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ACA’s journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent.

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)

ACA-YPFP NextGen Voices: The Untold Story in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Saga

Sections:

Description: 

ACA and Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP) are hosting an event featuring a​n exclusive​ showing of Marshalling Peace and a discussion on the future of nuclear weapons threats and the ways NextGen leaders can shape today's and tomorrow's nuclear policies.

Body: 

What: Short Film "Marshalling Peace" and
NextGen Discussion

When Tuesday, August 29
7:00-8:30pm

Where1740 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, D.C. 20036 

Register here for the event.

On August 29 - the International Day Against Nuclear Testing - ​NextGen filmmaker Autumn Bordner joins Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP) and the Arms Control Association for a​n exclusive​ showing of Marshalling Peace​. Autumn traveled to the Marshall Islands to research the lingering effects of U.S. nuclear testing conducted there during the Cold War. Her short film documents the tiny nation's legal battle against nuclear weapons​-holding superpowers​, and the​ devastating effects of the U.S. nuclear testing program on the Marshallese people.

Autumn and the Association's Executive Director Daryl Kimball will facilitate a discussion on the future of nuclear weapons threats and the ways NextGen leaders can shape today's and tomorrow's nuclear policies. YPFP's Danielle Preskitt (a former Association intern) will moderate.

The Panelists:

Autumn Bordner is a rising second year at Stanford Law School. Prior to matriculating at Stanford, Autumn worked as an environmental consultant at ICF, and as a fellow with the K1 Project, Center for Nuclear Studies, a research institute that she co-founded as an undergraduate at Columbia University. Autumn is also a member of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) Youth Group. In this capacity, she is working to advance the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Daryl G. Kimball became the Executive Director of the Arms Control Association in September 2001. The Arms Control Association is a private, non-profit membership organization dedicated to public education and support of effective arms control measures pertaining to nuclear, chemical, biological, and conventional weapons. Find his complete bio here.

Register here.

                                                                 

Posted: August 29, 2017

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty at a Glance

July 2017

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

Updated: July 2017

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) prohibits “any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion” anywhere in the world. The treaty was opened for signature in September 1996, and has been signed by 183 nations and ratified by 166. The treaty cannot enter into force until it is ratified by 44 specific nations, eight of which have yet to do so: China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, Iran, Egypt, and the United States. The U.S. Senate voted against CTBT ratification in 1999, and in 2009 President Obama announced his intention to seek Senate reconsideration of the treaty. The administration has given no firm timeframe for this effort.

In order to verify compliance with its provisions, the treaty establishes a global network of monitoring facilities and allows for on-site inspections of suspicious events. The overall accord contains a preamble, 17 treaty articles, two treaty annexes, and a protocol with two annexes detailing verification procedures.

For more on the CTBT text itself, see below.  For more on issues related to the treaty, see Now More Than Ever: The Case for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Preamble

The preamble, which lists disarmament principals and objectives, sets the overall political context of the treaty. In particular, it stresses the need for the continued reduction of nuclear weapons worldwide with the ultimate goal of their elimination. Also of significance, the preamble recognizes that a CTBT will constitute an effective measure of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation by “constraining the development and qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons and ending the development of advanced new types of nuclear weapons.” It further recognizes that a test ban will constitute “a meaningful step in the realization of a systematic process to achieve nuclear disarmament.”

Scope

Article I establishes that all states parties are prohibited from conducting “any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion.” On the basis of the negotiating record, this includes all nuclear explosions, in accordance with President Bill Clinton’s August 1995 “zero yield” proposal.

Implementing Organization

Article II establishes the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), which ensures treaty implementation and provides states-parties with a forum for consultation and cooperation. The organization consists of a Conference of the States Parties, an Executive Council and a Technical Secretariat. The organization, which is located in Vienna, is structurally independent from, but operating in collaboration with, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The Conference of the States Parties is the overall governing body of the organization. It handles treaty-related policy issues and oversees the treaty’s implementation, including the activities of the Executive Council and the Technical Secretariat. The conference meets once a year, unless otherwise decided.

The Executive Council, which meets regularly and acts as the treaty’s principal decision-making body, consists of 51 members. In order to distribute membership evenly throughout the world, the Executive Council comprises 10 states-parties from Africa; seven from Eastern Europe; nine from Latin America and the Caribbean; seven from the Middle East and South Asia; ten from North America and Western Europe; and eight from Southeast Asia, the Pacific and the Far East. The states in each of these geographical regions are listed in Annex 1 to the treaty.

The members of the council are elected by the conference. In order to ensure that those countries with a vested interest in a CTB are adequately represented in the council, at least one-third of the seats allotted to each region will be filled by states-parties on the basis of their nuclear capabilities applicable to the treaty, such as the number of monitoring facilities they contribute to the International Monitoring System (IMS). One seat allocated to each region will be designated on an alphabetical basis and the remaining seats will be determined by rotation or elections. Thus, each state-party will eventually have the opportunity to serve on the council.

The Technical Secretariat is the primary body responsible for implementing the treaty’s verification provisions. In this capacity, it supervises the operation of the IMS and receives, processes, analyzes and reports on the system’s data. It also manages the International Data Center (IDC) and performs procedural tasks related to conducting on-site inspections. Until the treaty enters into force, these functions are being handled by the Provisional Technical Secretariat.

Article III requires each state-party, in accordance with its constitutional process, to take any necessary measures to implement its treaty obligations.

Verification and Compliance

Article IV and the verification protocol establish the treaty’s verification regime, which consists of four basic elements: the IMS, consultation and clarification, on-site inspections and confidence-building measures. The verification regime will not be completely operational until the treaty enters into force. For instance, on-site inspections cannot be authorized until the treaty formally comes into effect.

The purpose of the IMS is to detect nuclear explosions, which are prohibited under Article I. The monitoring system comprises a network of 50 primary and 120 auxiliary seismological monitoring stations designed to detect seismic activity and distinguish between natural events, such as earthquakes, and nuclear explosions. In addition, the system incorporates 80 radionuclide stations and 16 radionuclide laboratories that seek to identify radioactivity released during a nuclear explosion. The IMS also includes 60 infrasound (acoustic) and 11 hydroacoustic stations designed to pick up the sound of a nuclear explosion conducted in the atmosphere or underwater, respectively. The host state and the location of each facility is listed in Annex 1 to the protocol.

Information collected by the IMS is transmitted to the IDC--an essential part of the Technical Secretariat responsible for data storage and processing. Because the IMS generates an enormous amount of raw data, the IDC will regularly provide states-parties with a number of services designed to help them monitor compliance with the treaty’s provisions. In this regard, the data center produces integrated lists of all signals picked up by the IMS, as well as standard event lists and bulletins. In accordance with the parameters outlined in Annex 2 to the protocol, the center also generates standard event bulletins that screen out those events that appear to be of a non-nuclear nature. However, notwithstanding this analysis role, the IDC must make both the raw and processed information available to all states-parties.

The consultation and clarification component of the verification regime encourages states-parties to attempt to resolve, either among themselves or through the organization, possible instances of non-compliance before requesting an on-site inspection. A state-party must provide clarification of an ambiguous event within 48 hours of receiving such a request from another state-party or the Executive Council.

Each state-party has the right to request an on-site inspection in the territory of the party in question. The inspection request must be based on information collected by the IMS; data obtained through national technical means (NTM) of verification, such as satellites, in a manner consistent with international law; or a combination of IMS and NTM information. The request must contain the approximate geographical coordinates and the estimated depth of the ambiguous event, the proposed boundaries of the area to be inspected (not to exceed 1,000 square kilometers), the state-party or parties to be inspected, the probable environment and estimated time of event, all evidence upon which the request is based, the identity of the proposed observer (if available) and the results of the consultation and clarification process (if any).

The Executive Council would make a decision on the on-site inspection request within 96 hours of its receipt from the requesting state-party. The inspection would be authorized to proceed if it has been approved by at least 30 of the council’s 51-members, the so-called “green light” procedure. An inspection team would arrive at the point of entry within six days of the council’s receipt of the inspection request. During the course of the inspection, the inspection team may submit a proposal to extend the inspection to begin drilling, which must be approved by 26 council members. The duration of the inspection must not exceed 60 days, but may be extended by a maximum of 70 additional days (subject to council approval) if the inspection team determines that more time is needed to fulfill its mandate.

If the Executive Council rejects an on-site inspection request (or terminates an inspection already underway) because it is of a frivolous or abusive nature, the council may impose punitive measures on the requesting state-party. In this regard, it may require the requesting state-party to provide financial compensation for preparations made by the Technical Secretariat and may suspend the party’s right to request an inspection and serve on the council for an unspecified period of time.

The verification regime also incorporates confidence-building measures intended to promote treaty compliance. In order to reduce the likelihood that verification data may be misconstrued, each state-party voluntarily provides the Technical Secretariat with notification of any chemical explosion involving a magnitude of 300 tons or more of TNT-equivalent on its territory. Each state-party may also assist the Technical Secretariat in the calibration of IMS stations.

In order to ensure compliance with the treaty’s provisions, Article V empowers the conference to revoke a state-party’s rights under the treaty, recommend to the states-parties punitive measures such as sanctions or bring the case to the attention of the United Nations. Article VI describes the mechanism by which disputes pertaining to the application or interpretation of the treaty may be settled.

Amendment Process

Under Article VII, each state-party has the right to propose amendments to the treaty after its entry into force. Any proposed amendment requires the approval of a simple majority of states-parties at an amendment conference with no party casting a negative vote.

Peaceful Nuclear Explosions

Under Article VIII, a conference will be held 10 years after the treaty’s entry into force to review the implementation of its provisions, including the preamble. At this review conference, any state-party may request that the issue of so-called “peaceful nuclear explosions” (PNEs) be put on the agenda. However, the presumption is that PNEs remain prohibited unless certain virtually insurmountable obstacles are overcome. First, the review conference must decide without objection that PNEs may be permitted, then an amendment to the treaty must also be approved without objection at a separate amendment conference, as is explained above. The amendment must also demonstrate that no military benefits would result from such explosions. This double hurdle makes it extremely unlikely that peaceful nuclear explosions would ever be permitted under the treaty.

Duration and Withdrawal

Under Article IX, the treaty has an unlimited duration. In addition, each state-party has the right to withdraw from the treaty if it decides, “extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this Treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests.” Notice of intent to withdraw must be given at least six months in advance.

Miscellaneous Provisions

Article X specifies that the treaty’s annexes, protocol and annexes to the protocol are a formal part of the treaty. Article XI declares that the treaty is open to all states for signature prior to its entry into force. Article XII maintains that each signatory state will ratify the treaty according to its own constitutional procedures. Under Article XIII, any state that has not signed the treaty prior to its entry into force may accede to it any time thereafter.

Entry into Force

Under Article XIV, the treaty will not enter into force until it has been signed and ratified by 44 states listed by name in Annex 2. These states include the five original nuclear weapon states—United States, Russia, Britain, France and China—as well as India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan. (Actual entry into force would occur 180 days after all 44 states deposit their instruments of ratification with the UN Secretary General.) The 44 states, all of which are participating members of the recently expanded Conference on Disarmament, possess nuclear power and research reactors as determined by the IAEA.

Until entry into force, conferences may be held for those states that have already deposited their instruments of ratification to “decide by consensus what measures consistent with international law may be undertaken to accelerate the ratification process.” Since 1999, the Conference Facilitating Entry Into Force of the CTBT has been convened every other year.

Other Provisions

Article XV stipulates that the treaty’s provisions will not be subject to reservations. Article XVI establishes the UN Secretary General as the depositary of the treaty. Under Article XVII, the treaty will be authentic in six languages.

Nuclear Testing

Fact Sheet Categories:

Posted: July 25, 2017

1999 CTBT Safeguards

December, 2010

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

Updated: April 2015

Background

The safeguards of the CTBT are measures consistent with the treaty that the United States could take unilaterally to offset any of the perceived disadvantages and risks of signing the treaty. Safeguards were first proposed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the debate over the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty in order to garner support from treaty skeptics. See the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty at a Glance for more information about the treaty itself. 

The CTBT Safeguards are:

A. The conduct of a Science Based Stockpile Stewardship Program to insure a high level of confidence in the safety and reliability of nuclear weapons in the active stockpile, including the conduct of a broad range of effective and continuing experimental programs.

B. The maintenance of modern nuclear laboratory facilities and programs in theoretical and exploratory nuclear technology which will attract, retain, and ensure the continued application of our human scientific resources to those programs on which continued progress in nuclear technology depends.

C. The maintenance of the basic capability to resume nuclear test activities prohibited by the CTBT should the United States cease to be bound to adhere to this treaty.

D. Continuation of a comprehensive research and development program to improve our treaty monitoring capabilities and operations.

E. The continuing development of a broad range of intelligence gathering and analytical capabilities and operations to ensure accurate and comprehensive information on worldwide nuclear arsenals, nuclear weapons development programs, and related nuclear programs.

F. The understanding that if the President is informed by the Secretaries of Defense and Energy -- advised by the Nuclear Weapons Council, the Directors of the DOE’s nuclear weapons laboratories and the Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command -- that a high level of confidence in the safety or reliability of a nuclear weapon type which the two Secretaries consider to be critical to our nuclear deterrent could no longer be certified, the President, in consultation with Congress, would be prepared to withdraw from the CTBT under the standard “supreme national interest” clause in order to conduct whatever testing might be required.

Nuclear Testing

Fact Sheet Categories:

Posted: July 20, 2017

The Status of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: Signatories and Ratifiers

March 2015

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

Updated: July 2017

Despite nearly 20 years of global efforts to promote the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the treaty’s enactment appears a long way off.

President George H. W. Bush signed into law the unilateral declaration to forego full-scale nuclear weapons testing October 2, 1992. The United States signed the CTBT on September 24, 1996, the day it opened for signature, but the Senate dealt a severe blow to the near-term prospects for U.S. participation when it refused to provide its advice and consent October 13, 1999. President Obama, however, stated in February 2009 that he intended to pursue Senate advice and consent to ratification of the treaty "immediately and aggressively."

The CTBT will formally enter into force after 44 designated “nuclear-capable states” (as listed in Annex 2 of the treaty) have deposited their instruments of ratification with the UN secretary-general. To date, 183 states have signed and 166 have ratified the treaty. Yet of the 44 specified countries, India, Pakistan, and North Korea still have not signed, and only 36 have ratified the treaty.

For more information on the CTBT, see Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty at a Glance.

The following chart identifies the treaty’s signatories and ratifiers. States whose ratification is required for the treaty to take effect are shaded and marked with an asterisk (*).


Total Signatories: 183
Total Ratifiers: 166

Annex 2 Ratifications (out of 44): 36

Country
Signature
Ratification
Afghanistan 9/24/03 9/24/03
Albania 9/27/96 4/23/03
Algeria* 10/15/96 7/11/03
Andorra 9/24/96 7/12/06
Angola 9/27/96 3/20/15
Antigua and Barbuda 4/16/97 1/11/06
Argentina* 9/24/96 12/4/98
Armenia 10/1/96 7/12/06
Australia* 9/24/96 7/9/98
Austria* 9/24/96 3/13/98
Azerbaijan 7/28/97 2/2/99
Bahamas 2/4/05 11/30/07
Bahrain 9/24/96 4/12/04
Bangladesh* 10/24/96 3/8/00
Barbados 1/14/08 1/14/08
Belarus 9/24/96 9/13/00
Belgium* 9/24/96 6/29/99
Belize 11/14/01 3/26/04
Benin 9/27/96 3/6/01
Buhtan
Bolivia 9/24/96 10/4/99
Bosnia and Herzegovina 9/24/96 10/26/06
Botswana 9/16/02 10/28/02
Brazil* 9/24/96 7/24/98
Brunei Darussalam 1/22/97 1/10/13
Bulgaria* 9/24/96 9/29/99
Burkina Faso 9/27/96 4/17/02
Burundi 9/24/96 9/24/08
Cambodia 9/26/96 11/10/00
Cameroon 11/16/01 2/6/06
Canada* 9/24/96 12/18/98
Cape Verde 10/1/96 3/1/06
Central African Republic 12/19/01 5/26/10
Chad 10/8/96 2/8/13
Chile* 9/24/96 7/12/00
China* 9/24/96
Colombia* 9/24/96 1/29/08
Comoros 12/12/96
Congo 2/11/97 9/2/14
Cook Islands 12/5/97 9/6/05
Costa Rica 9/24/96 9/25/01
Côte d'Ivoire 9/25/96 3/11/03
Croatia 9/24/96 3/2/01
Cuba
Cyprus 9/24/96 7/18/03
Czech Republic 11/12/96 9/11/97
Dem. Republic of Congo* 10/4/96 9/28/04
Denmark 9/24/96 12/21/98
Djibouti 10/21/96 7/15/05
Dominica
Dominican Republic 10/3/96 9/4/07
Ecuador 9/24/96 11/12/01
Egypt* 10/14/96
El Salvador 9/24/96 9/11/98
Equatorial Guinea 10/9/96
Eritrea 11/11/03 11/11/03
Estonia 11/20/96 8/13/99
Ethiopia 9/25/96 8/8/06
Fiji 9/24/96 10/10/96
Finland* 9/24/96 1/15/99
France* 9/24/96 4/6/98
Gabon 10/7/96 9/20/00
Gambia 4/9/03
Georgia 9/24/96 9/27/02
Germany* 9/24/96 8/20/98
Ghana 10/3/96 06/14/11
Greece 9/24/96 4/21/99
Grenada 10/10/96 8/19/98
Guatemala 9/20/99 1/12/12
Guinea 10/3/96 09/20/11
Guinea-Bissau 4/11/97 09/30/13
Guyana 9/7/00 3/7/01
Haiti 9/24/96 12/1/05
Holy See 9/24/96 7/18/01
Honduras 9/25/96 10/30/03
Hungary* 9/25/96 7/13/99
Iceland 9/24/96

6/26/00

India*
Indonesia* 9/24/96 2/6/12
Iran* 9/24/96
Iraq 8/19/08 09/26/13
Ireland 9/24/96 7/15/99
Israel* 9/25/96
Italy* 9/24/96 2/1/99
Jamaica 11/11/96 11/13/01
Japan* 9/24/96 7/8/97
Jordan 9/26/96 8/25/98
Kazakhstan 9/30/96 5/14/02
Kenya 11/14/96 11/30/00
Kiribati 9/7/00 9/7/00
Kuwait 9/24/96 5/6/03
Kyrgyzstan 10/8/96 10/02/03
Laos 7/30/97 10/5/00
Latvia 9/24/96 11/20/01
Lebanon 9/16/05 11/21/08
Lesotho 9/30/96 9/14/99
Liberia 10/1/96 8/17/09
Libya 11/13/01 1/6/04
Liechtenstein 9/27/96 9/21/04
Lithuania 10/7/96 2/7/00
Luxembourg 9/24/96 5/26/99
Macedonia 10/29/98 3/14/00
Madagascar 10/9/96 9/15/05
Malawi 10/9/96 11/21/08
Malaysia 7/23/98 1/17/08
Maldives 10/1/97 9/7/00
Mali 2/18/97 8/4/99
Malta 9/24/96 7/23/01
Marshall Islands 9/24/96 10/28/09
Mauritania 9/24/96 4/30/03
Maritius
Mexico* 9/24/96 10/5/99
Micronesia 9/24/96 7/25/97
Moldova 9/24/97 1/16/07
Monaco 10/1/96 12/18/98
Mongolia 10/1/96 8/8/97
Montenegro 10/23/06 10/23/06
Morocco 9/24/96 4/17/00
Mozambique 9/26/96 11/4/08
Myanmar 11/25/96 9/21/16
Namibia 9/24/96 6/29/01
Nauru 9/8/00 11/12/01
Nepal 10/8/96
Netherlands* 9/24/96 3/23/99
New Zealand 9/27/96 3/19/99
Nicaragua 9/24/96 12/5/00
Niger 10/3/96 9/9/02
Nigeria 9/8/00

9/27/01

Niue 4/9/12 3/5/14
North Korea*
Norway* 9/24/96 7/15/99
Oman 9/23/99 6/13/03
Pakistan*
Palau 8/12/03 8/1/07
Panama 9/24/96 3/23/99
Papua New Guinea 9/25/96
Paraguay 9/25/96 10/4/01
Peru* 9/25/96 11/12/97
Philippines 9/24/96 2/23/01
Poland* 9/24/96 5/25/99
Portugal 9/24/96 6/26/00
Qatar 9/24/96 3/3/97
Romania* 9/24/96 10/5/99
Russia* 9/24/96 6/30/00
Rwanda 11/30/'2004 11/30/04
St. Kitts and Nevis 3/33/04 4/27/05
St. Lucia 10/4/96 4/5/01
St. Vincent and the Grenadines 7/2/09 9/23/09
Samoa 10/9/96 9/27/02
San Marino 10/7/96 3/12/02
Sao Tome and Principe 9/26/96
Saudi Arabia
Senegal 9/26/96 6/9/99
Serbia and Montenegro 6/8/01 5/19/04
Seychelles 9/24/96 4/13/04
Sierra Leone 9/8/00 9/17/01
Singapore 1/14/99 11/10/01
Slovakia* 9/30/96 3/3/98
Slovenia 9/24/96 8/31/99
Solomon Islands 10/3/96
Somalia
South Africa* 9/24/96 3/30/99
South Korea* 9/24/96 9/24/99
South Sudan
Spain* 9/24/96 7/31/98
Sri Lanka 10/24/96
Sudan 6/10/04 6/10/04
Suriname 1/14/97 2/7/06
Swaziland 9/24/96 9/21/16
Sweden* 9/24/96 12/2/98
Switzerland* 9/24/96 10/1/99
Syria
Tajikistan 10/7/96 6/10/98
Tarzania 9/30/04 9/30/04
Thailand 11/12/96
Timor-Leste 9/26/08
Togo 10/2/96 7/2/04
Tonga
Trinidad and Tobago 10/8/09 5/26/10
Tunisia 10/16/96 9/23/04
Turkey* 9/24/96 2/16/00
Turkmenistan 9/24/96 2/20/98
Tuvalu
Uganda 11/7/96 3/14/01
Ukraine* 9/27/96 2/23/01
United Arab Emirates 9/25/96 9/18/00
United Kingdom* 9/24/96 4/6/98
United States* 9/24/96
Uruguay 9/24/96 9/21/01
Uzbekistan 10/3/96 5/29/97
Vanuatu 9/24/96 9/16/05
Venezuela 10/3/96 5/13/02
Viet Nam* 9/24/96 3/10/06
Yemen 9/30/96
Zambia 12/3/96 2/23/06
Zimbabwe 10/13/99

Nuclear Testing

Posted: July 19, 2017

Congress Puts Bipartisan Arms Control Policies at Risk

Sections:

Description: 

The House and Senate Armed Services Committee are currently considering defense authorization legislation that if passed into law would deal a major, if not mortal, blow to longstanding, bipartisan arms control efforts.

Body: 

Volume 9, Issue 5, July 17, 2017

The future of U.S. nuclear weapons and missile defense policy is at a crossroads. The Trump administration is conducting comprehensive reviews—scheduled to be completed by the end of the year—that could result in significant changes to U.S. policy to reducing nuclear weapons risks.

As the possessors of over 90 percent of the world's roughly 15,000 nuclear weapons, the United States and Russia have a special responsibility to avoid direct conflict and reduce nuclear risks. Yet, the U.S.-Russia relationship is under significant strain, due to to Moscow’s election interference, annexation of Crimea, continued destabilization of Ukraine, and support for the brutal Assad regime in Syria. These tensions have also put put immense pressure on the arms control relationship.

It is against this backdrop that the House and Senate Armed Services Committee versions of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) include provisions that if passed into law would deal a major, if not mortal, blow to longstanding, bipartisan arms control efforts.

The House approved its version of the NDAA July 14 by a vote of 344-81 and the Senate could take up its bill later this month. 

The problematic arms control provisions in the bills would undermine U.S. security by eroding stability between the world's two largest nuclear powers, increasing the risks of nuclear competition, and further alienating allies already unsettled by President Donald Trump’s commitment to their security. In fact, some are so radical that they have even drawn opposition from the White House and Defense Department.

The bills also fail to provide effective oversight of the rising costs of the government’s more than $1 trillion-plan to sustain and upgrade U.S. nuclear forces and propose investments in expanding U.S. missile defenses that make neither strategic, technical, or fiscal sense.

Sowing the Seeds of the INF Treaty’s Destruction

The United States has accused Russia of testing and deploying ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The treaty, which remains in force, required the United States and the then-Soviet Union to eliminate and permanently forswear all their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

Both the House and Senate versions of the NDAA authorize programs of record and provide funding for research and development on a new U.S. road-mobile GLCM with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The House bill requires development of a conventional missile whereas the Senate bill would authorize a dual-capable (i.e., nuclear) missile.

The House bill also includes a provision stating that if the president determines that Russia remains in violation of the treaty 15 months after enactment of the legislation, the prohibitions set forth in the treaty will no longer be binding on the United States. A similar provision could be offered as an amendment to the Senate bill.

These provisions are drawn from legislation introduced in February by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) in the Senate and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) in the House to “provide for compliance enforcement regarding Russian violations” of the INF Treaty.

Development of a new treaty-prohibited GLCM is militarily unnecessary, would suck funding from other military programs for which there are already requirements, divide NATO, and give Russia an easy excuse to publicly repudiate the treaty and deploy large numbers of noncompliant missiles without any constraints.

The report accompanying the Senate bill notes that the Senate “does not intend for the United States to enter into violation of the INF Treaty.” (The treaty does not ban research and development of treaty-prohibited capabilities.) But this claim is belied by the report’s statement that development of a GLCM is needed to “close the capability gap opened” by Russia. Moreover, supporters of a new GLCM also argue it is needed to counter China, which is not a party to the treaty.

Before rushing to develop a new weapon that the Pentagon has yet to ask for and NATO is unlikely to support, the administration and Congress must at the very least address concerns about the suitability and cost-effectiveness of a new GLCM. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) offered an amendment to the bill on the House floor that would have done just that, but it was defeated by a vote of 173-249.

Meanwhile, mandating that the United States in effect withdraw from the treaty if Russia does not return to compliance by the end of next year raises constitutional concerns. If Congress can say the United States is not bound by its obligations under the INF Treaty, what is to stop it from doing the same regarding other treaties?

The administration's statement of policy on the House NDAA objected to the House INF provision on requiring a new GLCM, stating "[t]his provision unhelpfully ties the Administration to a specific missile system, which would limit potential military response options.” The statement also noted that bill would “raise concerns among NATO allies and could deprive the Administration of the flexibility to make judgments about the timing and nature of invoking our legal remedies under the treaty.”

Instead of responding to Russia’s violation by taking steps that could leave the United States holding the bag for the INF treaty’s demise, Congress should emphasize the importance of preserving the treaty and encourage both sides to more energetically pursue a diplomatic resolution to the compliance controversy. Lawmakers should also encourage the Trump administration to pursue firm but measured steps to ensure Russia does not gain a military advantage by violating the treaty and reaffirm its commitment to the defense of those allies that would be the potential targets of Russia’s noncompliant missile.

Cutting Off Our Nose to Spite Our Face on New START

One of the few remaining bright spots in the U.S.-Russia relationship is 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). Signed in 2010, the treaty requires each side to reduce its deployed strategic nuclear forces to no more than 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems by 2018. It also includes a comprehensive suite of monitoring and verification provisions that help ensure compliance with these limits.

The agreement, which is slated to expire Feb. 5, 2021, can be extended by up to five years if both Moscow and Washington agree.  The House bill includes a provision that would prohibit the use of funds to extend New START until Russia returns to compliance with the INF treaty. This is senseless and counterproductive. By “punishing” Russia’s INF violation in this way, the United States would simply free Russia to expand the number of strategic nuclear weapons pointed at the United States after New START expires in 2021.

If the treaty is allowed to lapse, there will be no limits on Russia’s strategic nuclear forces for the first time since the early-1970s. Moreover, the United States would have fewer tools with which to verify the size and composition of the Russian nuclear stockpile.

For these reasons and more, the U.S. military and U.S. allies continue to strongly support New START.

Undermining the Norm Against Nuclear Testing

A small but influential group of Republican lawmakers are seeking to cut U.S. funding for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and undermine international support for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the global nuclear test moratorium.

Sen. Cotton and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) introduced legislation on Feb.7 to “restrict” funding for the CTBTO and undermine the U.S. obligation – as a signatory to the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty – not to conduct nuclear test explosions.

Rep. Wilson successfully offered the bill as an amendment to the House NDAA and Sen. Cotton could seek to do the same on the Senate bill.

With North Korea threatening to conduct a sixth nuclear test explosion, it is essential that the United States reinforce, not weaken, the global nuclear testing taboo

More information on the problematic provision in the House bill is detailed in a recent issue brief on CTBTO funding.

Nuclear Weapons Spending Run Amok

The Trump administration’s first Congressional budget request pushes full steam ahead with the Obama administration’s excessive, all-of-the-above approach to upgrading the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Both the House and Senate bills authorize the requested level of funding for these programs, and even increase funding for some programs beyond what the Trump administration requested.

As the projected costs for programs designed to replace and upgrade the nuclear arsenal continue to rise, Congress must demand greater transparency about long-term costs, strengthen oversight over high-risk programs, and consider options to delay, curtail, or cancel programs to save taxpayer dollars while meeting deterrence requirements.

A February 2017 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report estimates that the United States will spend $400 billion (in then-year dollars) on nuclear weapons between fiscal years 2017 and 2026. The new projection is an increase of $52 billion, or 15 percent, over the CBO’s most recent previous estimate of the 10-year cost of nuclear forces, which was published in January 2015 and put the total cost at $348 billion.

In fact, the CBO’s latest projection suggest that the cost of nuclear forces could greatly exceed $1 trillion over the next 30 years.

What makes the growing cost to sustain the nuclear mission so worrisome for military planners is that costs are scheduled to peak during the mid-2020s and overlap with large increases in projected spending on conventional weapon system modernization programs. Numerous Pentagon officials and outside experts have warned about the affordability problem posed by the current approach and that it cannot be sustained without significant and sustained increases to defense spending or cuts to other military priorities.

Unfortunately, the House rejected two Democratic floor amendments that would have shed greater light on the multidecade costs of U.S. nuclear forces. One amendment would have required CBO to extend the timeframe of its biennial report on the cost of nuclear weapons from 10 years to 30 years. Another would have required extending the timeframe of a Congressionally mandated report submitted annually by Defense Department and National Nuclear Security Administration from 10 years to 25 years.

In addition, the House defeated by a vote of 169-254 an amendment offered by Rep. Blumenauer that would have restricted funding for the program to develop a new fleet of nuclear air-launched cruise missiles at the FY 2017 enacted level until the administration completes its Nuclear Posture Review and a detailed assessment of the need for the program.

Though the administration requested a major increase for the new missile and associated warhead refurbishment program in FY 2018, Defense Secretary James Mattis has repeatedly stated that he is still evaluating the need for the weapon.

The House Rules Committee also prevented debate on a floor amendment that would have required the Pentagon to release the value of the contract awarded to Northrop Grumman Corp. in October 2015. The department has refused to release the contract value citing classification concerns.

Tripling-Down on Missile Defense Despite Technical Flaws

Both the House and Senate bills authorize significant increases in funding for U.S. ballistic missile defense programs. The House bill authorizes an increase of $2.5 billion above the administration’s FY 2018 budget request of $7.9 billion for the Missile Defense Agency. The Senate bill authorizes a $630 million increase.

The bills also include provisions that would authorize a significant expansion of the ground-based midcourse (GMD) defense system in Alaska and California, which is designed to protect against limited long-range ballistic missile attacks from North Korea or Iran, and accelerate advanced technology programs to increase the capability of U.S. missile defenses. The GMD system has suffered from numerous reliability problems and has a success rate of just over 50 percent in controlled and scripted flight intercept tests.

In addition, the House bill includes a provision that would require the Pentagon to submit a plan for the development of a space-based missile defense interceptors and authorize $30 million for a space test bed to conduct research and development on such interceptors. The House bill would also require the Pentagon, pursuant to improving the defense of Hawaii, to conduct an intercept test of the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA missile against an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) target. The interceptor, which is still under development, is designed to defend against medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles and the department has no public plans to test it versus an ICBM.

Rushing to deploy more unreliable GMD interceptors or building additional long-range interceptor sites is not a winning strategy to stay ahead of the North Korean ICBM threat. Quantity is not a substitute for quality.

Any consideration of building and deploying additional homeland interceptors or interceptor sites should wait until a new ground-based midcourse defense kill vehicle under development is successfully tested under operationally realistic conditions (including against ICBM targets and realistic countermeasures). The first test of the new kill vehicle under these conditions is not scheduled until 2020 and deployment is not scheduled until 2022.

In addition, future testing and deployment of new capabilities should not be schedule-driven, but based on the maturity of the technology and successful testing under operationally realistic conditions. Accelerating development programs risks saddling them with cost overruns, schedule delays, and test failures, as has been the case with previous missile-defense programs.

Despite numerous nonpartisan studies that have been conducted during both Republican and Democratic administrations which concluded that a spaced-based missile defense is unfeasible and unaffordable, a small faction of missile defense supporters continues to push the idea. Most recently, a 2012 report from the National Academy of Sciences declared that even a limited space system geared to longer-burning liquid fueled threats would cost about $200 billion to acquire and have a $300 billion 20-year life cycle cost (in FY 2010 dollars), which would be at least 10 times any other defense approach. 

While missile defense has a role to play as part of a comprehensive strategy to combat the North Korean missile threat, it’s neither as capable nor as significant as many seem to hope. More realism is needed about the limitations of defenses and the longstanding obstacles that have prevented them from working as intended.

The potential blowback of an expansion of U.S. missile defense capabilities from Russia and China must also be considered. Missile defense does not provide an escape route from the vulnerability of our allies, deployed forces, and citizens in the region to North Korea’s nuclear and conventional missiles.—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament policy

Posted: July 17, 2017

Amendment on CTBTO Funding Would Undermine Global Test Ban

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Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) introduced legislation on Feb.7 to “restrict” funding for the CTBTO. The bill will be offered as a floor amendment by Wilson to the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which is being considered this week.

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Volume 9, Issue 4, July 2017

Unfortunately, a small but influential group of Republican lawmakers are seeking to cut U.S. funding for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and undermine international support for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the global nuclear test moratorium.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) introduced legislation on Feb.7 to “restrict” funding for the CTBTO.

The House approved the language as an amendment by Wilson to the National Defense Authorization Act; the Senate will consider a similar amendment from Sen. Cotton when it considers the NDAA later this week.*

The amendment purports not to restrict U.S. funding specifically for the CTBTO's International Monitoring System, but in practice any significant reduction in U.S. technical and financial support for the CTBTO would:

  • adversely impact the organization’s ability to operate and maintain existing nuclear test monitoring stations. This is due to the fact that a wide range of organization’s personnel and assets directly or indirectly support the IMS. This includes staff time and technical support for the International Data Centre in Vienna, which processes information provided by IMS operations; and
  • prompt other states to restrict their funding for the CTBTO or possibly withhold data from CTBTO monitoring stations that are based in their territory, thus undermining the capabilities of the system to detect and deter clandestine nuclear testing.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks with Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano and European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini during the April 2017 G7 foreign ministers meeting in Italy. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]The Wilson amendment would run counter to the policy position articulated by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who joined with his G7 foreign ministerial counterparts to extoll the value of the CTBTO in their April joint communique on nonproliferation and disarmament. They said in part:

We believe that all States should maintain all existing voluntary moratoria on nuclear weapon test explosions or any other nuclear explosion, and those States that have not instituted such moratoria should do so. The verification regime being established by the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, in particular the International Monitoring System and International Data Centre, has proven its effectiveness by providing substantive and reliable data on the nuclear tests conducted by North Korea. We strongly encourage all interested States to complete the IMS as a matter of priority.

The proposed Wilson amendment also seeks to undermine the U.S. obligation—as a signatory to the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty—not to conduct nuclear test explosions. The amendment calls on Congress to declare that the September 2016 UN Security Council Resolution 2310 does not “obligate…nor does it impose an obligation on the United States to refrain from actions that would run counter to the object and purpose” of the CTBT, which President Bill Clinton signed in 1996.

Contrary to what the Cotton-Wilson bill implies, Resolution 2310 (which was endorsed by 42 states, including Israel) does not impose any new obligations on the United States. Rather, it:

  • encourages states to “provide the support required” to the CTBTO and the IMS, and urges states to refrain from nuclear testing and urges those states that have not ratified to do so; and
  • also takes note of a September 15 joint statement by the five permanent Security Council members that formally “recognized” that a nuclear explosion would “defeat the object and purpose of the CTBT.” 

The G7 Foreign Minsters’ April 11 Joint Communique—endorsed by Tillerson—also “recalls" UN Security Council Resolution 2310 as an important contribution to the effort to ensure all states that have signed the CTBT do not go back on their promise not to conduct nuclear weapon test explosions. 

However, if Congress were to assert that the United States is not required to respect our obligations as a CTBT signatory not to conduct nuclear test explosions, it would signal to other states that that the United States may be seeking to back out of its commitment to a global and verifiable nuclear test ban and is considering the resumption of nuclear testing.

That’s not a smart move. With North Korea threatening to conduct a sixth nuclear test explosion, it is essential that the United States reinforce, not undermine, the global nuclear testing taboo

Backing off the United States' historically strong commitment to halting nuclear testing by any country at this time could trigger a dangerous chain reaction by other nuclear-armed states and would run afoul of key U.S. allies who strongly oppose nuclear testing and who support the CTBT. U.S. financial support to the CTBTO is critical to detect and deter nuclear weapons testing and it enhances national and international security—and should not be subjected to the restrictions proposed in the Wilson amendment.—DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director

*This sentence was updated July 17, 2017 to reflect that the House amendment by Wilson was adopted by a voice vote.

Posted: July 12, 2017

U.S. Support for the CTBTO Enhances U.S. and Global Security

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According to the FY2018 budget outline, the Trump administration will seek funding cuts in the U.S. contribution for the CTBTO, the intergovernmental organization responsible for the global nuclear test monitoring system designed to detect and deter clandestine nuclear explosions.

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Volume 9, Issue 2, May 2017

At a time when it is more important than ever to reinforce the global norm against nuclear test explosions and to maintain global capabilities to detect nuclear weapons testing by other countries, the Donald Trump administration is proposing severe budget cutbacks at the State Department, including U.S. contributions to key international organizations.
 
According to the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 budget outline released by the Trump administration in February, his administration “seeks to reduce or end direct funding for international organizations whose missions do not substantially advance U.S. foreign policy interests, are duplicative, or are not well-managed.” No further detail or explanation was provided.
 
The Trump administration is expected to release its full budget request the week of May 22.
 
These funding cuts could include a reduction in the U.S. contribution for the intergovernmental organization responsible for the global nuclear test monitoring system designed to detect and deter clandestine nuclear explosions, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).
 
Such funding cuts would run counter to the value placed on this contribution by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who joined with his G7 foreign ministerial counterparts to extoll the value of the CTBTO in their April 11 joint communique on nonproliferation and disarmament. They said in part:

We believe that all States should maintain all existing voluntary moratoria on nuclear weapon test explosions or any other nuclear explosion, and those States that have not instituted such moratoria should do so.
 
The verification regime being established by the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, in particular the International Monitoring System and International Data Centre, has proven its effectiveness by providing substantive and reliable data on the nuclear tests conducted by North Korea. We strongly encourage all interested States to complete the IMS as a matter of priority.

The statement also recalls UN Security Council Resolution 2310 (passed September 23, 2016) —which calls on all states to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), refrain from nuclear testing, and provide support for the CTBTO. The resolution also notes the contribution of the CTBT to nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament.

Past U.S. Support and Results

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other diplomats vote to adopt the resolution in support of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty during a UN Security Council meeting September 23. (Photo credit: Astrid Riecken/CTBTO) The final omnibus appropriations bill for FY 2017 fully funds the Obama administration’s final budget request of $32 million for the U.S. contribution to the CTBT International Monitoring System (IMS) and CTBTO. This is in line with the United States’ longstanding support for the CTBT, which was formally established in 1997.
 
The CTBTO was established with the support of the United States and the other 182 signatories of the CTBT to build, operate, and maintain a robust IMS and International Data Center to detect and deter nuclear weapon test explosions, which are banned by the treaty.
 
Today the IMS is more than 90% complete and is collecting and analyzing information on a continuous 24/7 basis for the purpose of detecting and deterring clandestine nuclear test explosions and to provide the technical basis for international responses to noncompliance.
 
The CTBTO provides additional nuclear test detection capabilities beyond U.S. national means of intelligence and is a neutral source of information that can mobilize international action against any state that violates the global norm against nuclear testing.
 
The total annual budget of the CTBTO was about  $128 million for 2016. The United States provides 22.47% of the CTBTO’s funding. Over the years, the United States has also made voluntary, in-kind contributions including for the operation and maintenance costs of all IMS facilities in the United States and support to the software development for the International Data Center, which analyzes the global monitoring data for nuclear testing activity. These in-kind contributions are valued at more than $5 million USD in 2015 and $9 million in 2016.
 
Although United States signed the CTBT in 1996 and has not conducted a nuclear test explosion in 25 years, the United States is one of eight remaining states that must ratify the treaty in order to allow for its formal entry into force.

The Illogic of the Treaty’s Critics

Unfortunately, a small but influential group of Republican lawmakers are seeking to cut U.S. funding for the CTBTO and undermine international support for the CTBT and the global nuclear test moratorium.
 
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) introduced legislation on Feb.7 to “restrict” funding for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).
 
The Cotton and Wilson bill  purports not to restrict U.S. funding specifically for the IMS, but in practice any significant reduction in U.S. technical and financial support for the CTBTO would:

  • adversely impact the organization’s ability to operate and maintain existing nuclear test monitoring stations. This is due to the fact that a wide range of organization’s personnel and assets directly or indirectly support the IMS. This includes staff time and technical support for the International Data Centre in Vienna, which processes information provided by IMS operations; and
  • prompt other states to restrict their funding for the CTBTO or possibly withhold data from CTBTO monitoring stations that are based in their territory, thus undermining the capabilities of the system to detect and deter clandestine nuclear testing.

The bill also seeks to undermine the U.S. obligation—as a signatory to the CTBT—not to conduct nuclear test explosions. It calls on Congress to declare that the September 2016 UN Security Council resolution does not “obligate…nor does it impose an obligation on the United States to refrain from actions that would run counter to the object and purpose” of the CTBT, which President Bill Clinton signed in 1996.
 
Contrary to what the Cotton/Wilson bill implies, Resolution 2310 (which was endorsed by 42 states including Israel) does not impose any new obligations on the United States. Rather, UNSC 2310:

  • encourages states to “provide the support required” to the CTBTO and the IMS, and urges states to refrain from nuclear testing and urges those states that have not ratified to do so; and
  • also takes note of the September 15 joint statement by the five permanent Security Council members that formally “recognized” that a nuclear explosion would “defeat the object and purpose of the CTBT.” 

So long as the United States remains a signatory of the CTBT, it is legally obliged not to take actions that would defeat its object and purpose. In other words, like all other 183 signatories, it shall not conduct a nuclear test explosion.
 
However, if Congress were to adopt the Cotton-Wilson bill asserting that the United States is not required to respect our obligations as a CTBT signatory not to test, it would signal to other states that that the United States is seeking to back out of its commitment to a global and verifiable nuclear test ban and is considering the resumption of nuclear weapons testing.
 
That’s not a smart move. With North Korea threatening to conduct a sixth nuclear test explosion, it is essential that the United States reinforce, not undermine, the global nuclear testing taboo
 
Backing off our historically strong commitment to ending nuclear testing at this time could trigger a dangerous chain reaction by other nuclear-armed states and would run afoul of key U.S. allies who strongly oppose nuclear testing and who support the CTBT. Continuing to fund the U.S. contribution to detect and deter nuclear weapons testing enhances national and international security.

—DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director

Posted: May 8, 2017

Republicans Seek to Cut CTBTO Funds

Republican lawmakers are seeking to cut U.S. funding for the CTBTO.

March 2017

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

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

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

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

Posted: March 1, 2017

The Nuclear Test Ban: Technical Opportunities for the New Administration

The Trump administration should not overlook the opportunity to advance scientific and technical measures to strengthen nuclear explosion detection and analysis.

January/February 2017

By Stephen Herzog

It has been two decades since the nuclear Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was opened for signature at the United Nations. So far, 183 states have signed and 166 have ratified the treaty, which U.S. President Bill Clinton called “the longest-sought, hardest-fought prize in the history of arms control.”1 

Despite what since has become a global norm against explosive nuclear testing, the CTBT itself does not enter into force until it is ratified by eight holdout states listed in Annex 2 of the treaty, including the United States.2 Even so, the accord is a well-established pillar of the international security system. The UN Security Council in September marked the treaty’s 20th anniversary by adopting Resolution 2310, which recognizes international support for the accord, reinforces the global norm against nuclear test explosions created by the treaty, underscores the value of the global monitoring system to verify treaty compliance, and calls on all remaining states to sign and ratify to facilitate its “early entry” into force.

The infrasound array on the remote South Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha, shown in a 2004 photo, is among the 285 certified sites that are part of the International Monitoring System established to verify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. (Photo credit: CTBTO)As the Trump administration sets out policies on the CTBT regime and other nuclear arms control and nonproliferation issues, it should not overlook the opportunity to advance related scientific and technical measures to strengthen nuclear explosion monitoring worldwide.

The capability to detect nuclear tests has changed dramatically since 1999, when the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate voted against CTBT ratification, with opponents citing issues such as verification and a potential need for testing to maintain the reliability of U.S. nuclear weapons. At that time, there were no certified International Monitoring System (IMS) stations. At present, 285 of the planned 337 IMS stations are certified and monitoring the globe to detect and confirm any violations of the treaty.3 A 2012 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study concluded that sensitive monitoring thresholds of IMS stations and national technical means would make it extremely difficult for even the most sophisticated states to evasively test nuclear weapons.4 The study also found that the U.S. nuclear stockpile stewardship program is maintaining a reliable arsenal under the 1992 U.S. moratorium on nuclear tests. These conditions have led numerous analysts to conclude that the treaty serves U.S. national security interests.5 

Even with persuasive technical capabilities in place and President Barack Obama’s April 2009 commitment to aggressively pursue U.S. ratification, his administration’s efforts were modest. They included outreach to senators, publication of Department of State factsheets, and participation of administration officials in nongovernmental events. Perhaps the lack of stronger action for ratification stemmed from political battles on Capitol Hill, including over the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia and the nuclear agreement with Iran. 

Regardless, the case is clear for the Trump administration to redouble these efforts and pursue CTBT ratification. Yet, the incoming administration should not limit itself to seeking ratification. This article discusses a series of technical initiatives that would improve the already excellent global monitoring capabilities and further align the international community behind ending nuclear tests. Vote counting in the Senate should not cause stagnation or reduced U.S. support for these objectives. In fact, enhanced treaty-monitoring efforts would help further disprove CTBT critics and might stimulate global, bottom-up scientific pressures for ratification and entry into force.

Improving Data Collection

Worldwide detection of nuclear explosions requires expansive real-time monitoring and data processing that are unprecedented in the history of arms control. The NAS study expressed confidence in the capabilities of the IMS and other monitoring networks. The North Korean underground nuclear tests and Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi reactor crisis demonstrated the global effectiveness of the monitoring systems. Still, more work could be done to increase waveform and radionuclide data collection. Seismic, hydroacoustic, and infrasound waveform data are used to help identify the location of an event and to determine if it is natural or man-made. Radionuclide particulate and noble gas data can provide the “smoking gun” evidence confirming the occurrence of a nuclear explosion.

Steps to complete and expand the IMS will help to build greater international support for the treaty and conclusively confirm that states cannot carry out illicit nuclear tests without being caught. 

Completing the IMS. The IMS is the backbone of the CTBT due to its critical role in collecting information about geophysical events. When complete, the IMS will consist of 50 primary and 120 auxiliary seismic, 11 hydroacoustic, 60 infrasound, and 80 radionuclide monitoring stations, as well as 16 radionuclide laboratories. Of these facilities, 285 are now certified, 17 are installed, 17 are under construction, and 18 are still in the planning process.6 Around the clock, they provide waveform, radionuclide particulate, and noble gas data, ensuring that states are not testing nuclear devices in the earth’s atmosphere, underwater, or underground. 

The stations transmit real-time event data via satellite link to the International Data Centre (IDC) in Vienna, operated by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). Data center analysts make raw data and compiled event bulletins available to authorized users from CTBT states-parties.7

A group of specialists from national data centers in African and Middle Eastern countries takes part in a May 2012 training course in Vienna. The data centers are part of the global monitoring and verification system for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. (Photo credit: CTBTO)Beyond the NAS study and a large body of scientific literature validating monitoring capabilities, the system has been successfully field-tested many times. Numerous IMS stations detected each of North Korea’s five underground nuclear tests. Within hours of North Korea’s most recent test on September 9, 2016, CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo announced, “So far 25 of our stations are contributing to the analysis.”8 

The utility of the IMS is not limited to nuclear explosion monitoring. For example, the gathered radionuclide data were essential for analysis of the radiation effects of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Furthermore, IMS data were instrumental in defining the mock area to be examined by on-site inspectors during the CTBTO’s successful field exercises in Kazakhstan in 2008 and Jordan in 2014.

The text of the accord has produced some unfortunate political difficulties alongside the many achievements of the monitoring network. Annex 1 to the treaty’s protocol specifies the national locations and coordinates for monitoring stations pursuant to the CTBT negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament. Like entry into force, amending the CTBT is a daunting task. At times, logistical and funding hurdles have delayed certification of IMS stations on small islands and in Antarctica. More troubling, however, is the presence of noncertified stations in states that have not yet ratified the treaty, such as China, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Although the Chinese stations are moving toward certification and transmitting data to the data center, other stations remain in political limbo.9 

As host to 38 certified IMS facilities on its various territories, the United States can credibly push for completion of the monitoring system. The United States could apply pressure or lend its technical capabilities to its Egyptian, Pakistani, and Saudi allies for installation and certification of these remaining stations. Additionally, Washington has diplomatic leverage when dealing bilaterally and multilaterally with other states slated to host IMS stations, including China, Ethiopia, Iran, and Thailand. If these stations came online, they would provide valuable monitoring data to the international community and trigger deepened engagement between the CTBTO and holdout states in their surrounding regions.

Concluding a Facility Agreement. The United States could also take a leading role in strengthening the IMS by concluding a facility agreement with the CTBTO. These agreements are intended to be signed between the organization and all 89 states that host IMS stations on their territory.10 Facility agreements cover matters such as IMS technical upgrades, station operator training, and the legal aspects of CTBTO access to monitoring sites. 

Only 45 of these 89 states have signed facility agreements, of which 38 such accords have entered into force.11 Active facility agreements account for approximately half of the IMS stations. As the state hosting the greatest number of IMS stations, participation by the United States in the facility agreements regime is integral to the long-term success of the monitoring system. Leadership by the Trump administration would send a strong signal of the vital importance of unhindered and uninterrupted IMS data flow.

Breaking Ground on Cooperating National Facilities. Although adding new stations to the IMS is politically and legally difficult, the United States should promote the treaty’s often-overlooked Cooperating National Facility (CNF) provision. Under the CTBT, states are permitted to build facilities that make available supplementary data from national monitoring stations that are not formally part of the IMS. These facilities would be constructed at the expense of the hosting states-parties and require certification by the CTBTO just like treaty-designated stations.12

Initial discussions on CNF data contributions to the IDC were similar to the protocols regarding IMS auxiliary seismic stations. That is, the stations would be operated by the hosting state with a satellite link allowing data flow to the IDC at the request of the CTBTO. In recent years, however, there has been debate in the CTBTO’s Working Group B on verification over whether the data center would be permitted to incorporate CNF data into its analyses.

CNFs would augment the strong monitoring capabilities of the IMS by offering new waveform and radionuclide data to the international community. Also, there are no limitations on the number of CNFs that states may build. Certified CNFs could help to attenuate the fears of states that are concerned about the activities of their neighbors and would be particularly useful in confidence building on verification for a future Middle Eastern nuclear-weapon-free zone. In 2000 a group of Israeli scientists published a study showing that national seismic network stations in Israel and Jordan could be certified as CNFs to enhance the precision of IMS location capabilities in the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean region.13 Yet to date, no states have established such facilities, although several have expressed interest in developing “Prototype CNFs.” 

The incoming administration should bring U.S. technical assistance to bear in support of U.S. allies and other states that are willing to host CNFs. These de facto IMS stations would expand monitoring coverage, which would be particularly valuable in regions where political difficulties have stymied completion of the IMS. By showcasing the importance of the data for their region, CNFs might also encourage reluctant host states to pursue installation and certification of treaty-mandated IMS stations. A key part of U.S. leadership on the CNF issue will be sustained diplomatic efforts to ensure that data collected by these facilities are distributed to all interested states-parties in compiled IDC data products and bulletins.

Expanding Data Analysis

If improving data collection is one side of the coin for more effective monitoring, expanding data analysis is the other. It is in the interest of U.S. national security to ensure that states around the world are making use of data from the IMS and future CNFs for verifying the absence of nuclear explosive testing. The CTBTO has made great strides toward this end under the leadership of Zerbo, the former head of the IDC. Alongside efforts to pursue treaty ratification, the United States should work with the CTBTO toward attaining universal use of these data among states-parties. 

Increasing National Data Centers. Unlike the International Atomic Energy Agency’s high level of autonomy, the efficacy of the CTBTO, once the ban treaty enters into force, will be entirely dependent on its states-parties. Determining whether a treaty violation has occurred will not be left to international scientists and bureaucrats. Instead, ordering an on-site inspection will be a political decision requiring 30 affirmative votes from among the 51 state members of the CTBTO’s Executive Council. In principle, national votes will be made based on sound national scientific analyses.

For this reason, the establishment of national data centers is indispensable to the success of the CTBT monitoring and verification regime. Such centers are nationally designated institutes whose responsibilities include sending IMS data to the IDC and receiving data and compiled data bulletins from the IDC.14 These national centers employ analysts with expertise in waveform and radionuclide technologies who evaluate data from the IMS and other national networks. Their objective is to determine whether nuclear explosions are occurring in regions of interest. These analyses will inform national responses to geophysical events, as well as votes on on-site inspections and treaty violations in the Executive Council.

The number of these national centers around the globe continues to expand, but these technical centers of expertise are far from universal. Of the 183 state signatories and 166 states that have ratified the treaty, only 129 have established such centers.15 Given the significance of Executive Council votes, it is clearly in the U.S. interest to ensure that political decisions are informed by rigorous scientific and technical analysis. The Trump administration should continue and expand on existing U.S. capacity-building programs while engaging in political outreach aimed at encouraging the development of these national centers.

Broadening the Web Portal User Base. Simply ensuring that states have access to raw IMS data and IDC data bulletins is perhaps even more important than establishing these national centers. Currently, access is available to authorized users affiliated with governments of state signatories. After entry into force, states will need to have ratified the treaty to maintain access for their authorized users. Data access takes place through a platform called the IDC Secure Web Portal. At present, 137 states have users accessing this platform.16 Although this array of states is impressive, they only represent three-quarters of states-parties with eligibility to access the data. To avoid misperceptions about potential nuclear tests, particularly in areas with pronounced regional tensions, the United States should encourage the use of the IDC Secure Web Portal. Washington should also support the development of the relevant technical expertise needed to analyze event data on this platform.

Civil and Scientific Outreach

Societies and civilian economies have long benefited from the peaceful uses of technology associated with global security. The IMS data are no exception. Article IV of the CTBT even notes that states-parties may “benefit from the application of [monitoring] technologies for peaceful purposes.” 

Frank Rose, U.S. assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification and compliance, visits the radionuclide monitoring station on the roof of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization headquarters in Vienna on June 23, 2015. He was accompanied by Barbara Nadalut, a CTBTO radionuclide expert. (Photo credit: CTBTO)Indeed, the civil and scientific uses of associated seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound, and radionuclide data are vast. The treaty further states that satellite and electromagnetic pulse monitoring should be discussed as an expansion of the IMS. Accordingly, the United States should cooperate with the CTBTO to widen the promotion of civil and scientific uses of IMS data. This is particularly the case among countries that have not signed or ratified the treaty, pursued certification of their hosted IMS stations, or displayed notable interest in nuclear explosion monitoring.

Interest in Explosion Monitoring. The United States is but one of a few states in the world with CTBT monitoring and verification interests spanning the entire globe. Other states have more regionalized interests and will likely focus on “precision monitoring” directed at “one or a few countries of concern, or on limited areas of those countries.”17 Another group of states, however, are disinterested in nuclear explosion monitoring or believe that verification issues should be left to larger, more capable states. Involvement of these states in CTBT activities is important for dispelling the myth of the accord’s irrelevance and promoting Executive Council votes based on dispassionate scientific analyses.

The CTBTO recognizes that states have unequal levels of interest. Based on this understanding and the multifaceted utility of CTBT data, panels on civil and scientific uses of data have been a part of the organization’s biannual science and technology conferences since 2009. Some examples of alternative uses of data include hydroacoustic tracking of whale migration patterns and seismic hazard mapping of fault zones to protect populations from earthquakes.18 

IMS data have also been instrumental in mitigating the consequences of disasters. This was highlighted by the use of radionuclide data in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi reactor crisis in 2011 and infrasound monitoring of the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland a year earlier. After the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the CTBTO began to cooperate on real-time tsunami warning with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Tsunami warning centers in 14 countries have signed agreements with the CTBTO to receive data from relevant IMS stations.19 In 2011, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recognized such achievements, stating, “Even before entering into force, the CTBT is saving lives.”20

Specialists with the expertise to develop seismic hazard maps or radionuclide atmospheric transport models often have the ability to participate in CTBT monitoring and verification activities. Many national data center experts split their time between nuclear explosion monitoring and civil scientific pursuits. The United States should work alongside the CTBTO to continuously engage these experts. This should entail promoting the civil and scientific uses of IMS data, while encouraging technical experts to apply their skills to the domain of nuclear explosion monitoring. To be effective, such scientific partnerships require a broad understanding of the applications for CTBT-related data that states may find useful. Opening channels for cross-national data sharing and research may facilitate improved communication regarding potential nuclear tests.

U.S. promotion of the civil and scientific applications of IMS data may also increase global political ratification prospects for the CTBT. Such activities could emphasize the numerous benefits of treaty participation for those states that remain outside of the test ban regime. Another potential benefit might be a better understanding of the value of installing and certifying the remaining IMS stations. 

University and Industry Collaborators. National data centers’ analysts and national monitoring experts are not the only people who could make use of the large repository of data associated with the CTBT regime. Many technical experts in academia and private industry have a professional interest in disaster response, geophysical hazard mitigation, nuclear explosion monitoring, and other related scientific endeavors. The CTBTO has recognized the necessity of incorporating these communities into its activities, as indicated by their increasing participation at the science and technology conferences. Due to limited IMS data access, however, universities and the private sector can only play a small role in leveraging CTBT technologies for the benefit of their countries and the international community. With growing interest in IMS data from domestic sectors outside of the U.S. government, Washington is well positioned to advocate for an increasingly open and transparent scientific culture surrounding the CTBT.

The CTBTO has opened its doors outside of official governmental channels through the creation of its Virtual Data Exploitation Center. This platform enables researchers working on scientific projects to request access to IMS data. If the CTBTO approves, researchers are granted access to archival, event-specific data that is not useful for monitoring and may not be published in its raw form.

This platform and other initiatives are an encouraging start to furthering IMS data transparency. Still, the United States should consider supporting greater levels of openness. Perhaps the states-parties would allow the CTBTO to open its data repositories to universities and the private sector after a certain amount of time. With this lag, the data would be of no use in sensitive, real-time nuclear explosion monitoring activities. Yet, these archived waveform and radionuclide data would be useful for such undertakings as earthquake preparedness, meteorological tracer studies, and iceberg mapping. Further, accentuating the scientific benefits would increase pressure on CTBT holdout governments to reconsider the utility of the accord for their population.

Entry Into Force Prospects

This article has highlighted a number of technical initiatives the incoming Trump administration should pursue alongside CTBT ratification. Proponents of the treaty have a persuasive technical and national security case for ratification. Given this and the precedent that U.S. ratification would set for other Annex 2 states, the administration will surely face domestic and international ratification pressures.21 As the new administration considers a ratification debate, it should not forget about the complementarity of science, technology, and politics within the CTBT sphere.

Efforts to increase the flow of CTBT-related data and expand and train the community that analyzes these data would strengthen the administration’s hand against treaty critics. In the 1999 debate over the CTBT, prominent critics such as Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) argued that the treaty was unverifiable. Senator John McCain (R.-Ariz.), who will likely play an outsized role in a ratification debate, noted in 2008 that he was willing to revisit the issue of CTBT verifiability. Times and verification prospects have changed drastically since 1999. The near-completion of the IMS, success of the stockpile stewardship program, and publication of the decisive NAS study on CTBT verification should leave no lingering doubts among even the treaty’s past detractors. The scientific and technical initiatives described above will only further discredit skeptics of the CTBT at home and abroad.

Still, the Trump administration must not restrict its focus to attaining U.S. ratification of the test ban. Seven other Annex 2 states have yet to ratify the treaty: signatories China, Egypt, Iran, and Israel and nonsignatories India, North Korea, and Pakistan. Although those who have signed remain obligated to the accord under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, their ratification is required for entry into force and activation of the treaty’s mechanism for on-site inspections.22

Top-down U.S. political and diplomatic outreach efforts to encourage other states to ratify the CTBT and complete the IMS should continue. Because of the pivotal role of technology in monitoring and verification, the United States should undertake an expanded international program of complementary bottom-up scientific outreach. Increased access to data and analytical training are integral to familiarizing experts with the CTBT and nuclear explosion monitoring, the IMS and its data, the civil and scientific benefits of the treaty, the CTBTO as an institution, and the global norm against nuclear tests. 

When political decision-makers consult scientists about the utility and verifiability of the CTBT or about its Executive Council votes on on-site inspections or treaty violations, it is unmistakably in the U.S. national interest for these experts to be prepared to let the science speak for itself. Scientific outreach was one of the key components underlying effective U.S.-Soviet and U.S.-Russian arms control during the Cold War and beyond. 

Now, the incoming administration has an opportunity to embrace scientific diplomacy, which may be the key to getting the dominoes to fall toward entry into force of the CTBT. This would truly be a remarkable foreign policy achievement by the Trump administration to strengthen global security.

ENDNOTES

1.   CTBTO, “Status of Signature and Ratification,” 2016, https://www.ctbto.org/the-treaty/status-of-signature-and-ratification/; James Bennett, “Clinton, at UN, Says He’ll Press Senate on Test Ban Pact,” The New York Times, September 23, 1997.

2.   States listed in Annex 2 to the CTBT are the 44 that participated in the negotiation of the treaty and had nuclear power or research reactors at the time. Their ratification is required before the treaty can enter into force. The eight remaining Annex 2 holdouts are China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States. See CTBTO, “Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty,” Annex 2.

3.   CTBTO, “International Monitoring System,” 2016, https://www.ctbto.org/map/

4.   Committee on Reviewing and Updating Technical Issues Related to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, National Research Council of the National Academies, The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty: Technical Issues for the United States (Washington: National Academies Press, 2012). Prior to the publication of this decisive NAS study, the scientific community was largely united behind the verifiability of the CTBT. For a summary of these arguments, see David W. Hafemeister, “The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: Effectively Verifiable,” Arms Control Today, October 2008, pp. 6-12.

5.   Charles D. Ferguson and Stephen Herzog, “Kyl Should Reconsider Opposition to Nuclear Test Ban,” The Hill, March 30, 2011; Kaegan McGrath, “Verifiability, Reliability, and National Security: The Case for U.S. Ratification of the CTBT,” Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 16, No. 3 (2009): 423-428; Deepti Choubey, “The CTBT’s Importance for U.S. National Security,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, October 14, 2009, http://carnegieendowment.org/2009/10/14/ctbt-s-importance-for-u.s.-national-security-pub-23999.

6.   CTBTO, “International Monitoring System.”

7.   Prior to the CTBT’s entry into force, states-parties are defined as those states that have signed the treaty. After entry into force, states-parties will be those that have ratified the accord.

8.   CTBTO, “CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo on the Unusual Seismic Event Detected in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” September 9, 2016, https://www.ctbto.org/press-centre/press-releases/2016/ctbto-executive-secretary-lassina-zerbo-on-the-unusual-seismic-event-detected-in-the-democratic-peoples-republic-of-korea/

9.   On the status of Chinese IMS stations, see CTBTO, “Chinese Monitoring Stations Now Sending Data,” January 6, 2014, https://www.ctbto.org/press-centre/press-releases/2014/chinese-monitoring-stations-now-sending-data/.

10.   CTBTO, “Facility Agreements: The Cement Between Member States, IMS Stations and the CTBTO,” 2016, https://www.ctbto.org/member-states/facility-agreements/.

11.   Ibid. For a discussion of the difficulties involved in negotiating facility agreements, see Ola Dahlman, Svein Mykkeltveit, and Hein Haak, Nuclear Test Ban: Converting Political Visions to Reality (New York: Springer, 2009), p. 109.

12.   For further information on Cooperating National Facilities, see Dahlman, Mykkeltveit, and Haak, Nuclear Test Ban, p. 137. See also Ola Dahlman et al., Detect and Deter: Can Countries Verify the Nuclear Test Ban? (New York: Springer, 2011), p. 202.

13.   Yair Bartal et al., “Optimal Seismic Networks in Israel in the Context of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty,” Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, Vol. 90, No. 1 (2000): 151-165.

14.   For an example of the activities of National Data Centers in the context of Malaysia, see Faisal Izwan Abdul Rashid et al., “The CTBT National Data Centre: Roles and Functions,” n.d., http://www.iaea.org/inis/collection/NCLCollectionStore/_Public/45/097/45097352.pdf?r=1

15.   CTBTO, email correspondence with author. 

16.   Ibid.

17.   Dahlman et al., Detect and Deter, p. 2.

18.   Bernard Massinon, “Benefits of Potential Civil and Scientific Applications of CTBT Verification Technologies,” CTBTO Spectrum, No. 4 (2004), pp. 17-18.

19.   CTBTO, email correspondence with author. 

20.   Ban Ki-moon, “Message From the Secretary General of the United Nations,” in “Scientific Advances in CTBT Monitoring and Verification,” CTBTO, June 2013, p. 5, https://www.ctbto.org/fileadmin/user_upload/SandT_2011/CTBTO_ST11_web_complete.pdf

21.   For examples of the effects of this precedent, see Liviu Horovitz and Robert Golan-Vilella, “Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty: How the Dominoes Might Fall After U.S. Ratification,” Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 17, No. 2 (2010): 235-257.

22.   For a discussion of the obligations of state signatories prior to entry into force, see Masahiko Asada, “CTBT: Legal Questions Arising From Its Non-Entry-Into-Force,” Journal of Conflict and Security Law, Vol. 7, No. 1 (2002): 85-122. 


Stephen Herzog is a Ph.D. student in political science at Yale University. Previously, he directed scientific engagements supporting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and geophysical hazard mitigation for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. 

Posted: January 11, 2017

The CTBT at 20: Ambition on the Road to Success

There is now almost universal political support in the international community for the objectives of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

January/February 2017

By Lassina Zerbo

On December 16, I attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Lanzhou, China, to mark the first certification of an International Monitoring System (IMS) station in China’s national network of 11 facilities being established to monitor global compliance with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). This represents a milestone for the treaty and illustrates the real progress that has been achieved in cooperating with China on nuclear test monitoring and verification challenges.

Strengthening the relationship with China has been one of my top priorities. My first official travel after taking office as executive secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban-Treaty Organization (CTBTO) was to China in August 2013. Shortly thereafter, we secured the provision of monitoring data from Chinese IMS stations to the International Data Centre in Vienna. This flow of data helps to ensure that the verification requirements of the CTBT are being met, providing our member states with a high degree of trust and confidence in our ability to monitor the globe for any signs of nuclear explosions. 

CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo presents a certification document for radionuclide monitoring station RN21 to Men Lei, director of the Commission of Disease Control of Gansu Province on December 16, 2016. RN21 is the first of 11 International Monitoring System stations hosted by China to be certified. (Photo credit: CTBTO)We also have achieved significant progress in expanding our monitoring capabilities through enhanced engagement and cooperation with several other member states, in particular the Russian Federation, Ecuador, Argentina, and many African countries. This is helping to create a tailwind effect toward the completion and full operation of the IMS. 

There is a general feeling that the nuclear nonproliferation regime faces significant challenges. It might therefore come as a surprise that I see the CTBT as a “good news” story, continuing along the road to success, even if some of the steps forward take longer than others. 

It is worth recalling that the treaty required three years of intense and often contentious negotiations in Geneva in the mid-1990s, not to mention decades of collaborative scientific research and debate on nuclear test ban verification issues before that. Yet, these heady discussions on science and policy eventually culminated in the adoption of the CTBT by the UN General Assembly in September 1996. 

Immediately afterward, a preparatory commission was created to orchestrate the buildup of the most extensive and ambitious multilateral verification regime ever envisaged. The commission is still with us today even if it might be more accurately termed at this stage an “interim organization.” More than 90 percent of the planned global nuclear test monitoring assets are in place, and the detection threshold is far better than the treaty’s negotiators thought feasible. This has been borne out by the CTBT monitoring system’s accurate and timely detection of all five nuclear tests conducted by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, including two in 2016. 

We commemorated the 20th anniversary of the opening for signature of the CTBT last September. Many high-level events were held last year in recognition of the treaty’s role in solidifying a de facto norm against nuclear testing and contributing to remarkable advancements in nuclear test monitoring science and technology. 

An unprecedented, CTBT-specific UN Security Council resolution, Resolution 2310, was adopted that same month, accompanied by a related statement in which the five permanent members underlined their commitment to the treaty. Strong support for the treaty and its verification regime also came from resolutions and statements of the Group of Seven, NATO, the European Parliament, and the International Organisation of La Francophonie.

We now witness almost universal political support in the international community for the objectives of the CTBT, namely an effectively verifiable, credibly enforceable, legal prohibition on nuclear test explosions. With 183 states-signatories and 166 ratifying states, the treaty is one of the legal instruments with the widest adherence in the international security architecture.

Yet, the road goes on. With the ratification of eight key states pending before the CTBT can enter into force, we still have work to do. Thankfully, we do not have to go down this road alone. The efforts of the Friends of the CTBT and the co-coordinators of the Article XIV process (formally, the Conference on Facilitating Entry Into Force of the CTBT) have played and will continue to play a vital role in this regard.

It is worth recalling what all countries have to gain from the entry into force of the treaty. Testing moratoria are certainly useful in their own right, but only an in-force CTBT will establish a legally binding norm and deliver a robust on-site inspection mechanism. Movement on the treaty would buttress the nuclear nonproliferation regime and would help build the confidence needed to move forward on a number of related issues, regionally and globally. Most importantly, it would bring a permanent end to the destabilizing practice of nuclear testing and constitute a firm barrier to a resumption of the nuclear arms race.

As I look ahead to this year, I do so without the foreboding that afflicts some in the arms control community. Instead, I see a road replete with opportunities for more steps forward. For example, in June the CTBTO will hold its Science and Technology 2017 Conference, the sixth in a series of multidisciplinary conferences designed to keep us at the forefront of scientific and technical innovation. Following the recent treaty ratifications by Myanmar and Swaziland, we expect Thailand to follow suit in the coming months, bringing us one step closer to universalization. These and other positive advances can be expected in 2017. 

Of course, navigating a course to full legal implementation of the treaty will require strength, determination, and most importantly, unapologetic ambition. On my recent visit to China, I was struck by the ancient proverb, “Do not be afraid of a long road to success; only be afraid of a shortage of ambition.” The CTBT may be an ambitious goal, but it is a road well worth taking.


Lassina Zerbo is executive secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization.

Posted: January 11, 2017

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