challenging as nuclear verification in North Korea may be, these historical approaches and ad hoc innovations offer lessons on how to design an approach that can work in North Korea. Experience from other verification regimes, such as the Chemical Weapons Convention, also can be helpful.

A Unique North Korean Verification Challenge

North Korea’s unique challenge demands innovation in the way verification is approached in practice and is conceived in theory. Since the inception of nuclear arms control and international safeguards, decision-makers, particularly in the United States, tended to frame international treaties and their associated verification regimes in binary terms akin to law enforcement: either actors are complying with the terms of the treaty or not. This legalistic view is reinforced by the belief that adherence to all parts of an agreement demonstrates the intent and trustworthiness of the participants. By extension, unwillingness to tolerate even low-level violations, regardless of military significance, signaled parties’ resolve to detect everything, hold each other accountable, and deter cheating.

This framing of verification narrows the scope of what an agreement can cover. To provide the desired near-certain confidence in monitoring compliance, the verification system must cover fewer activities in a more limited geographic area. This narrow scope served a related purpose in the case of U.S.-Soviet arms control, namely to limit reciprocal inspections and monitoring activity in order to protect national security information and mitigate other security concerns. The consistently narrow focus on missiles and their associated launchers in the last three U.S.-Soviet and U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control agreements—the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty of 1987, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) of 1991, and New START of 2010—reflects these considerations.

Achieving the complete denuclearization of North Korea, however, will require negotiators to take a broader view of proscribed activities and items. The tendency of negotiators to focus on easily verified items or activities will be too minimalistic. In addition to monitoring fissile material and nuclear missiles, as done under traditional approaches, a denuclearization regime will need to account for weapons research and development and military-related activities. Additionally, it will need to provide flexibility to resolve inevitable confusion around ambiguous behavior by North Korea.

Stephen Biegun, who leads the U.S. working delegation to negotiate a denuclearization agreement with North Korea, speaks with South Korea's special representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs Lee Do-hoon at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul  on June 28. (Photo: Jeon Heon-kyun/Getty Images)For these reasons, U.S. insistence on a traditional verification framework in negotiations with North Korea—implicit in the U.S. goal of final, fully verified denuclearization in North Korea—does not match the scope of the challenge, nor does it provide negotiators the flexibility needed to reach meaningful agreement. North Korea’s reported resistance to providing an up-front comprehensive declaration of its nuclear program for fear of creating a “target list” shows the need for a new approach.1 The picture is complicated further by the high probability that North Korea will insist on retaining at least some nuclear weapons until the very end of the denuclearization process, as well as missiles that can carry nuclear or conventional warheads. Moreover, given its penchant for secrecy and extreme concerns about regime stability, North Korea probably would not permit on-demand access to sensitive facilities, especially military bases. Beyond resistance by the regime, verifying denuclearization within North Korea also presents specific operational challenges that increase complexity: a poor infrastructure that constrains energy supply, inadequate roads and transportation, risks to the health and safety of inspectors, and topography and tunneling capability that is conducive to the concealment of major items.

All of this amounts to the need to adopt an approach to denuclearization and its verification that is appropriate to this unique combination of challenges and allows for the broad prioritization of key activities and items of military significance. Shifting from the traditional to a probabilistic approach to verification could help negotiators address these challenges and diminish the likelihood that verification becomes an insurmountable obstacle to an agreement.

A Probabilistic Approach to Verification

For a denuclearization agreement to be comprehensive, it would need to prohibit or restrict a broad array of activities and capabilities beyond fissile material production. An associated verification regime requires a high probability of detecting a violation of one or more proscribed activities in time to allow an international response before North Korea could gain a military advantage from the violation. Achieving this target would not require 100 percent confidence that compliance with each and every term of the agreement can be verified. Rather, 100 percent confidence is needed that violation of at least one significant term will be detected in time. This is a critical distinction: though different in its theoretical approach, probabilistic verification in practice can still yield the high confidence required by policymakers in compliance assessments.

Probabilistic verification meets international security needs in situations where perfect or near-perfect verification arrangements are not possible, either because they cannot be imposed on one or more of the parties or because physical or fiscal realities do not allow them. Whereas traditional nuclear verification has focused on one or two readily observable objects or behaviors, such as missile dismantlement efforts or the nonoperation of plutonium-production reactors, probabilistic verification would encompass the many more capabilities and activities that enable a country to build and deploy a nuclear arsenal. In addition to fissile material production, this would cover weapons research and development, delivery vehicle production and systems integration, and military induction of nuclear weapons. This approach draws on the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Nuclear Firewall Project, which identifies key technical and contextual indicators across the range of activities required to develop a nuclear arsenal as a means of distinguishing weapons-related programs from peaceful ones, whether in the context of nonproliferation or nuclear rollback.

The benefit of probabilistic verification comes from an aggregation of detection probabilities that provides an overall monitoring confidence across the full range of activities required for nuclear weapons. Monitoring confidence is a judgment made by nuclear negotiators and the intelligence community about the ability of a monitoring technology to achieve its stated objective.2 For example, if a ban on static rocket motor testing was ever to be negotiated as part of a denuclearization deal between the United States and North Korea, infrared satellite imagery would likely be included as a monitoring technology. As part of this future deal, North Korea would agree not to interfere with remote information gathering by using shields and other masking approaches. The ability of the satellites to observe covert motor tests would be based on how well and how frequently the satellite system was able to observe key zones of interest.

Assessing confidence in monitoring capability can vary based on a number of factors. For example, how effectively an indicator of noncompliance can rise above the background noise of other information will affect confidence in that indicator. The maturity of a monitoring technology will influence its perceived reliability, while its incorporation in previous verification regimes will affect its perceived negotiability. The timeliness of the result will directly affect whether the inspecting state is able to respond to a potential violation before it approaches the threshold of military significance. In the case of satellite-based monitoring of static rocket motor testing, the confidence judgment would be high, based on overall advances in spatial, temporal, and spectral resolution of satellite technology, the increased timeliness of image delivery, and the familiarity with satellite use as a proven information-gathering technology in a military and verification context.

Probabilistic Verification in Practice

A future denuclearization deal would need to monitor a broad range of activity in a variety of technical and military domains simultaneously in order to provide the international community adequate assurance of an end to the North Korean nuclear threat. Some activities for which there are established verification procedures, for example, fissile material production activities traditionally inspected by the IAEA or the deployment of nuclear delivery vehicles under the New START verification protocol, would be relatively straightforward to monitor.

How should negotiators think about the monitoring of activities not historically covered under nuclear agreements, such as the decoupling of warheads from missiles or a ban on weaponization activities and production of large rocket engines? Verifying the absence of such activities would be crucial to ensuring progress toward denuclearization, yet would require a level of access and intrusiveness that has not been negotiated in any previous arms control or international safeguards agreement. A notable exception here pertains to weapons design and development activities proscribed under Section T of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreement with Iran, the implementation of which by the IAEA has proven complicated.3 Negotiators would seem to face a choice between omitting weapons-relevant activities because the probability of detecting noncompliance on each and every activity is low or proscribing these activities and accepting that cheating on some may not be detected. In reality, though, a probabilistic verification system makes the latter option clearly preferable and overall more valuable than the traditional approach.

Generically speaking, in traditional and probabilistic verification regimes, some activities are exceptionally important and must be verifiable with high confidence. Examples could include plutonium production, uranium enrichment, and nuclear explosive testing. Under a probabilistic system, these top-tier activities would be supplemented with the monitoring of a range of other activities or capabilities deemed militarily significant, such as hydrodynamic explosions or static rocket motor testing. Even if 100 percent confidence in verification of these activities is not possible, they still merit proscription.

The innovation here is in shifting the focus of nuclear negotiations to overall monitoring confidence: the ability to detect violation in at least one monitored activity rather than confidence in detecting cheating on every proscribed activity.4 With this flexibility, negotiators can find agreement on a collection of monitoring activities that meets the U.S. requirement for a high overall monitoring confidence while providing a broader range of verification options to offer should North Korea object to any single approach during negotiation. Further, inclusion of activities with medium or low monitoring confidence does not incentivize cheating. In fact, probabilistic verification introduces an additional benefit by expanding the North Korean perception of the risk of cheating to a much broader range of activities that would be critical for sustaining a parallel program or a reconstitution capability.

As shown in table 1, the aggregation effects in a monitoring regime mean that the probability of detecting violation in at least one activity (Pat least one) increases as the number of monitored activities (i) increases. So even in cases where the majority of monitored activities are judged to be of low confidence, for example, in an inspector’s ability to monitor weaponization activities, increasing the number of monitored activities drives up the overall likelihood of detecting violation in at least one. This approach assumes that the probability of detecting violation in any one given activity is independent from others in the collection of monitored activities and items.

Verification experts may debate what constitutes low-, medium-, or high-confidence levels, but the important shift introduced by a probabilistic view on verification is the prioritization of deterrence value alongside detection probability. The U.S. intelligence community treats monitoring technologies with no better than a 50 percent chance of detecting violation, or with 50 percent uncertainty in a measured quantity, as low confidence.5 Yet, this perspective ignores the deterrent value of wide-scale, multimethod monitoring. For state leaders debating whether to cheat on a nuclear deal, a 50 percent chance of being detected is likely perceived as quite high and would be an important consideration in decisions to cheat in a militarily significant way.

In practice, it would be the job of the negotiating delegations, through the use of expert input from the technical, intelligence, and policy communities, to prioritize the activities and items to be included in the monitoring portfolio and estimate the likelihood of detection for each approach. The figure below shows representative examples of portfolio configurations at either end of the confidence spectrum and illustrates that even when activities outside of traditional verification practice are included, high overall monitoring confidence can be achieved. This alternative perspective sees value in the inclusion of activities and technologies that would be disregarded under a traditional verification framework, understanding that deterrence value should be considered alongside the overall confidence of a monitoring technology.

 

Conclusion

The advanced state of the North Korean military nuclear program, coupled with the unique nature of U.S.-North Korean relations, makes the denuclearization verification challenge unlike anything the international community has faced. Traditional approaches alone, safeguards and arms control monitoring, will not provide the coverage needed to confidently assess the elimination of the North Korean nuclear threat, nor are they likely to prove negotiable with North Korea. Thus, the North Korean verification challenge requires innovative thinking and problem solving well beyond the bounds of traditional verification approaches.

Critically, verification must be negotiated hand-in-hand with proscriptions on activities. Verification considerations should guide the prioritization of activities to limit, but in a way that broadens the scope and creates flexibility for how such limitations might be verified over time. If Pyongyang accepts proscription of an activity or technology, it would be foolish not to proscribe it merely because North Korea objects to a particular verification approach. The history of breakdowns in the 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea and the later six-party talks, largely over differences of view on verification, underscores the importance of synergy between limitations and monitoring approach. A more flexible approach to verification, one that preserves monitoring confidence, provides negotiators with more options, and more fully contains the qualitative and quantitative improvements to North Korea’s nuclear program, is the best chance to provide sufficient verification and, over time, help create conditions under which North Korea would fully disarm.

 

ENDNOTES

1. “Trump to Meet With Kim Jong-un, Despite North Korea’s Lapses, Bolton Says,” The New York Times, December 4, 2018.

2. Howard Stoertz Jr., “Monitoring a Nuclear Freeze,” International Security, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Spring 1984): 95.

3. See Jarrett Blanc, “There Is No Crisis in JCPOA Section T,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, October 17, 2017, https://carnegieendowment.org/2017/10/17/there-is-no-crisis-in-jcpoa-section-t-pub-73454.

4. The probability of detecting violation in at least one proscribed activity is 1-Pnone=1-∏i1-Pi, where Pi is the violation detection probability in activity/item i.

5. Stoertz, “Monitoring a Nuclear Freeze,” p. 95.

 


Mareena Robinson Snowden is a senior engineer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Prior to this, she served as a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where her research focused on nuclear arms control verification, nonproliferation, and modernization.

An innovative verification approach could help build confidence that North Korea is complying with any denuclearization agreement in the future.

REMARKS: Time for the World to Wake Up


September 2019
By Heinz Fischer

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) remains a shining example of how science and technology can help contribute to positive political and diplomatic outcomes.

(Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)The treaty has had a significant positive impact since it was adopted in 1996. With the notable exception of North Korea, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has achieved de facto implementation despite not having entered into force, with no other nuclear state having carried out a nuclear test since 1998.

And despite the lack of entry into force, the CTBT and CTBTO have made important contributions in making it easier to detect nuclear tests, and in establishing a strong normative taboo against states carrying out nuclear tests.

This has made a notable contribution to protecting the world from the deeply harmful environmental and health impacts of nuclear testing, and is an important step on the path towards total disarmament.

All this has been possible because of the hard work and commitment of a group of scientists and technology experts who nearly 30 years ago undertook intensive, complex and sensitive groundwork to pave the way for a deal.

Their efforts made it easier for the diplomats to negotiate the final text, because there was already a scientific and technological consensus on the parameters.

Therefore, all of us express our admiration and gratitude for all that this organization has done over the decades to support nuclear non-proliferation and the true cause of peace.

But I fear it is a bittersweet moment, because there is today an acute risk that rash and hubristic policy shifts could undo all the valuable work the CTBTO and others have achieved, bringing us closer to the brink of a devastating nuclear war than any time since the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

We currently find ourselves at one of the most dangerous times for arms control efforts for many decades. The bilateral arms control architecture developed between the United States and the Soviet Union towards the end of the Cold War is being rapidly unraveled, through a combination of neglect, hubris and erroneous threat analysis.

The risk of a catastrophic nuclear event, whether by accident or design, is increased by the paralysis in international bodies charged with upholding peace and security, most notably the United Nations Security Council.

Ban Ki-moon had the honor of addressing the Council earlier this month in New York as a member of The Elders, the group of independent leaders founded by Nelson Mandela who work for peace, justice and human rights.

Together with Mary Robinson, he spoke frankly to the Council and particularly its five permanent members—all nuclear-armed states—to remind them of their uniquely heavy responsibility to develop effective processes of nonproliferation and disarmament.

But there are only few signs of the P5 and other states with nuclear weapons capabilities showing willing to meet these, as national and international politics appears increasingly driven by polarization, isolationism and an alarming disdain for the very principles of multilateralism.

The imminent expiration of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in August is the most significant blow, with the potential to threaten the stability not only of Europe, but also much of Asia, if it leads to a renewed arms race involving the United States, China, India and Pakistan.

The decision of U.S. President Donald Trump to withdraw from the INF is symptomatic of a much broader negative context of unilateral moves and repudiation of previous agreements.

Consider the possible collapse of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—an agreement negotiated so painstakingly here in Vienna, and which was universally deemed to be working well before the American decision, with all the implications we see now for rising tensions between Iran and the United States and wider Middle East security.

Consider as well the recent U.S. withdrawal from the Arms Trade Treaty, and growing concern as to whether the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the United States and Russia will be extended beyond February 2021.

The world needs to wake up to the severity of the current threat, and the nuclear states must get serious about taking steps towards disarmament to avert an incalculable catastrophe.

Nuclear weapons constitute an existential threat to the future of humanity, just as much as climate change.

And just as science plays an indispensable role in the fight against climate change, so it must now be mobilized in the service of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.

This includes exact and dispassionate analysis of new technological developments that risk complicating and destabilizing traditional practices of arms control and disarmament, including artificial intelligence, cyber-technology and space-based delivery and tracking systems.

In the longer term, total disarmament is likely to require the multilateral agreement of a Nuclear Weapons Convention.

This may seem a remote prospect today. But, in order for such a convention to be a realistic possibility in the future, there is an important need for substantial work to be done now to find technological solutions that can enable total disarmament to take place with confidence that effective verification and enforcement mechanisms are in place.

All of us need to treat these issues with the utmost seriousness and urgency.

This is why The Elders have launched a new initiative on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, which was presented by Mary Robinson and Lakhdar Brahimi to the Munich Security Conference this February.

They are calling on the nuclear powers to pursue a “minimization agenda” that could help to reduce the nuclear threat and make concrete progress towards disarmament.

Nuclear states should and must make progress in four areas:

  • doctrine—all states making a “no first use” declaration;
  • de-alerting—taking almost all nuclear weapons off high alert status;
  • deployment—dramatically reducing the numbers of weapons actively deployed;
  • and decreased numbers—for Russia and the United States to adopt deep cuts in warhead numbers to around 500 each, with no increase in warheads by other states.

Above all, the nuclear states must work to reduce tensions and take practical, concrete steps to demonstrate to the world that they do not intend to keep these weapons indefinitely.

In this regard, it would be a tremendously positive step for the nuclear states to make concrete progress towards finally bringing the CTBT into force. Ban Ki-moon is calling upon the eight remaining “Annex 2 states” who have not yet ratified the CTBT—six of whom possess nuclear weapons—to do so at the earliest opportunity. There is no good reason to fail to sign or ratify this treaty, and any country that opposes this is failing to meet its responsibilities as a member of the international community.

Steps towards disarmament need to be implemented with the understanding that the binary divide of the Cold War, with Washington on the one side and Moscow on the other, is no longer dominant.

Instead we live in a world of interlinked nuclear chains, where decisions by one state can have a ripple effect beyond any one immediate strategic environment. The threatened collapse of the INF is a case in point; its demise will not just raise security threats on the European continent but also spark instability and potential strategic escalation in other regions, especially Asia.

The only way to tackle these threats is to internationalize and multilateralism the issue, including via the United Nations and bodies such as the CTBTO. Only by facing this threat together, as a global community, can we hope to find a durable solution.

No country individually, nor the international system collectively, has the capacity to cope with the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons.

When the first atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, it made no distinction between combatants and civilians, old and young, or victims and the first responders trying to help them.

For the very survival of humanity, nuclear weapons must never be used again, under any circumstances. The only guarantee of the non-use of nuclear weapons is their complete abolition.

We will only reach this goal if the broad mass of humanity understands the urgent nature of the threat, and the political and moral imperative for drastic action to cut the number of warheads and fundamentally reassess strategic defense postures and doctrines.


Adapted from a speech by Heinz Fischer, co-chair of the Ban Ki-moon Centre, at the opening ceremony of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Science and Technology Conference in Vienna, June 24.

The co-chair of the Ban Ki-moon Centre warns of an unraveling system of restraints on the nuclear powers.

France Admits Nuclear Coercion in Polynesia


French President Emmanuel Macron signed a new law July 5 acknowledging that Paris coerced French Polynesia into hosting nuclear testing from 1966 to 1996. Introduced as a revision of a 2004 statute governing Polynesian territorial autonomy, the law states that French Polynesia was made to participate by France in “the construction of its nuclear deterrent and national defense.” Previously, French leaders had simply praised the territory for its role in testing. France is now legally committed to the “economic and structural reconversion” of the area.

Former president of French Polynesia Oscar Temaru attends a 2014 ceremony at a nuclear test victim memorial in Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia.  A new law has moved France toward recognizing the toll of nuclear testing on Polynesian residents. (Photo: Gregory Boissy/AFP/Getty Images)The law permits the government to compensate Polynesians affected by radiation-induced illness over the course of the tests, but France’s Constitutional Council struck down a provision allocating $100 million annually for remediation on June 27. Expressing frustration with the difficulty of receiving compensation, Polynesian opposition groups have called for the law to be overturned altogether.

A total of 193 nuclear tests were conducted in French Polynesia near the atolls of Moruroa and Fangataufa, many of which were atmospheric explosions. Declassified documents revealed in 2013 that radioactive contamination was much more extensive than the government had previously admitted.—OWEN LeGRONE

France Admits Nuclear Coercion in Polynesia

U.S. Claims of Illegal Russian Nuclear Testing: Myths, Realities, and Next Steps

Body: 


Updated August 21, 2019
By Daryl G. Kimball
Executive Director, Arms Control Association

Download PDF

In prepared remarks delivered at the Hudson Institute May 29, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, Jr., charged that “Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the ‘zero-yield’ standard outlined in the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).”

Russia has vigorously denied the allegation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the accusation “a crude provocation” and pointed to the United States’ failure to ratify the CTBT.

On June 12, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, “we are acting in full and absolute accordance with the treaty ratified by Moscow and in full accordance with our unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests.”

The DIA director’s remarks, and a subsequent June 13 statement on the subject, are quite clearly part of an effort by Trump administration hardliners to suggest that Russia is conducting nuclear tests to improve its arsenal, and that the United States must be free of any constraints on its own nuclear weapons development effort, and, indirectly, to try to undermine the CTBT itself—a treaty the Trump administration has already said it will not ratify.

The challenges posed by the new U.S. allegations are significant and they demand a proactive plan of action by “friends of the CTBT” governments for a number of reasons.

First, any violation of the CTBT by Russia, which has signed and ratified the agreement, or any other signatory, would be a serious matter. But thus far, the Trump administration has not presented any credible information to back up the allegation. As late as December 2015, it was the view of the United States government that the only state in recent years that has tested nuclear weapons in a way that produced a nuclear yield is North Korea. This begs the question of what, if anything, has changed since then that would support a different conclusion.

The most effective way, of course, to enforce compliance is to bring the CTBT into force, which would allow for intrusive, short-notice, on-site inspections to detect and deter any possible cheating. In response to the recent U.S. allegations, CTBT states parties should encourage the U.S. government, if it believes it has credible evidence that Russia is violating its CTBT commitments, to negotiate arrangements for mutual confidence-building visits to the respective U.S. and Russian test sites, involving technical experts, to address any compliance concerns.

Second, the DIA allegations falsely suggest there are different national interpretations of what activities the CTBT prohibits. According to the U.S. State Department, the United States, Russia and China and all of the other NPT nuclear-weapon states have publicly affirmed that the Treaty’s Article I prohibition on “any nuclear weapons test explosion, or any other nuclear explosion” bans all nuclear test explosions, no matter what the yield.

Third, even if Russia or other advanced nuclear-armed states are conducting very low-yield nuclear test explosions, it is technically incorrect for the DIA to suggest that low-yield nuclear explosions are militarily significant for states that have extensive experience with nuclear weapons testing when, in reality, they are not militarily useful.

Finally, the allegations could prompt some officials in the Trump administration to advocate for the “removal” of the U.S. signature from the list of 184 states parties to the treaty—an action that Trump’s National Security Adviser, John Bolton, once advocated when he held a senior position at the State Department in 2002. Such a move could have a ripple effect that could undermine necessary financial and political support for the CTBT Organization’s International Monitoring System, and over time, weaken the taboo against nuclear weapons testing itself.

In response, governments that support the CTBT should:

  • reaffirm that CTBT states parties agree that the CTBT’s prohibition on nuclear weapon test explosion bans nuclear explosions of any yield;
  • develop and advance a multilateral plan for resolving charges of noncompliance based on the treaty’s provisions for confidence-building measures; and
  • clarify the costs of any attempt by the United States (or any other signatory state) to “un-sign” the treaty.
     

The Myths and Realities of the DIA Allegations

When pressed in the question and answer session of the May 29 event by Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Gordon about whether Russian officials have simply set up the Novaya Zemlya test site “in such a way that they could conduct experiments in excess of a zero-yield ban in the CTBT” or are actually conducting nuclear test explosions, Ashley would only say that Russia had the “capability” to conduct very low-yield supercritical nuclear tests in contravention of the treaty.

Ashley also implied that China may not be complying with the CTBT. He claimed that “China’s lack of transparency on their nuclear testing activities raise questions as to whether China could achieve such progress without activities inconsistent with the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty,” but he did not provide any evidence that China has violated the treaty.

Tim Morrison, senior director for weapons of mass destruction and biodefense at the National Security Council who spoke on a panel following Ashley at the May 29 Hudson Institute event tried to clarify Ashley’s remarks. “I think General Ashley was clear,” Morrison said, “that we believe Russia has taken actions to improve its nuclear weapons capabilities that run counter or contrary to its own statements regarding the scope of its obligations under the treaty.”

Ashley’s statement was anything but clear. On June 13, in response to numerous press inquiries about the ambiguous charges, the DIA issued another statement, which said: “The U.S. government, including the intelligence community, has assessed that Russia has conducted nuclear weapons tests that have created nuclear yield.”

This statement, though still vague, represents a significant shift from other very recent U.S. government and intelligence community assessments that suggest Russia has not violated the CTBT.

In December 2015, former Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller told the House Armed Services Committee that “within this century, the only state that has tested nuclear weapons ... in a way that produced a nuclear yield is North Korea.” No charge of a Russian violation of the “zero-yield” nuclear test moratorium was reported by the State Department in its Annual Report on Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments, until the August 2019 edition, which simply repeats the June 13 DIA statement.

Furthermore, this June 13 DIA statement does not clarify whether the assessment is a joint intelligence community assessment, what the confidence level is, whether it only represents the view of the DIA and the National Security Council staff.
 


A Familiar Charge Based on Old Information? Given the lack of specificity of the DIA allegations, it may be a case of the new administration’s political appointees interpreting older intelligence data points differently.

The DIA assessment that “Russia probably is not adhering” to the CTBT echoes charges by test ban opponents inside and outside the government that have surfaced intermittently over the years that Russia may be conducting nuclear test detonations are extremely low yields in a containment structure at its Soviet-era nuclear test site on the arctic island of Novaya Zemlya.

In 2002, The New York Times reported that George W. Bush “administration officials have briefed Congress on what they described as disturbing intelligence indicating that Russia is preparing to resume nuclear tests.”

In 2009, the Republican appointees of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, led by former defense secretary James Schlesinger cited earlier intelligence assessments to argue Russia was not complying with the CTBT. Like Lt. Gen. Ashley of the DIA, they also erroneously charged that Russia does not agree with the United States on what the CTBT prohibits.

They ignored or else were not aware of statements by Russian officials during the process for approval for ratification of the CTBT by the State Duma in 2000 that made it clear that Russia agrees that the CTBT prohibits all test explosions, including “hydronuclear experiments,” whatever the level of
energy released.

In their section of the report, which was not endorsed by the Democratic appointees, the Republican members of the commission asserted that: “With no agreed definition [on the scope of the CTBT or of what a nuclear explosion is] U.S. relative understanding of these capabilities would fall further behind over time and undermine our capability to deter tactical threats against allies.”

The 12-member bipartisan commission was split on whether the United States should seek ratification but agreed that “the United States should seek clarification—and a clear understanding—on what tests are banned by this treaty, since there seems to be some ambiguity and confusion on that point.”

Such an approach may sound appealing to some. However, given that the states parties believe they have a common understanding that the CTBT is a “zero-yield” prohibition, such an option is unnecessary. Rather, a simple reiteration of previous statements is more practical and just as effective.

“Zero-Yield” Understanding: In his May 29 remarks, Ashley also said the DIA assessment was based, in part, on the view that Russia “has not affirmed the language of zero-yield.” This assertion is wrong.

As documented in a series of CTBT fact sheets published by the State Department in September 2011, Russia and China and all of the other NPT nuclear weapon states have publicly affirmed publicly that the treaty’s Article I undertakings “not to carry out any nuclear weapons test explosion, or any other nuclear explosion” prohibit all nuclear test explosions, no matter what the yield.

“At the time the treaty opened for signature, all parties understood that the treaty was a “zero-yield” treaty as advocated by the United States in the negotiations,” according to a Sept. 28, 2011 fact sheet from the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance titled “Scope of the CTBT.”

The “United States led the efforts to ensure the treaty was a ‘zero-yield’ treaty, after the parties had negotiated for years over possible low levels of testing that might be allowed under the agreement,” the document notes. “Public statements by national leaders, confirmed that all parties understood that the CTBT was and is, in fact, a ‘zero-yield’ treaty.”

As the State Department’s paper on “Key P-5 Public Statements on CTBT Scope” notes:

“Some countries prefer to use the term “no threshold,” meaning there is no line (or threshold) below which any amount of yield from a nuclear weapon test explosion would be allowed, and this usage is reflected in statements by senior P-5 government officials. The expression is translated into English in various ways: prohibition of ‘tests at whatever level,’ ‘without any threshold,’ ‘without threshold values,’ ‘regardless of the power,’ ‘any release of nuclear energy,’ or ‘regardless of the level.’ All of these formulations refer to the same concept: zero yield.”

Under this “zero-yield” interpretation, supercritical hydronuclear tests (which produce a self-sustaining fission chain reaction) are banned by the treaty, but subcritical hydrodynamic experiments, which do not produce a self-sustaining fission chain reaction, are permitted.

Ambassador Stephen Ledogar, chief U.S. negotiator of the CTBT, testified under oath to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on October 7, 1999 that Russia and the rest of the P-5 had committed to this zero-yield standard.

Chief U.S. negotiator for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Amb. Stephen Ledogar, testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Oct. 7, 1999. He stated under oath that: “I have heard some critics of the Treaty seek to cast doubt on whether Russia …committed itself … to a truly comprehensive prohibition of any nuclear explosion, including an explosion…of even the slightest nuclear yield. In other words, did Russia agree that hydronuclear experiments, which do produce a nuclear yield, although usually very, very slight, would be banned and that hydrodynamic explosions, which have no yield because they do not reach criticality, would not be banned? The answer is a categorical ‘yes.’ The Russians as well as the rest of the P-5 did commit themselves.” (Image: C-SPAN)In a March 1996 statement from China’s lead CTBT negotiator, Ambassador Sha Zukang, “the Chinese delegation proposed at the outset of the negotiations its scope text prohibiting any nuclear-weapon test explosion which releases nuclear energy. The future CTBT, he said, will without any threshold prohibit any nuclear-weapon test explosion.”

More recently, Russia has publicly reaffirmed its commitment to this standard. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on July 29, 2009 that: “Under the global ban on nuclear tests, we can only use computer-assisted simulations to ensure the reliability of Russia’s nuclear deterrent.”

Furthermore, Russia reasserted its position in an April 2017 commentary co-authored by Ryabkov and CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo, who wrote that the treaty “prohibits ‘any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion,’ anywhere on Earth, whatever the yield.”

Lt. Gen. Ashley acknowledged at the May 29 Hudson Institute event that he was not aware of Ryabkov’s essay.

“Un-signing” the Treaty? According to The Washington Post, Republican Senators Tom Cotton (Ark.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), John Cornyn (Tex.) and James Lankford (Okla.) sent a March letter to President Donald Trump asking him whether he would consider “un-signing” the CTBT.

Similarly, back in 2002, The New York Times reported that: “Officials at the Departments of Defense, Energy and State, and at the National Security Council have discussed whether President Bush should renounce Mr. Clinton’s signature on the test-ban treaty.” The chief advocate for un-signing at the time was John Bolton, who was then the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, and who is now the National Security Advisor to the President.

Formally withdrawing the U.S. signature from the CTBT would be self-defeating and profoundly counterproductive. If the United States were to formally withdraw its signature from the treaty, it would lose access to the nuclear test monitoring provided by the IMS, which even CTBT opponents acknowledge is valuable for the United States.

According to the Trump administration’s budget request to Congress in 2017: “The U.S. receives the data the IMS provides, which is an important supplement to U.S. National Technical Means to monitor for nuclear explosions (a mission carried out by the U.S. Air Force). A reduction in IMS capability could deprive the U.S. of an irreplaceable source of nuclear explosion monitoring data.”

According to the rules of the CTBT, only state signatories can have access to the IMS monitoring information, and only state signatories have voting rights in the CTBT Organization meetings.

Military Significance of Very Low-Yield Nuclear Test Explosions: The May 29 presentation by the DIA director sought to connect Russia’s ongoing effort to replace and upgrade its nuclear weapons delivery systems with his allegation that “Russia probably is not adhering to” the CTBT.

It is well-documented, however, that from a technical perspective, very low-yield nuclear test explosions, including hydronuclear experiments, are useful only for unboosted nuclear warhead designs with yields of less than 10 tons. There is no mission for such a warhead that conventional warheads could not accomplish with less collateral damage. (See: Technical Issues Related to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Report of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on International Security and Arms Control, 2002.)

Comprising nearly a mile and a half of underground tunnels and alcoves, the U1a facility is a state-of-the-art laboratory dedicated to subcritical experiments and other physics experiments in support of science-based stockpile stewardship. (Photo: Nevada National Security Site)Furthermore, an earlier August 1995 report on “Nuclear Testing” conducted by the independent JASON scientific advisory group for the U.S. Department of Energy determined that:

“So-called hydronuclear tests, defined as limited to a nuclear yield of less than 4 lbs. TNT equivalent, can be performed only after making changes that drastically alter the primary implosion. A persuasive case has not been made for the utility of hydronuclear tests for detecting small changes in the performance margins for current U.S. weapons. At best, such tests could confirm the safety of a device against producing detectable nuclear yield if its high explosive is detonated accidentally at one point.”

Siegfried S. Hecker, former director of the Los Alamos weapons laboratory told The New York Times he is skeptical of the charges that Russia was conducting low-yield tests to create new weapons.

If Russia was engaged in any low-yield testing at Novaya Zemlya, where Moscow conducted nuclear tests until it declared a testing moratorium in October 1991, he said it would most likely relate to experiments to enhance the safety and reliability of Russia’s nuclear arsenal—not the development of new types of nuclear warheads. Therefore, Hecker said, if there is very low-yield nuclear testing, “I don’t think it’s militarily significant.”

Next Steps

Pursue Options for Resolving the Compliance Dispute. Under Article VI of the treaty, which addresses the settlement of disputes before or after treaty entry into force, “the parties concerned shall consult together with a view to the expeditious settlement of the dispute by negotiation or by other peaceful means of the parties’ choice, including recourse to appropriate organs of this Treaty.” Such measures could, for instance, involve mutual confidence-building visits to the respective U.S. and Russian test sites by technical experts to address concerns about compliance.

At the November 2002 Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the CTBT, Igor Sergeev, adviser to the Russian president on the issues of strategic stability, suggested “examining the possibility of elaborating additional monitoring measures for nuclear test sites, going far beyond the framework of the provisions of the treaty; such measures might include exchanging geological data and the results of certain experiments, the installation of additional sensory devices, and other measures.”

This proposal was originally made by Russian authorities with the hope and understanding that such steps could be pursued after U.S. ratification and entry into force of the CTBT. Given the passage of time and the nature of the new U.S. allegations, such an approach would be useful to consider before CTBT entry into force.

Because the United States and Russia both engage in subcritical experimental activities in underground containment structures at their Cold War-era test sites—the Nevada National Security Site (formerly the Nevada Test Site) and at Novaya Zemlya—it is in the interest of both countries, as well as the international community, to develop and implement transparency measures to increase confidence that neither state is conducting low-yield explosions that are the result of a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.

The joint statement that will emerge from the upcoming Sept. 25 CTBT Article XIV Conference on Facilitating the Entry Into Force of the CTBT presents a useful opportunity for states parties to:

  • “underscore that the most effective way to enforce compliance with the zero-yield standard is to bring it into force, which would allow for intrusive, short-notice, on-site inspections to detect and deter any possible cheating, and
  • call upon any signatory or states party that might have credible evidence that one or another state signatory is taking actions that violate the CTBT to pursue confidence building visits by technical experts for the purpose of addressing concerns about compliance.”

Reaffirm that All States Parties Share the “Zero-Yield” Understanding of Article I of the CTBT. Russia and the other nuclear weapon state signatories to the CTBT should reiterate their previous statements on the scope of the CTBT.

Other states parties should also publicly reaffirm their view that Article I of the CTBT prohibits all nuclear explosions at any yield, including hydro-nuclear test explosions in experimental containment chambers.

The joint statement that will emerge from the Sept. 25 conference should reiterate CTBT states parties’ common understanding that Article I of the CTBT prohibits all nuclear explosions at any yield, including any hydro-nuclear test explosions in experimental containment chambers.

Reaffirm Support for Entry Into Force and the Cost of Un-Signing the CTBT. To help deter a possible decision by the Trump administration to formally exit the CTBT, it is essential to make it clear that such a move would lead to international condemnation and carry tangible costs.

Specifically, CTBT states should reiterate that only state signatories can have access to the IMS monitoring information, and only state signatories have voting rights in the CTBT Organization meetings.

The biennial Article XIV Conference on Facilitating the Entry Into Force of the CTBT, which will convene on Sept. 25, 2019 at the United Nations in New York, is a critical opportunity to do more than simply reiterate calls for prompt action by CTBT hold-out states to sign and/or ratify the CTBT in order to bring it formally into force. The joint statement should also:

  • underscore that the most effective way to enforce compliance with the zero-yield standard is to bring it into force, which would allow for intrusive, short-notice, on-site inspections to detect and deter any possible cheating; and
  • if there are credible concerns that one or another state signatory is violating the CTBT, states parties should, as suggested in Article VI of the treaty, agree to mutual confidence-building visits by technical experts to address concerns about compliance.

The 2019 debate on the resolution on the CTBT is another crucial opportunity to express support for these points, and to try to win support from North Korea for the resolution.

In November 2018, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution on the CTBT (A/C.1/73/L.26) that “urges all States that have not yet signed or ratified, or that have signed but not yet ratified ... to sign and ratify it as soon as possible.” The resolution was approved 183-1-4. Only North Korea, whose recent nuclear tests were condemned in the resolution, voted no. The United States abstained from the vote.

If the drafters of the 2019 UNGA resolution “welcome North Korea’s unilateral nuclear test moratorium” and call upon all remaining Annex 2 states to sign and/or ratify, there would be a much higher chance North Korea might decide to vote “yes.”

Conclusions

The CTBT has established a powerful taboo against nuclear testing. Global support for the treaty, which now has 184 state signatories, is strong, and the treaty’s International Monitoring System is fully operational and more capable than originally envisioned. Today, for the first time since 1945, no nuclear-armed state has an active nuclear testing program.

Yet, the door to further nuclear testing remains ajar. Although the treaty has been signed by 184 states, its entry into force is being held up by eight states, most notably the United States, China, and North Korea, which have refused to ratify the pact, and North Korea’s voluntary nuclear testing halt, announced in 2018, could easily be reversed.

Given their existing nuclear test moratoria and the U.S. and Chinese signatures on the treaty, these states bear some but not all CTBT-related responsibilities. But their failure to ratify has denied them (and others) the full security benefits of the treaty, including short-notice, on-site inspections to better detect and deter clandestine nuclear testing.

For the safety and security of future generations and out of respect for the people harmed by nuclear testing, it is time to close and lock the door on nuclear testing. “Friends of the CTBT” states need to pursue new, more creative, and sustained strategies to encourage the CTBT holdout states to ratify the treaty, address any credible allegations and concerns about noncompliance prior to formal CTBT entry into force, and take other steps to reinforce the norm against nuclear weapons test explosions, no matter what the yield.

Description: 

In prepared remarks delivered at the Hudson Institute May 29, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, Jr., charged that “Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the ‘zero-yield’ standard outlined in the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).”

Country Resources:

Subject Resources:

Assessing Progress on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament: 2016-2019 Report Card

This report is the fourth in a series that assesses the extent to which 11 key states are fulfilling, promoting, or undermining 10 standards identified as critical elements of the nonproliferation and disarmament regime during the period between 2016 and June 2019.

Collectively, states fared worse on the majority of criteria when compared with the prior edition, which covered the 2013–2016 period.

Download this report.

U.S. Questions Russian CTBT Compliance


July/August 2019
By Daryl G. Kimball

A top U.S. intelligence official publicly accused Russia in May of not complying with the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), raising concerns that the Trump administration may be considering withdrawing from another multilateral arms control agreement. The allegation is a significant shift from recent U.S. government and intelligence community assessments.

Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testifies to Congress on January 29. Speaking at a May event in Washington, Ashley accused Russia of not adhering to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)“Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the ‘zero-yield’ standard” outlined in the CTBT, said Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), in remarks to the Hudson Institute May 29.

Article I of the treaty requires its parties “not to carry out any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion,” and the issues of low-yield, zero-yield, and subcritical tests were debated at length during the treaty’s negotiation.

The new allegation veers from recent U.S. assessments. In December 2015, for example, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told the House Armed Services Committee that “within this century, the only state that has tested nuclear weapons...in a way that produced a nuclear yield is North Korea.” More recently, no charge of a Russian CTBT violation was made in the State Department’s annual compliance report released in April.

The allegation raises a number of key questions and poses significant new challenges for states that support the CTBT, including how the Trump administration plans to address the compliance concern and whether officials believe low-yield nuclear explosions to be militarily significant.

Following the charges, some Republican U.S. senators urged the administration to remove the United States from the list of 184 signatories of the treaty, an action that President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, once advocated when he held a senior State Department position in 2002. Whether the Trump administration will seek to exit the CTBT, which it has already said it does not support, is not yet clear. Unlike Russia, the United States has not ratified the pact, a step needed for the treaty to enter into force.

Ambiguous Charges

Asked by a journalist at the Hudson Institute briefing if Russian officials have only “set up at their test site at Novaya Zemlya in such a way that they could conduct experiments in excess of a zero-yield ban in the CTBT” or have actually conducted nuclear test explosions, Ashley said only that Russia had the “capability” to conduct very low-yield supercritical nuclear tests in contravention of the treaty.

He also implied that China may not be complying with the CTBT, saying that “China’s lack of transparency on their nuclear testing activities raises questions as to whether China could achieve such progress without activities inconsistent” with the treaty. He did not provide any evidence that China has violated the treaty.

A White House official sought to clarify Ashley’s comments later at the same event. “I think General Ashley was clear,” said Tim Morrison, senior director for weapons of mass destruction and biodefense at the National Security Council. “We believe Russia has taken actions to improve its nuclear weapons capabilities that run counter or contrary to its own statements regarding the scope of its obligations under the treaty.”

Responding to a flurry of inquiries sparked by Ashley’s comment, the DIA said in a statement June 13, “The U.S. government, including the intelligence community, has assessed that Russia has conducted nuclear weapons tests that have created nuclear yield.”

This statement did not clarify whether the assessment is a joint intelligence community assessment, how much confidence the community has in the assessment, or if the charge is based on very recent intelligence findings or is a new interpretation of older intelligence.

Russia, which signed the CTBT in 1996 and ratified it in 2000, has vigorously denied the allegation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the accusation “a crude provocation” and pointed to the U.S. failure to ratify the treaty. “We are acting in full and absolute accordance with the treaty ratified by Moscow and in full accordance with our unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests,” he said on June 12.

Treaty Status and Verification

The United States signed the CTBT the day it opened for signature in 1996, but the Senate declined to provide its advice and consent for ratification in 1999 after a short and highly partisan debate. In 2009, President Barack Obama said his administration would pursue reconsideration of the pact, but he concentrated early arms control efforts on the negotiation and ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. By 2012, Republicans regained control of the Senate, making CTBT ratification unlikely.

The United States plans to spend nearly $500 billion to maintain and replace its nuclear arsenal over the next decade—a level of spending that is unnecessary, unsustainable, and unsafe. Learn more.

To enter into force, the treaty requires ratifications from 44 specific states, and eight of those (China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States) have still not taken that step. Nevertheless, the treaty has established a de facto global moratorium on nuclear testing; and the treaty’s verification tools, the International Monitoring System (IMS) and the International Data Center, have been completed and are fully operational.

The treaty drafters anticipated that the pact would need additional means to detect and deter violations, particularly involving nuclear test explosions at very low yields. If and when the treaty formally enters into force, a state-party may request a short-notice, on-site inspection to investigate a possible violation. The request can be based on information collected by the IMS or through national technical means. Such inspections require the approval of at least 30 members of the treaty’s 51-nation Executive Council, which must decide on inspection requests within 96 hours. An inspection team would arrive at the suspected nation within six days of the council’s receipt of the inspection request.

Under Article VI of the treaty, which addresses the settlement of disputes before or after entry into force, “the parties concerned shall consult together with a view to the expeditious settlement of the dispute by negotiation or by other peaceful means of the parties’ choice, including recourse to appropriate organs of this treaty.” Such measures could involve mutual confidence-building visits to U.S. and Russian test sites by technical experts to address compliance concerns.

‘Zero-Yield’

The DIA assessment that “Russia probably is not adhering” to the CTBT echoes longtime charges by test ban opponents that Russia does not share the U.S. interpretation of what the treaty prohibits and may be conducting extremely low-yield nuclear tests in a containment structure at its Soviet-era nuclear test site on the arctic island of Novaya Zemlya.

In his May 29 remarks, Ashley said the DIA assessment was partly based on the view that Russia “has not affirmed the language of zero yield.” This assertion contradicts State Department fact sheets published in 2011 that report that Russia and all other nuclear-weapon states recognized by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) have publicly affirmed the CTBT prohibition on all nuclear test explosions, no matter the yield.

“At the time the treaty opened for signature, all parties understood that the treaty was a ‘zero-yield’ treaty as advocated by the United States in the negotiations,” according to a September 2011 publication from the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance.

“The United States led the efforts to ensure the treaty was a ‘zero-yield’ treaty, after the parties had negotiated for years over possible low levels of testing that might be allowed under the agreement,” according to the document. “Public statements by national leaders confirmed that all parties understood that the CTBT was and is, in fact, a ‘zero-yield’ treaty.”

Under this zero-yield interpretation, supercritical hydronuclear tests, which produce a self-sustaining fission chain reaction, are banned by the treaty. Subcritical hydrodynamic experiments, which do not produce a self-sustaining fission chain reaction, are permitted.

Stephen Ledogar, chief U.S. negotiator of the CTBT, testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Oct. 7, 1999, that Russia and the rest of the NPT nuclear-weapon states had committed themselves to the zero-yield standard.

For example, a March 1996 statement from Sha Zukang, the lead CTBT negotiator for China, said that “the Chinese delegation proposed at the outset of the negotiations its scope text prohibiting any nuclear-weapon test explosion which releases nuclear energy.” The future CTBT, he said, “will without any threshold prohibit any nuclear-weapon test explosion.”

More recently, Russia has publicly reaffirmed its commitment to this standard. On July 29, 2009, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that, “under the global ban on nuclear tests, we can only use computer-assisted simulations to ensure the reliability of Russia’s nuclear deterrent.”

In an April 2017 essay, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov wrote that the treaty “prohibits ‘any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion,’ anywhere on Earth, whatever the yield.” Ashley said at the Hudson Institute event that he was not aware of Ryabkov’s essay.

‘Unsigning’ the Treaty

Republican Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), John Cornyn (Texas), and James Lankford (Okla.) sent a letter in March to Trump asking him whether he would consider “un-signing” the CTBT, The Washington Post reported June 13.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), speaks at the U.S. Capitol April 4. With Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and two other senators, Cotton asked President Donald Trump in March to consider “unsigning” the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)If the United States were to formally withdraw its signature from the treaty, it would lose access to the nuclear test monitoring provided by the IMS, consisting of more than 300 seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound, and radionuclide sensor stations.

According to the Trump administration’s 2017 budget request, the United States “receives the data the IMS provides, which is an important supplement to U.S. National Technical Means to monitor for nuclear explosions (a mission carried out by the U.S. Air Force). A reduction in IMS capability could deprive the U.S. of an irreplaceable source of nuclear explosion monitoring data.”

According to CTBT rules, only treaty signatories can access IMS monitoring information, and only treaty signatories have voting rights in meetings of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization.

A decision by the Trump administration to formally exit the CTBT would lead to international condemnation. In November 2018, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution on the CTBT that “urges all states that have not yet signed or ratified, or that have signed but not yet ratified...to sign and ratify it as soon as possible.” The resolution was approved 183-1 with four abstentions. Only North Korea, whose recent nuclear tests were condemned in the resolution, voted against the resolution. The United States abstained.

 

U.S. accusations raise concerns that the Trump administration may withdraw from another multilateral arms control pact.

A Response to Claims of Illegal Russian Nuclear Testing

Sections:

Body: 

 

For Immediate Release: May 29, 2019

Media Contacts: Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 104; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, DC)—In prepared remarks delivered Wednesday at a Hudson Institute event, Lt. Gen. Robert P. Ashley, Jr., the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, stated that “The United States believes that Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the ‘zero-yield’ standard” outlined in the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Any violation of the CTBT by Russia, which has signed and ratified the agreement, would be a serious matter. But when pressed on the allegation in the question and answer session of the event by Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Gordon, Ashley would only say that Russia had the "capability" to conduct very low-yield supercritical nuclear tests in contravention of the treaty, a capability which Russia, China, and the United States have long had. He did not say that Russia has conducted or is conducting such tests.

The CTBT prohibits any nuclear test explosions that produce a self-sustaining, supercritical chain reaction and creates a robust international verification regime.

The United States has signed but not ratified the treaty.

Critics of the CTBT and arms control more broadly, including National Security Advisor John Bolton, have long claimed that the treaty does not adequately define a nuclear test, that Russia and China have a different interpretation than the United States of what the treaty prohibits, and that Moscow and Beijing have conducted nuclear tests in violation of the treaty.

But no public evidence has ever been provided to support the claim of illegal Russian testing and Gen. Ashley didn’t provide any Wednesday. Former Undersecretary of States for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller told the House Armed Services Committee in December 2015 that “within this century, the only state that has tested nuclear weapons ... in a way that produced a nuclear yield is North Korea.” This begs the question of what, if anything, has changed since then that would support a different conclusion.

Gen. Ashley also claimed that Russia has “not affirmed the language of zero-yield.” But Russia has repeatedly affirmed publicly that they believe the treaty prohibits all nuclear test explosions. For example, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov noted in a 2017 op-ed that the treaty “prohibits ‘any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion,’ anywhere on Earth, whatever the yield.”

The most effective way for the United States to enforce compliance with the zero-yield standard is for the Trump administration and the U.S. Senate to support ratification of the treaty and help to bring it into force, which would allow for intrusive, short-notice, on-site inspections to detect and deter any possible cheating. In the meantime, if the U.S. has credible evidence that Russia is violating its CTBT commitments, it should propose, as allowed for in Article VI of the treaty, mutual confidence building visits to the respective U.S. and Russian test sites by technical experts to address concerns about compliance.

Description: 

The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency stated Wednesday that the United States believes that Russia "probably" is not adhering to its obligations outlined in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, but offered no public evidence to support the claim of illegal Russian testing.

Country Resources:

Nuclear Testing and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) Timeline

June 2019

Contact: Daryl KimballExecutive Director, (202) 463-7280 x107

Updated: June 2019

It is widely understood that nuclear weapons have only been used twice in wartime and with terrible consequences. Often overlooked is the fact that they have been “used” elsewhere—through more than 2,000 nuclear test explosions by at least eight countries since 1945.

These nuclear test explosions have been used to develop new nuclear warhead designs and to demonstrate nuclear weapons capabilities by the world’s nuclear-armed states. The tests, particularly the atmospheric detonations, have negatively affected the lives and health of millions of people around the globe.  In response, ordinary citizens, scientists, legislators, and government leaders have pursued a multi-decade effort to bring into force a global verifiable comprehensive nuclear test ban. Currently, the treaty has 184 signatories and 168 ratification, though it still will not enter into force until eight key states, including the United States, ratify it.

Brief Overall History of the Test Ban Treaty

A global halt to nuclear weapons testing was first proposed in 1954 by Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as a step toward ending the nuclear arms race and preventing nuclear proliferation. A ban on nuclear testing has been a key national security objective of the United States since the late-1950s, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower initiated U.S.-UK-USSR comprehensive test ban negotiations.

In 1962-1963, President John F. Kennedy pursued comprehensive test ban talks with Russia, but the two sides could not agree on the number of on-site inspections. Instead, the two sides agreed to the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which prohibits nuclear test explosions in the atmosphere, outer space, and underwater.

Since the late-1960s, the conclusion of a comprehensive ban against nuclear testing has also been understood to be an essential part of the nuclear weapon states’ commitment to fulfill their nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Article VI nuclear disarmament commitments.

President Jimmy Carter again sought to negotiate a comprehensive test ban treaty with Russia from 1977-1980, but that effort also fell short as U.S.-Soviet relations soured after Moscow's invasion of Afghanistan.

In 1991, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev announced a unilateral nuclear test moratorium. Later that year, legislation was introduced in the U.S. Congress for a reciprocal test moratorium. The legislation, which became law in 1992, mandated a 9-month moratorium on nuclear weapon test explosions. In July 1993, President Bill Clinton decided to extend the U.S. test moratorium.

From 1994-96, the world's nations came together to negotiate the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which prohibits all nuclear test explosions and is intended to help curb the spread of nuclear weapons and impede nuclear arms competition.

On September 24, 1996, the United States was the first nation to sign the CTBT, which prohibits all nuclear weapon test explosions or other nuclear explosions, but the Senate rejected ratification in 1999 and the treaty has yet to enter into force.

In recent years, international support for the CTBT has grown and the global test ban monitoring and verification system has matured. Entry into force requires ratification by 44 specific countries listed in Annex 2 of the treaty, including the United States.

In 2009, President Barack Obama vowed to pursue ratification of the CTBT, saying "After more than five decades of talks, it is time for the testing of nuclear weapons to finally be banned," but unfortunately ultimately did not pursue ratification, though the United States did pursue the first UN Security Council resolution supporting the treaty. The Trump administration's 2018 Nuclear Posture Review noted that it would not seek ratification of the CTBT, but would support the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization and the International Monitoring System (IMS) and International Data Center (IDC).

The following are key events in the history of nuclear testing and the nuclear test ban.


Skip to: 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s

1940s

Image of the first nuclear test explosion in New Mexico, July 16, 1945. (Library of Congress Photo)July 16, 1945: At 5:30 a.m. near Alamagordo, New Mexico, the United States conducts the first ever nuclear test explosion, code-named Trinity.

August 6 and 9, 1945: The United States drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leading to over 340,000 casualties by 1950.

1946-1962: The United States conducts 193 atmospheric tests, mainly in the Pacific and Nevada, involving over 200,000 military and civilian personnel of which, 2,000-3,000 military personnel were used as subjects of government-sponsored medical research. Thousands of other civilians and soldiers are also directly affected or involved in test explosions conducted by other nuclear powers.

August 29, 1949: The Soviet Union conducts its first nuclear test explosion, accelerating the nuclear arms race. By 1962, the Soviet Union explodes a total of 142 atmospheric nuclear tests. Back to top.

1950s

October 3, 1952: The United Kingdom conducts its first nuclear test in Western Australia.

November 1, 1952: The United States’ Ivy Mike nuclear test, the first test of a hydrogen bomb, results in a 10 megaton explosion, which obliterates the island of Elugelab in the Marshall chain in the Pacific.An image of the Yankee nuclear test of the Castle series on May 14, 1954. At 13.5 megatons, the Yankee test was the second largest nuclear test in U.S. history. (National Archives, Air Force Collection Photo)

1954: The United States’ Castle test series and Soviet tests in Siberia arouse international outrage about radioactive fallout, particularly after the 15 megaton Castle Bravo test contaminates the Marshall Islands and the Japanese fishing vessel, Lucky Dragon. The hydrogen bomb tests prompt the formation of the Japanese Committee Against A & H Tests. 

April 2, 1954: Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru proposes a nuclear testing "standstill" agreement, which is later forwarded to the United Nations Disarmament Commission. Albert Einstein and Pope Pius XII later call for a cessation of nuclear testing.

May 10, 1954: The Soviet Union proposes, for the first time by either superpower, a nuclear test ban as the initial step toward nuclear disarmament.

1957: The United Kingdom conducts its first hydrogen bomb test and the United States and the Soviet Union accelerate testing. These countries conduct 42 above ground nuclear blasts during the year.

1957: Otto Hahn, the scientist who split the uranium atom in 1938, joins eighteen of his colleagues in pledging to have nothing to do with nuclear weapons development or testing. Chemist and Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling circulates a petition calling for a test ban, which is signed by 9,000 scientists in 43 countries. The Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy (SANE) places ads in major newspapers calling attention to the perils of nuclear war. Thousands of letters protesting continued nuclear testing are sent to President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

May 1957: The United States and the Soviet Union trade test ban and weapons production cut-off proposals but fail to reach an agreement, due in part to opposition from U.S. nuclear weapons scientists. In the summer, the American Friends Service Committee, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and the World Council of Churches circulate petitions calling for an end to all nuclear tests.

March 31, 1958: The Soviet Union announces a unilateral suspension of testing after completing their latest series of blasts.

April 8, 1958: President Eisenhower proposes a technical conference to explore test ban verification. Citizens in the United States are joined by citizens in Europe, led by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, in creating a climate of support for a test moratorium and test ban talks.

August 22, 1958: President Eisenhower proposes a one-year test moratorium if the Soviets also refrain from testing and the initiation of U.S.-UK-USSR test ban negotiations, which begin on October 31.

1959: Test ban negotiations continue in Geneva despite opposition from lab scientists about test ban verification. Back to top.

1960s

February 13, 1960: France conducts it first nuclear test explosion in Algeria.

February 1960: The Eisenhower administration redoubles its diplomatic efforts by proposing a phased approach to achieving a comprehensive nuclear test ban. The proposal is endorsed by British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, and with some further modifications, it is positively received by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, making it likely that the test ban treaty could be signed at the Paris summit that both Eisenhower and Krushchev have agreed to attend in May. However, the shooting down of an American U-2 spy plane over the Soviet Union on May 1 wrecks the chance for the Paris summit and the chance for a test ban agreement.

January-July, 1961: President John F. Kennedy accelerates U.S. nuclear weapons deployments and East-West relations deteriorate over the Berlin crisis.

August 1961: Soviet nuclear tests resume, followed by the resumption of U.S. testing in September.

October 30, 1961: The Soviet Union conducts the largest nuclear test explosion ever—a 58 megaton atmospheric blast code-named Tsar Bomba.

November 1, 1961: Approximately 100,000 women in 110 American communities leave their homes and offices in a national "strike" for a test ban, leading to the formation of Women Strike for Peace. Boston area physicians form Physicians for Social Responsibility, which documents the presence of strontium-90, a by-product of nuclear tests, in the teeth of children across the United States and worldwide.

March 1962: The Eighteen Nation Committee on Disarmament (ENDC) is established. The ENDC, later to become the Conference on Disarmament (CD), will continue multilateral discussions on the test ban for over three decades.

October 1962: The Cuban Missile Crisis brings the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of all out nuclear war.

November 1962-April 1963: Norman Cousins, a prominent U.S. citizen and leader of SANE, meets with President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev several times privately to urge both leaders to find a way ease tensions and break the impasse on the test ban negotiations.

June 8, 1963: Soviet Premier Khrushchev invites UK and U.S. negotiators to a conference in Moscow in July to negotiate a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty.

June 10, 1963: President Kennedy accepts the Soviet invitation for renewed talks in his commencement address at American University. He argues that peace without competition between the United States and the Soviet Union is not possible, but the prevention of nuclear war is.

July 15, 1963: U.S., UK, and Soviet negotiators meet in Moscow to try to work out an agreement on a comprehensive nuclear test ban. However, due to disagreements concerning on-site inspections, agreement on a comprehensive ban is not reached. Negotiators turn their attention to the conclusion of a limited ban, prohibiting tests in the atmosphere, outer space, and beneath the surface of the seas.

President John Kennedy signing the Limited Test Ban Treaty. (National Nuclear Security Administration Photo)July 25, 1963: The Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT) is initialed by the U.S., UK and Soviet representatives, W. Averell Harriman, Viscount Quinton Hailsham, and Andrei Gromyko, respectively. On August 5, the LTBT is officially signed by the United States, United Kingdom, and Soviet Union. 

July 26, 1963: President Kennedy addresses the nation on the merits of the LTBT and asks for their support in ensuring Senate approval.

August 8, 1963: President Kennedy places the treaty before the Senate for its advice and consent. Citizens Committee for a Nuclear Test Ban is formed. SANE and prominent physicians place pro-ratification ads in major newspapers.

September 24, 1963: The U.S. Senate votes to provide its advice and consent for ratification of the LTBT by a vote of 80 to 14.

October 11, 1963: The LTBT enters into force, but nuclear weapons development and production continue with underground nuclear testing.

October 16, 1964: China explodes its first nuclear bomb—a 20-kiloton atmospheric blast—at Lop Nor in northwestern China.

July 1, 1968: The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) is signed in Washington, London, and Moscow. Among other obligations, the NPT requires parties to the treaty to "seek to achieve the discontinuance of all test explosions of nuclear weapons for all time and to continue negotiations to this end.” Back to top.

1970s

September 15, 1971: Greenpeace activists sail from Vancouver to Amchitka, Alaska, intent on stopping a scheduled U.S. nuclear test, which fuels further public opposition to testing. Within a year, the United States cancels further tests at Amchitka for "political and other reasons."

1972-1974: Australia and New Zealand ask the International Court of Justice to halt continuing French atmospheric tests in Polynesia and send naval vessels to the test area to signal their opposition. Greenpeace sails into the French testing zone in protest of the explosions in what is the first of several actions against French testing.

A crater marks the site of India’s May 18, 1974 underground nuclear test at Pokhran in the desert state of Rajasthan. (Punjab Photo/AFP/Getty Images)

May 1974: On May 18, India conducts its first nuclear test in the Thar Desert near its border with Pakistan. Bowing to international pressure, France announces all of its future nuclear tests will be conducted underground.

1974-1976: The United States and the Soviet Union conclude the Threshold Test Ban and Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaties limiting military and non-military underground tests to explosive yields below 150 kilotons. However, they continue to design, develop and produce new weapons. It is not until 1990, after a stronger verification protocol is negotiated, that both treaties enter into force.

1977-1980: U.S., UK, and Soviet negotiators make substantial progress toward an agreement on a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) but opposition from the Pentagon, Energy Department, and Congress, combined with the deterioration of East-West relations after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, scuttle the chance for a test ban agreement as well as further controls on U.S. and Soviet strategic nuclear arsenals.

1979: At a meeting organized by the American Friends Service Committee, U.S. arms control and peace groups agree to pursue a new approach on nuclear disarmament: a mutual and verifiable freeze on the testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons to be followed by reductions in nuclear arsenals. Later, the concept leads to the formation of the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, which merged with SANE in 1986, to form what is now known as Peace Action. Back to top.

1980s

1981: Fear of nuclear war increases as the Reagan administration embarks on massive nuclear buildup and East-West tensions worsen. A December NBC/Associated Press survey finds that 76% of the U.S. public believe that a nuclear war is "likely" within a few years.

November 1981: The Union of Concerned Scientists and dozens of other citizen groups organize nuclear war teach-ins on 151 campuses in 41 states. Physicians for Social Responsibility showcase the potential devastating medical effects of nuclear war.

March 1982: Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.) introduce a nuclear-freeze resolution that is supported by 150 representatives and 20 senators.

May 1982: Ground Zero national education week on nuclear war prompts thousands to sign nuclear-freeze petitions.

June 1982: Approximately 750,000 people gather in New York's Central Park during the 2nd UN Special Session on Disarmament to call for an end to the nuclear arms race.

July 1982: President Ronald Reagan decides to set aside the comprehensive nuclear test ban effort, calling it a "long-term" U.S. objective, which allows the United States to pursue the development and deployment of new nuclear warheads.

November 1982: Voters in eight U.S. states overwhelmingly pass referenda calling for a mutual and verifiable freeze on the testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons.

1983: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops delivers a pastoral letter calling for a halt to the testing and production of nuclear weapons, and is joined by national Protestant and Jewish organizations in support of a nuclear freeze.

1985: Arms control groups form the U.S. Comprehensive Test Ban Coalition. By 1991, the coalition includes over 75 national arms control, peace, faith, environmental, labor, and civic organizations.

1985-1987: The Soviet Union announces a unilateral test moratorium, partly in response to personal appeals to President Mikhail Gorbachev from leaders of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

1986: Physicians for Social Responsibility organizes "Code Blue" congressional lobbying events on the test ban. The U.S. House of Representatives passes a non-binding resolution (224-155) led by Reps. Patricia Schroeder (R-Colo.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Jim Leach (R-Iowa) calling for a one-year U.S. testing moratorium if the Soviet Union accepts on-site-inspections.

1986: U.S. President Reagan and Soviet President Gorbachev meet in Reykjavik, Iceland and discuss nuclear disarmament but fail to reach an agreement.

1986-1993: Annual protests at the Nevada Test Site involving 3,000 to 9,000 people maintain public awareness of the continuation of nuclear testing and weapons development. In 1988 alone, over 14,000 people attend two nuclear testing protests at the test site with over 4,000 people arrested for non-violent civil disobedience.

August 1988: Six non-aligned states request a special conference to consider amending the 1963 LTBT to make it comprehensive.

Kazakh citizens gather to demand a nuclear test ban at the Soviet nuclear test site near Semipalatinsk in August 1989. (UN Photo/MB)

1988: Physicians for Social Responsibility and five other groups sponsor the First International Scientific Symposium on a Nuclear Test Ban, in Las Vegas, Nevada. The American Medical Association and the American Public Health Associations pass resolutions calling for a CTBT.

February 1989: Olzhas Suleimenov, a popular Kazakh poet and writer, forms the Nevada-Semipalatinsk Movement (NSM) in cooperation with leaders of the Western Shoshone nation to oppose further nuclear testing in Kazakhstan and elsewhere. Meetings and demonstrations are organized in many Kazakh and Soviet cities, including Moscow. The Soviets are forced to cancel 11 of 18 scheduled tests in 1989. Back to top.

1990s

January 1991: The LTBT Amendment Conference convenes but no decision is made to amend the limited test ban into a comprehensive one because of opposition from the declared nuclear powers.

August 29, 1991: The Soviet Semipalatinsk nuclear test site officially closes. In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly adopts resolution 64/35 which designates Aug. 29 as the International Day Against Nuclear Tests, 

October 5, 1991: President Gorbachev announces a unilateral, one-year moratorium on Soviet nuclear testing and invites the United States to join. Prompted by national disarmament groups and Oregon peace groups, on October 29 a bipartisan congressional coalition led by Rep. Kopetski (D-Ore.) and Sen. Hatfield (R-Ore.) introduces legislation that would impose a one-year U.S. testing moratorium.

October 29, 1991: 112 Members of the House of Representatives led by Majority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) and Rep. Kopetski (D-Ore.) introduce a bill (H.R. 3636) to establish a 1-year moratorium on U.S. nuclear weapons tests. A companion bil would later be introduced by Sen. Hatfield (R-Ore.) and others in the Senate.

December 25, 1991The Soviet Union dissolves into 12 separate republics and Gorbachev resigns as president of the Soviet Union. Boris Yeltsin assumes the presidency of the newly independent Russian state. 

April 8, 1992: French President François Mitterrand announces a unilateral French nuclear testing moratorium.

June 1992: Russian President Boris Yeltsin extends the Soviet test moratorium.

September 13, 1992: After a sustained national grassroots lobbying campaign led by disarmament groups, the U.S. Senate adopts the "Hatfield-Exon" amendment to require a nine-month U.S. testing moratorium, strict conditions on any further U.S. testing and require the start of global test ban negotiations and a prohibition on U.S. testing after September 30, 1996, unless another nation conducts a test. The test moratorium amendment is approved 55-40. On September 24, the U.S. House of Representatives adopts the "Hatfield-Exon" amendment by a margin of 224-151 and on October 2, President George H. W. Bush reluctantly signs the law containing the test moratorium legislation.

September 23, 1992: The United States conducts its 1,030th—and last—nuclear weapons test explosion, a 20 kiloton detonation at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site, codenamed "Divider". 

January 1993: At a meeting organized by Greenpeace, Peace Action, and Physicians for Social Responsibility, pro-CTBT groups agree that in order to keep prospects for a test ban alive, the U.S. moratorium must be extended and CTBT talks must be initiated.

March 3, 1993: National Security Advisor Anthony Lake orders completion of an interagency review of U.S. policy on nuclear testing and a comprehensive test ban.

April 1993: CTBT advocates uncover a Clinton administration draft plan to renew U.S. testing and to substitute a one-kiloton threshold treaty in place of a comprehensive treaty. On April 30, The Washington Post broke the story, triggering national debate. Physicians for Social Responsibility, Greenpeace and other groups place pro-CTBT, "Don't Blow It Bill" ads in major newspapers.

May 1993: Sens. J. James Exon (D-Neb.), Hatfield (R-Ore.), and George Mitchell (D-Maine) and Rep. Kopetski (D-Ore.) express opposition to the one-kiloton plan. At the urging of pro-CTBT groups, they and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) organize letters from 38 senators and 159 representatives in support of a moratorium extension and a total ban. Editorials from 46 leading newspapers almost entirely favor extending the moratorium. Polls show 72% of the U.S. public favor continuing the moratorium.

June 1993: The Clinton administration debates nuclear testing policy, with the Energy Department, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and the White House Science Advisor favoring extension of the moratorium.

July 3, 1993: President Clinton announces he will extend the moratorium through at least 1994 unless another nation conducts a test and will pursue completion of a CTBT by September 1996. Clinton states that the current U.S. arsenal is "safe and reliable" and that there is no immediate need for further tests.

August 10, 1993: The Conference on Disarmament (CD) agrees to give its Ad Hoc Committee on a Nuclear Test Ban a mandate to begin negotiations on a CTBT in January 1994.

December 16, 1993: The United Nations unanimously adopts a resolution calling on the CD to proceed with the negotiation of a CTBT as rapidly as possible.

January 1994: CTBT negotiations begin at the CD in Geneva. Pro-CTBT groups press negotiators to complete talks by the end of the year and begin an effort to ban all nuclear test explosions, including low-yield hydronuclear explosions. A worldwide petition drive amasses 1 million signatures for a CTBT and is delivered to the president of the CD at the outset of the negotiations.

June 1994: The U.S. House of Representatives votes 263-156 on a resolution offered by Rep. Kopetski (D-Ore.), urging completion of the CTBT by the end of 1994.

September 7, 1994: The CD ends CTBT talks for the year without an agreement. Pro-CTBT groups learn of a U.S. proposal to make a CTBT only 10 years long in duration and begin efforts to force the United States to withdraw the idea.

January 1995: U.S. officials announce that they will pursue a test ban that is permanent in duration. CTBT talks resume in Geneva without agreement on the scope of the treaty, with the declared nuclear states favoring low-yield, hydronuclear tests under a CTBT. Australia begins a diplomatic effort to get consensus on a zero-yield test ban.

March 1995:  U.S. officials announce the extension of the U.S. moratorium.

April-May 1995: Over 180 nations meet and agree to indefinitely extend the NPT and conclude CTBT negotiations by no later than 1996. China conducts a nuclear test one day after the conclusion of the NPT review and extension conference.

June 13, 1995: Newly-elected French President Jacques Chirac announces France will resume nuclear testing before signing a CTBT, which foments international outrage and a spontaneous worldwide consumer boycott of French goods. U.S. officials debate a new proposal, backed by the Pentagon and Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling for the United States to pursue a 500-ton threshold test ban that would allow low-yield blasts.

Late-June 1995: Pro-CTBT groups rally a group of 24 senators and 113 representatives to urge Clinton to reject low-yield tests and to support "a truly comprehensive test ban."

July-August 1995: Over 35,000 citizens deliver calls and letters to the White House calling for a truly comprehensive nuclear test ban. The Clinton administration debates the 500-ton threshold proposal, with the National Security Council, Energy Department, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and White House Science Advisor favoring a zero-yield CTBT.

August 8, 1995: A new technical report by former weapons scientists is released that refutes the argument that there is a need for low-yield nuclear tests.

August 10, 1995: In response to constituent pressure and public opposition to French testing, the U.S. Senate unanimously adopts a resolution introduced by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) condemning continued French and Chinese nuclear testing. Shortly thereafter, French President Chirac announces France will support a zero-yield test ban.

August 11, 1995: President Clinton announces his support for a "true zero yield" test ban.

September 6, 1995: France renews nuclear testing despite international opposition and efforts by Greenpeace vessels to reach the test zone. CTBT talks in Geneva end for the year without producing an agreement.

September 14, 1995: The United Kingdom announces it will support a zero-yield CTBT.

January 1996: CTBT talks resume in Geneva as India announces it will only support a test ban agreement if the declared weapon states commit to a time-bound nuclear disarmament framework. India later announces it does not intend to sign the treaty. China insists on allowing peaceful nuclear explosions. Pro-CTBT citizen groups in the U.S. and dozens of other countries write, call, and meet with CD representatives to urge completion of a zero-yield CTBT by the end of the year and to urge nations not to support India's conditions for supporting the CTBT, but rather to support disarmament through separate initiatives.

Jan. 27, 1996: France conducts its last test.

May-June 1996: China drops its insistence on peaceful explosions, but new disagreements emerge on verification issues and entry-into-force. Pro-CTBT groups worldwide press the declared and undeclared nuclear powers to reach agreement on verification and to support a "flexible" entry-into-force formula.

June 18, 1996: The United States indicates its willingness to allow an entry-into-force formula that requires all nuclear capable states to ratify the CTBT, making a flexible formula less likely.

June 26, 1996: Pro-CTBT groups rally Senate support for the CTBT and defeat the Kyl-Reid nuclear testing amendment by a margin of 53-45. The amendment authored by Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would have allowed the President to conduct nuclear tests even under a CTBT.

June 28, 1996: CD Chairman Jaap Ramaker presents a final CTBT text for member-states of the conference to consider.

July 29, 1996: CTBT talks resume in Geneva. China sets off a nuclear test blast and announces it will not test after September 1996.

July-August 1996: Verification disputes are settled, but India announces it will block agreement on the CTBT at the CD.

August 1996: Consensus on a final CTBT text is blocked by India and Iran, ostensibly due to the failure to include pledges on disarmament. Australia intensifies its work to bring the CTBT directly to the UN for endorsement. Pro-test ban citizens’ organizations worldwide press the United States, other nuclear powers, and non-nuclear-weapon states to support the Australian CTBT resolution.

September 10, 1996: With 127 co-sponsors for the Australian CTBT resolution, a special session of the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly approves the CTBT by a margin of 158 to 3, with five abstentions, opening the way for CTBT signature and ratification.

President Bill Clinton signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on September 24, 1996. (CTBTO Photo)September 24, 1996: The CTBT opens for signature at the UN in New York. On the first day, 71 countries sign the CTBT, including the United States.

June 10, 1997: Seven U.S. senators make floor speeches on the anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's historic address at American University and call for the prompt approval of the CTBT by the U.S. Senate.

July 15, 1997: In a floor speech, Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) notes, "There are certainly benefits to a comprehensive test ban treaty, but there are also costs and risks…." He also adds that he is "leaning strongly in support of the international treaty."

August 1997: A "seismic event" occurs near the Russian nuclear test site at Novaya Zemlya. Initial reports suggest that the event might be a Russian nuclear test. However, the U.S. government later determines that the event occurred in the Arctic Ocean, 130km from the Russian test site, and the data suggests the event was in fact an earthquake.

September 22, 1997: President Clinton transmits the CTBT to the U.S. Senate for its advice and consent for ratification.

January 21, 1998: Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, writes to President Clinton and argues that Senate consideration of the CTBT should wait until the Senate addresses "higher priority" issues, such as the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Kyoto Climate Treaty.

January 27, 1998: In his annual State of the Union address, President Clinton calls on the Senate to approve the CTBT in 1998 and secures support for the treaty from four former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nuclear weapons laboratory directors, and the members of NATO.

February 10, 1998: President Clinton replies to Sen. Helms (R-N.C.) arguing that the CTBT should be ratified in 1998.

April 6, 1998: The United Kingdom and France both ratify the CTBT, after jointly signing it on September 24, 1996, becoming the first two nations who have tested nuclear weapons to ratify the treaty.

May 11 and 13, 1998: India, under the leadership of newly elected Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the Hindu-nationalist Bhara Janata Party, announces India has conducted five underground nuclear test explosions in the Thar Desert. The tests are met with global condemnation and calls for India to sign and ratify the CTBT without conditions.

May 13, 1998: Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Joseph Biden (D-Del.) draft and circulate a resolution calling for Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings and a vote on the CTBT "as expeditiously as possible."

May 15-17, 1998: A new national opinion survey is conducted to gauge public approval/disapproval of Senate approval of the CTBT. The results show that the American public continues to support the CTBT by an overwhelming majority (73% approve of Senate ratification; 16% disapprove; 11% don't know). Among those who heard about the Indian nuclear test (63% of respondents), approval was even higher (78% approve, only 15% disapprove).

May 28 and 30, 1998: Pakistan announces it has conducted six nuclear test explosions. The tests are met with global condemnation and calls for Pakistan and India to sign and ratify the CTBT without conditions.

May 28, 1998: U.S. disarmament and peace groups across the country stage protests and rallies at embassies, consulates, and local Senate offices calling on India and Pakistan to stop nuclear testing and for the U.S. Senate to approve the CTBT.

May-June 1998: Dozens of protests to condemn the tests are held in India involving a spectrum of prominent citizens. In addition, a new organization of professionals, the Movement in India for Nuclear Disarmament (MIND), is formed. In Pakistan, despite the imposed state of emergency banning protests following its tests, intellectuals and activists sign a petition calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Nongovernmental organizations and professionals hold a conference to condemn the tests by India and Pakistan and the ensuing arms race in South Asia. The Pakistani Coalition for Nonproliferation (CNFP) is formed to urge Pakistan to sign the CTBT and to take other steps to prevent an arms build-up.

January-August 1999: In the late spring of 1999, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and pro-treaty nongovernmental organizations redouble efforts to raise attention to the plight of the CTBT and to press the Senate leadership to begin the process of considering the treaty.

July 20, 1999: A bipartisan group of nine senators hold a press briefing, citing overwhelming public support for the treaty and calling for prompt Senate action. That same day, all 45 Democratic senators write to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), asking for “all necessary hearings...to report the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to the Senate for timely consideration” by October 1999. As he has done for nearly two years, Sen. Helms (R-N.C.) rebuffs his Senate colleagues’ request.

August 1999: Most in the Clinton administration remain dubious about the prospect of real action on the treaty, and little more is done to build support.

August and September 1999: Treaty opponents accelerate preparations for a possible vote on final passage. James Schlesinger, who once headed the Defense and Energy Departments, and Sen. Jon Kyl (R.-Ariz.) step up their lobbying efforts against the treaty with uncommitted Republican senators.

Late-September 1999: Without information about the opposition’s lobbying effort, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), along with other leading Senate CTBT proponents and the White House, decides to try to introduce a nonbinding Senate resolution that called for beginning the process for Senate consideration of the CTBT and scheduling a vote on the treaty by March 31, 2000. The resolution, however, was never introduced.

September 29, 1999: Having been informed of the Democrats’ intention to introduce their resolution, Sens. Helms (R-N.C.) and Lott (R-Miss.) abandon their blocking strategy and propose a vote on final passage of the treaty by October 7. According to Sen. Kyl (R-Ariz.), 34 senators have already been persuaded to vote against ratification, by September 14.

Lott’s initial proposal for 10 hours of debate on the treaty with only six days’ notice is not accepted by the Democratic leadership. Some Senate supporters, the White House, and the NGO community criticize the offer, calling it a “rush to judgment.” In consultation with the White House, Senate Democratic leaders negotiate for more time and a more thorough series of hearings.

October 1, 1999: Senate Democrats decide to accept Sen. Lott’s (R-Miss.) final “take it or leave it” counteroffer for a vote as soon as October 12. With the final vote on the CTBT just days away, President Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and Secretary of Defense William Cohen finally launch a high-profile effort to win Senate support for the treaty. However, the effort was simply too little too late. By the end of October 8, the first day of Senate floor debate, the most crucial of these Republican senators have declared their intention to vote against the treaty.

October 6-8, 1999: The first Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, or the Article XIV Conference, is held in Vienna. Article XIV of the CTBT stipulates that if the CTBT has not entered into force three years after its opening for signature (September 24, 1996), the Depository will hold a conference, and every two years after, to facilitate the treaty’s entry into force.

October 12, 1999: Recognizing that the votes needed for ratification are not there and the damage a rejection of the treaty could cause, 62 senators write to the leadership on October 12 “in support of putting off final consideration until the next Congress.”

On the eve of the vote, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) are on the verge of an agreement to postpone the vote; but Sens. Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.), Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), and Bob Smith (R-N.H.) reportedly race to the majority leader’s office to tell him that they are prepared to block any new agreement that would postpone the vote.

October 13, 1999: The U.S. Senate rejects the CTBT by a vote of 51-48.

November 10, 1999: U.S. Secretary of State Albright announces the formation of an administration-appointed task force, which will be led by retired General John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to work with key senators to address concerns regarding the CTBT and make recommendations about its future consideration. Back to top.

2000s

June 30, 2000: Russia ratifies the CTBT.

January 5, 2001: U.S. General John Shalikashvili’s report “Findings and Recommendations Concerning the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty” is released after a 10 month-long review of the CTBT following the 1999 Senate rejection of the treaty. Shalikashvili’s report voices strong support for the treaty and outlines measures to build bipartisan support.

2001: The George W. Bush administration announces it will not seek reconsideration of the CTBT by the Senate, but will not resume U.S. nuclear testing.

July 31, 2002: The U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) releases a report on “Technical Issues Related to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty,” assessing the key technical issues that arose during the Senate debate over treaty ratification. The report concludes that the United States does not need nuclear testing to maintain the safety and reliability of its arsenal, that the ability of countries to cheat is limited, and that there is confidence in the ability of the verification regime to detect nuclear tests.

October 9, 2006: North Korea conducts its first nuclear test explosion. Despite being only partially completed and operating in test mode, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO)’s International Monitoring System (IMS) was able to detect the nuclear test and showcase the efficiency of the treaty’s verification regime.

September 2008: The 2008 Integrated Field Exercise is conducted in Kazakhstan. This large-scale simulation organized by the Provisional Technical Secretariat of the CTBTO is designed to test crucial elements of the treaty’s on-site inspection provisions.On April 5, 2009, President Barack Obama spelled out steps leading to a world free of nuclear weapons, including pursuing U.S. ratification of the CTBT. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

April 5, 2009: In Prague, U.S. President Barack Obama states his commitment to seek “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” including a pledge to “immediately and aggressive pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.” 

May 25, 2009: North Korea conducts its second nuclear test, one month after declaring that it would no longer participate in multilateral talks on its denuclearization and would carry out nuclear and missile tests to strengthen its deterrent capability. With only three-quarters of the IMS in place, the CTBTO’s seismic stations are able to immediately confirm the nuclear test, and the noble gas system of the IMS later corroborates the seismic findings. The United Nations Security Council unanimously expands sanctions and counterproliferation measures against North Korea in response. Back to top.

2010s

May 28, 2010: The 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference concludes and agreement is reached on a Final Document, including conclusions and recommendations regarding nuclear testing and the CTBT.

February 6, 2012: Indonesia becomes the 36th Annex 2 state to ratify the CTBT, after signing on September 24, 1996, leaving eight remaining Annex 2 states needed to ratify the CTBT to bring the treaty into force: China, Egypt, India, Israel, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan and the United States.

March 30, 2012: In a follow up to their 2002 report on the CTBT, NAS releases a report noting that there have been significant advancements to the technical issues related to the CTBT, particularly since the 2002 report. The 2012 report reaffirms that the United States no longer needs—and would not benefit from—nuclear explosive testing and also cites substantial advances in the U.S. national monitoring and the IMS capabilities across all of the key verification technologies deployed worldwide to detect and deter nuclear tests.

February 12, 2013: North Korea conducts its third nuclear test. The test is announced by the state-run Korean Central News Agency and confirmed by the CTBTO’s IMS verification regime on the same day.

August 2013: CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo visits China to discuss progress on CTBTO international monitoring stations in China. Following Zerbo’s meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and training for Chinese station personnel in September, China agrees to begin sending data from its IMS stations to the International Data Centre in Vienna.

September 26, 2013: The CTBTO creates the Group of Eminent Persons (GEM) at the United Nations in New York to bring together a group comprising of eminent personalities and internationally recognized experts to promote the CTBT’s ratification by the remaining Annex 2 states.

March 19, 2014: The Times of Israel reports that Israel has strongly indicated support for the CTBT, noting that Israeli sources claim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considers the CTBT to be “very significant,” Israel is “proud” to have signed it, and “has never had a problem with the CTBT.” CTBTO Executive Secretary Zerbo also notes that "Israel could be the next" Annex 2 state to ratify the CTBT.

November 3, 2014: The CTBTO Preparatory Commission launches their second on-site inspection exercise, called the Integrated Field Exercise 2014 in Jordan. The exercise involves two fictitious countries, lasts for five weeks, and uses 150 tons of equipment to comb a large swath of land next to the Dead Sea to test the procedures and operations required for a real on-site inspection of a country accused of testing a nuclear weapon.

September 29, 2015: CTBT states parties meet for the 9thArticle XIV Conference on Facilitating Entry Into Force in New York.

January 6, 2016: North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency announces that the country's military and scientific teams have conducted a fourth nuclear weapon test explosion, claiming it the test “scientifically verified the power” of a smaller hydrogen bomb that signifies a “higher stage” of development of North Korea’s nuclear force.  Initial seismic readings confirm a smaller-yield nuclear test detonation but technical experts are doubtful that North Korea conducted a test of a two-stage hydrogen bomb. The detonation, at North Korea's underground nuclear test near the village of P’unggye, is immediately detected by the CTBTO's International Monitoring System and many other national and civilian monitoring stations.

The nuclear test is widely condemned by North Korea's neighbors and the international community. Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the Commission for the CTBTO said in Jan. 6 statement that the fourth DPRK test should "serve as the final wake-up call to the international community to outlaw all nuclear testing by bringing the CTBT into force."

June 13-14, 2016: Foreign ministers and representatives from more than 69 states and international organizations gathered in Vienna on June 13-14 for a special meeting to mark the 20th anniversary of the opening for signature of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and to explore options for advancing its entry into force. Following a visit from the head of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) to Jerusalem on June 20, the Israeli government pledged to ratify the treaty “at the right time.”

September 9, 2016: Seismic activity indicates that North Korea conducted a fifth nuclear test at 9:00 a.m. local time. The CTBTO reported that more than two dozen of the seismic stations that are part of the International Monitoring System confirmed that the seismic event was in the 5.1 magnitude range, occurred at a very shallow depth, and took place in the immediate vicinity of North Korea's Pyunggye-ri test site.

September 23, 2016: The UN Security Council adopted its first resolution specifically supporting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), with the vote intended to reaffirm the global norm against nuclear testing and to encourage the ratifications necessary to trigger the treaty’s entry into force. Resolution 2310, introduced by the United States, was approved 14-0, with Egypt abstaining. A total of 42 countries, including Israel, co-sponsored the resolution, which comes 20 years after the treaty was opened for signature. The resolution took note of a Sept. 15 joint statement by the five permanent Security Council members recognizing that “a nuclear-weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion would defeat the object and purpose of the CTBT.” By endorsing this language, the resolution affirmed the view of these five states that even before the treaty enters into force, all 183 CTBT signatories have an existing obligation not to conduct nuclear test explosions.

September 3, 2017: Seismic activity indicates that North Korea conducted their sixth and largest nuclear test to date at 3:30 UTC and 12:00 noon local time. The CTBTO reported that over 100 International Monitoring System stations are contributing to the analysis. Its initial estimate is that the seismic event's magnitude was around 5.8, occurred at a very shallow depth, and took place in the immediate vicinity of North Korea's Pyunggye-ri test site. A secondary, "subsequent aftershock at same location was recorded at 2 units of magnitude smaller 8.5 mins after" the 5.8 magnitude event. Comparison of seismic signals (to scale) of all six declared DPRK nuclear tests, as observed at IMS station AS-59 Aktyubinsk, Kazakhstan.On September 7, the CTBTO announced that it revised its initial magnitude estimate to 6.1. Experts assess the explosion could have had a yield in excess of 100 kilotons TNT equivalent.

February 2, 2018: The 2018 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) asserts that “the United States does not support the ratification of the CTBT" without providing any further explanation as to why. The United States will "continue to support the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Preparatory Committee” and “the related International Monitoring System and the International Data Center” the report adds. The NPR calls upon other states not to conduct nuclear testing and states that “[t]he United States will not resume nuclear explosive testing unless necessary to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the U.S. arsenal.”

April 20, 2018: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declares that he will suspend nuclear and missile tests starting on April 21 and that he will shut down the Punggye-ri test site where the previous six nuclear tests were conducted. At the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference preparatory committee meeting from April 25 - May 7, several countries call on North Korea to sign and ratify the CTBT to codify this pledge into international law.

May 24, 2018: North Korea reports that it destroyed its nuclear testing site at Punggye-ri, setting off explosions to destroy the north, west and south portals to tunnels that could have been used to test nuclear weapons. It is not clear if North Korea completely destroyed the long-abandonded east portal. No nuclear experts were granted access to verify the destruction of the test site. North Korea did transport several international journalists to observe the explosions from a distance.

May 29, 2019: At a Washington event, U.S. Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley accused Russia of "probably not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the 'zero yield' standard." This allegation had not been listed in the 2019 Department of State Arms Control Compliance report released just a few months earlier and was the first instance of this allegation being made publicly. Following on these remarks, the Defense Intelligence Agency released a June 13 statement with a more definitive allegation that "The U.S. government, including the intelligence community, has assessed that Russia has conducted nuclear weapons tests that have created nuclear yield." On June 17, Russia called the allegations "groundless" and accuse Washington of preparing to withdraw from the CTBT and resume testing.

Back to top.

Nuclear Testing

The Nuclear Testing Tally

February 2019

Contacts: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107

Updated: February 2019

Since the first nuclear test explosion on July 16, 1945, at least eight nations have detonated 2,056 nuclear test explosions at dozens of test sites from Lop Nor in China, to the atolls of the Pacific, to Nevada, to Algeria where France conducted its first nuclear device, to western Australia where the U.K. exploded nuclear weapons, the South Atlantic, to Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan, across Russia, and elsewhere.



Most of the test sites are in the lands of indigenous peoples and far from the capitals of the testing governments. A large number of the early tests—528—were detonated in the atmosphere, which spread radioactive materials through the atmosphere. Many underground nuclear blasts have also vented radioactive material into the atmosphere and left radioactive contamination in the soil.

Type of Test United States USSR/ Russia United Kingdom France China India Pakistan North Korea Total
Atmospheric 215 219 21 50 23 0 0 0 528
Underground 815 496 24 160 22 3 2 6 1,528
Total 1,030* (Does not include atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) 715 45 210 45 3 2 6 2,056


Through nuclear test explosions, the testing nations have been able to proof-test new warhead designs and create increasingly sophisticated nuclear weapons. In 1996, negotiations on a global Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) were concluded and the treaty was opened for signature on September 24, 1996. The CTBT, which prohibits "any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion" and established a international test monitoring and verification system, has not yet entered into force.

 

United States
(1,030)
First tested:
July 16, 1945.
Last tested:
Sept. 23, 1992.
Signed CTBT:
Sept. 24, 1996.

USSR/Russia
(715 tests)
First tested:
Aug. 29, 1949.
Last tested:
Oct. 24, 1990.
Deposited CTBT Ratification:
June 30, 2000.

United Kingdom
(45 tests)
First tested:
Oct. 3, 1952.
Last tested:
Nov. 26, 1991.
Signed CTBT:
Sept. 24, 1996.
Deposited CTBT Ratification:
Apr. 6, 1998.

France
(210 tests)
First tested:
Feb. 13, 1960.
Last tested:
Jan. 27, 1996.
Signed CTBT:
Sept. 24, 1996.
Deposited CTBT Ratification:
Apr. 6, 1998.

China
(45 tests)
First tested:
Oct. 16, 1964.
Last tested:
July 29, 1996.
Signed CTBT:
Sept. 24, 1996.

India
(3 tests1)
First tested:
May 18, 1974.
Last tested:
May 13, 1998.
Not a CTBT signatory.

Pakistan
(2 tests1)
First tested:
May 28, 1998.
Last tested:
May 30, 1998.
Not a CTBT signatory.

North Korea
(6 tests)
First tested:
Oct. 9, 2006.
Last tested:
Sept. 3, 2017.
Not a CTBT signatory.

Year United States USSR/ Russia United Kingdom France China India Pakistan North Korea Total
1945 1               1
1946 2               2
1947 0               0
1948 3               3
1949 0 1             1
1950 0 0             0
1951 16 2             18
1952 10 0 1           11
1953 11 5 2           18
1954 6 10 0           16
1955 18 6 0           24
1956 18 9 6           33
1957 32 16 7           55
1958 77 34 5           116
1959 0 0 0           0
1960 0 0 0 3         3
1961 10 59 0 2         71
1962 96 79 2 1         178
1963 47 0 0 3         50
1964 45 9 2 3 1       60
1965 38 14 1 4 1       58
1966 48 18 0 7 3       76
1967 42 17 0 3 2       64
1968 56 17 0 5 1       79
1969 46 19 0 0 2       67
1970 39 16 0 8 1       64
1971 24 23 0 5 1       53
1972 27 24 0 4 2       57
1973 24 17 0 6 1       48
1974 22 21 1 9 1 1     55
1975 22 19 0 2 1 0     44
1976 20 21 1 5 4 0     51
1977 20 24 0 9 1 0     54
1978 19 31 2 11 3 0     66
1979 15 31 1 10 1 0     58
1980 14 24 3 12 1 0     54
1981 16 21 1 12 0 0     50
1982 18 19 1 10 1 0     49
1983 18 25 1 9 2 0     55
1984 18 27 2 8 2 0     57
1985 17 10 1 8 0 0     36
1986 14 0 1 8 0 0     23
1987 14 23 1 8 1 0     47
1988 15 16 0 8 1 0     40
1989 11 7 1 9 0 0     28
1990 8 1 1 6 2 0     18
1991 7 0 1 6 0 0     14
1992 6 0 0 0 2 0     8
1993 0 0 0 0 1 0     1
1994 0 0 0 0 2 0     2
1995 0 0 0 5 2 0     7
1996 0 0 0 1 2 0     3
1997 0 0 0 0 0 0     0
1998 0 0 0 0 0 2 2   4
1999-2005 0 0 0 0 0 0 0   0
2006 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1
2007-2008 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2009 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1
2010 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 02 0
2011 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2012 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2013 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1
2014 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2015 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2016 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 2
2017 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1
2018 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 1,030 715 45 210 45 3 2 6 2,056
NOTE

1. In accordance with the definition of a nuclear test contained in the Threshold Test Ban Treaty and to allow accurate comparison with other countries' figures, India's three simultaneous nuclear explosions on May 11 are counted as only one nuclear test, as are the two explosions on May 13. Likewise, Pakistan's five simultaneous explosions on May 28 are counted as a single test.

2. In the article "Radionuclide Evidence for Low-Yield Nuclear Testing in North Korea in April/May 2010," Lars-Erik De Geer argued that the xexon and barium isotope concentrations in air currents from North Korea in April and May of 2010 were consistent with two low-yield nuclear tests. However, this theory was largely debunked when the Earth Institute at Columbia University measured seismology records and determined that no well-coupled explosion larger than one ton could have occurred during that timeframe. According to the report, such a low yield explosion would have been incapable of advancing the North Korean's technical understanding of a nuclear weapon explosion.

Nuclear Testing

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - CTBT & Nuclear Testing