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Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)

Statement on President Obama's June 19 Address in Berlin on Eliminating Nuclear Weapons Threats



For Immediate Release: June 19, 2013           
Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, 202-463-8270, ext. 107

(Washington, D.C.)--President Barack Obama's proposals today in Berlin for cutting the oversized U.S. nuclear arsenal and reducing global nuclear weapons dangers are welcome and overdue.

Since the days of the Kennedy administration, U.S. leadership to reduce and eliminate the nuclear threat has been critical. To succeed, however, Obama and his team will need to sustain high-level focus and energy on these urgent and tough nuclear security challenges.

The United States can and should reduce its arsenal well below 1,000 deployed strategic warheads, which is still more than enough nuclear firepower to deter any current or potential nuclear adversary. The "one-third" cuts outlined by the President are a good start, but it is only 200-300 warheads fewer than the United States was prepared to agree to during the New START negotiations four years ago.

U.S.-Russian nuclear reductions need not wait for a formal follow-on treaty. The two presidents could achieve similar and more rapid results through parallel, reciprocal reductions of strategic warheads--to well below 1,000 within the next five years, which could be verified under the 2010 New START treaty.

Bipartisan national security leaders agree that further, deeper nuclear reductions would increase U.S. security, lead to budget savings, and help pressure other nuclear-armed states to join in the disarmament enterprise.

Further nuclear reductions would also allow the administration to scale back unaffordable, overly ambitious Pentagon plan for building a new generation of strategic nuclear delivery systems and rebuilding five types of nuclear warheads. A 2013 assessment by the Arms Control Association identifies $39 billion in taxpayer savings over the next decade if the United States right-sizes its nuclear force to 1,000 or fewer strategic deployed nuclear warheads.

The President should also provide stronger leadership to overcome NATO and Russian inertia regarding tactical nuclear weapons. More than 20 years after the end of the Cold War, there is no military rationale for Russia to maintain some 2,000 tactical nuclear bombs, half of which are on obsolete naval and air defense systems. Nor is there any military requirement for the U.S. to keep 180 air-delivered nuclear bombs in Europe, which could cost $8 billion or more to refurbish. The President should begin the process of removing the U.S. tactical bombs and call on Russia to reciprocate.

Stronger U.S. leadership is also necessary to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.  

The President must put renewed energy behind the on-again-off again negotiations to limit Iran's nuclear potential and achieve a more effective inspections system. There is time for diplomacy but that time should not be wasted. The President also needs to re-engage North Korea in serious talks to halt its nuclear and missile programs, which have and can again reduce the threat it poses to Asia and to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The President's renewed commitment to U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)--which prohibits all nuclear test explosions anywhere--is important and welcome, but requires serious follow-though to win the support of the Senate.

Since the days of Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, a ban on nuclear testing has been a U.S. national security objective. Today, a legally binding, verifiable ban on all nuclear testing is vital to prevent states from improving their existing arsenals and it would make it harder for potential nuclear powers like, like Iran, to perfect deliverable nuclear warheads in the future.

In 2009, Obama said his administration would pursue "immediate and aggressive" steps to secure ratification and there is strong support for action from bipartisan national security leaders and U.S. allies. Ratification is possible if the administration launches the kind of effort it successfully pursued to win approval of the New START agreement in 2010.

To get the process started, President Obama should announce the appointment of a senior, high-level White House CTBT coordinator, or task force, within the next several weeks. This would help to engage Senators on the issues surrounding the CTBT and begin the fact-based conversation that such important matters deserve.

The President's decision to extend the Nuclear Security Summit to a fourth meeting in 2016 is very important and should help plug the remaining gaps in the global nuclear security regime.

While the Obama administration has focused high-level attention to the threat posed by nuclear terrorism and spurred important progress globally to lock-down vulnerable stockpiles, the current system still lacks universal standards and reporting requirements. President Obama should take this opportunity to bolster the nuclear security enterprise and augment funding for vital U.S. nuclear threat reduction programs in the years ahead.

As President Kennedy said five decades ago, "the weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us." Today every man, woman and child still lives under a threat of nuclear war through accidents, miscalculation, or terrorist madness.

In the months ahead, President Obama must re-energize and sustain the nuclear risk reduction enterprise and U.S. policymakers must overcome partisan politics to help address today's grave nuclear challenges.--Daryl G. Kimball


The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.



President Barack Obama's proposals today in Berlin for cutting the oversized U.S. nuclear arsenal and reducing global nuclear weapons dangers are welcome and overdue.

JFK’s American University Speech Echoes Through Time

For a free sample of a feature article as our print and electronic subscribers receive it, check out this month's Looking Back: JFK's American University Speech Echoes Through Time by Daryl G. Kimball.

Daryl G. Kimball

In the modern age, U.S. presidents have delivered dozens of addresses on international peace and security, but few have been as profound or consequential as John F. Kennedy’s “Strategy of Peace” address delivered 50 years ago on June 10 on the campus of American University in Washington.

Coming just months after the 1962 Cuban missile crisis drove home the risks of an unbridled nuclear arms race and the dangers of a direct superpower conflict, the speech was intended to send an unambiguous signal to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev that the United States sought to “avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating defeat or nuclear war,” as Kennedy phrased it in the speech.

During and after the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy and Khrushchev exchanged letters expressing the need to “step back from the danger,” as Kennedy put it, by making progress on arms control. In a letter to Kennedy on October 28, 1962, as the crisis came to a close, Khrushchev wrote, “We should like to continue the exchange of views on the prohibition of atomic and thermonuclear weapons, on general disarmament and other problems relating to the relaxation of international tension.”[1]

Kennedy, writing back the same day, said that “perhaps now…we can make some real progress in this vital field. I think we should give priority to questions relating to the proliferation of nuclear weapons…and to the great effort for a nuclear test ban.”[2]

Kennedy’s June 10 address was courageous because it was conciliatory at a time of high tension and grave risks. It was prepared with his assistant Ted Sorenson, without the usual interagency review process. Using simple, eloquent phrases, Kennedy praised the Soviet people for their achievements and explained the urgent necessity of pursuing a strategy for peace to avoid the horrific dangers of nuclear war, including renewed steps on nuclear arms control and a hotline for urgent communications between Moscow and Washington. The speech offered a vision of hope and cautioned against defeatism.

At its core, the speech offered a revised formula for achieving progress on restricting nuclear weapons testing, a goal that had eluded President Dwight Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Khrushchev for more than six years. Kennedy viewed the nuclear test ban treaty—ideally a comprehensive ban—as an essential first step toward U.S.-Soviet disarmament and a barrier against the spread of nuclear weapons. In a March 21, 1963, interview, Kennedy said, “[P]ersonally I am haunted by the feeling that by 1970, unless we are successful, there may be 10 nuclear powers instead of 4, and by 1975, 15 or 20.”[3]

Despite renewed efforts to negotiate a test ban in early 1963 and conciliatory offers from each side, U.S. and Soviet negotiators remained divided over the issue of on-site inspections and verification. On June 10, Kennedy sought to break the impasse with a strategy for unilateral but reciprocated initiatives. He announced that the United States “does not propose to conduct nuclear tests in the atmosphere so long as other states do not do so,” and he suggested that this declaration could be codified through a binding treaty.

The historical and documentary record suggests that Kennedy’s June 10 address had a profound effect on Khrushchev’s thinking on the test ban issue and about Kennedy. Kennedy’s address was published in full by the Soviet newspapers Izvestia and Pravda and welcomed by Khrushchev himself. In a statement in July 1963, the Soviet leader, who had previously insisted on a comprehensive ban, accepted for the first time a ban on atmospheric testing, which did not require on-site inspections or monitoring stations.

Two weeks later, the U.S. negotiating team, led by veteran diplomat Averell Harriman, went to Moscow for talks on the limited test ban and, if possible, the long-sought comprehensive test ban. With growing resistance to the test ban concept from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and from key senators, as well as the insistence of the Soviets on a less frequent inspection system for a comprehensive ban, the negotiators focused on achieving the limited test ban treaty.

Late on July 25, after just 12 days of talks, the negotiators concluded work on the Limited Test Ban Treaty. With a strong, public push from Kennedy, the U.S. Senate gave its advice and consent for ratification on September 24 by a vote of 80-19.

Kennedy’s June 10 speech not only catalyzed action on this treaty, but also led to the formalization of an agreement on establishing a hotline. It ushered in a limited easing of tensions between the superpowers involving reciprocal troop reductions in Europe, U.S. grain sales to the Soviets, mutual British-Soviet-U.S. pledges to reduce production of fissile material for weapons, energetic U.S.- and Soviet-led diplomacy in Geneva from 1964 to 1968 toward conclusion of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and an agreement in 1968 to hold discussions “on the limitation and the reduction of both offensive strategic nuclear weapons delivery systems and systems of defense against ballistic missiles.”[4]

Since June 1963, every U.S. president—Democrat or Republican—has echoed some of the key themes of Kennedy’s “Strategy of Peace” address in his own policies and statements. Kennedy’s successors have continued to pursue many of the disarmament goals outlined during his administration. As the excerpts below indicate, these presidents have recognized to varying degrees the futility of nuclear war, the need to curb proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional states and subnational groups, and the importance of pursuing arms control measures to reduce the risks of nuclear weapons and increase global security. President Barack Obama’s 2009 address in Prague outlining the steps toward the “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons” addresses all of these key themes.

The real test for Obama and U.S. leaders yet to come is whether they can match the conviction and the urgency with which Kennedy sought to resolve the nuclear standoff in his 1963 address and in his bold leadership in the final months of his presidency as he sought global nuclear restraint.

Excerpts from Kennedy’s “Strategy of Peace” Address and Subsequent Presidential Remarks on Dealing With the Threat of Nuclear Weapons

The dangers of nuclear war and the arms race

“Today, should total war ever break out again—no matter how—our two countries would become the primary targets. It is an ironic but accurate fact that the two strongest powers are the two in the most danger of devastation. All we have built, all we have worked for, would be destroyed in the first 24 hours…. [W]e are both devoting massive sums of money to weapons that could be better devoted to combating ignorance, poverty, and disease. We are both caught up in a vicious and dangerous cycle in which suspicion on one side breeds suspicion on the other, and new weapons beget counterweapons.”
—John F. Kennedy, American University, June 10, 1963

“The world is still engaged in a massive armaments race designed to ensure continuing equivalent strength among potential adversaries. We pledge perseverance and wisdom in our efforts to limit the world’s armaments to those necessary for each nation’s own domestic safety. And we will move this year a step toward [the] ultimate goal—the elimination of all nuclear weapons from this Earth. We urge all other people to join us, for success can mean life instead of death.”
—Jimmy Carter, inaugural address, January 20, 1977

“Today, the Cold War has disappeared but thousands of those weapons have not. In a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up. More nations have acquired these weapons. Testing has continued. Black markets trade in nuclear secrets and materials. The technology to build a bomb has spread. Terrorists are determined to buy, build or steal one. Our efforts to contain these dangers are centered in a global non-proliferation regime, but as more people and nations break the rules, we could reach the point when the center cannot hold.”
—Barack Obama, Prague, April 5, 2009

Common interests in peace and security and avoiding nuclear war

“[B]oth the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its allies, have a mutually deep interest in a just and genuine peace and in halting the arms race. Agreements to this end are in the interests of the Soviet Union as well as ours—and even the most hostile nations can be relied upon to accept and keep those treaty obligations, and only those treaty obligations, which are in their own interest.

So, let us not be blind to our differences—but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
—John F. Kennedy, American University, June 10, 1963

“We are committed to a pursuit of a more peaceful, stable, and cooperative world. While we are determined never to be bested in a test of strength, we will devote our strength to what is best. And in the nuclear era, there is no rational alternative to accords of mutual restraint between the United States and the Soviet Union, two nations, which have the power to destroy mankind.

A very stark reality has tempered America’s actions for decades and must now temper the actions of all nations. Prevention of full-scale warfare in the nuclear age has become everybody’s responsibility. Today’s regional conflict must not become tomorrow’s world disaster.”
—Gerald Ford, address to the UN General Assembly, September 18, 1974

“People of the Soviet Union, there is only one sane policy, for your country and mine, to preserve our civilization in this modern age: A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. The only value in our two nations possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure they will never be used. But then would it not be better to do away with them entirely?”
—Ronald Reagan, State of the Union address, January 25, 1984

Averting conflict and engaging in talks with adversaries

“Above all, while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating retreat or a nuclear war. To adopt that kind of course in the nuclear age would be evidence only of the bankruptcy of our policy—or of a collective death-wish for the world.

[I]ncreased understanding will require increased contact and communication. One step in this direction is the proposed arrangement for a direct line between Moscow and Washington, to avoid on each side the dangerous delays, misunderstandings, and misreadings of the other’s actions which might occur at a time of crisis.”
—John F. Kennedy, American University, June 10, 1963

“There are those who doubt whether true international cooperation is possible, given the inevitable differences among nations. And there are those who hear talk of a world without nuclear weapons and doubt whether it is worth setting a goal that seems impossible to achieve.

But make no mistake: we know where that road leads. When nations and peoples allow themselves to be defined by their differences, the gulf between them widens. When we fail to pursue peace, then it stays forever beyond our grasp. To denounce or shrug off a call for cooperation is an easy and cowardly thing. That is how wars begin. That is where human progress ends.”
—Barack Obama, Prague, April 5, 2009

The need for nuclear arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament

“We have also been talking in Geneva about the other first-step measures of arms control designed to limit the intensity of the arms race and to reduce the risks of accidental war. Our primary long-range interest in Geneva, however, is general and complete disarmament—designed to take place by stages, permitting parallel political developments to build the new institutions of peace, which would take the place of arms.…

The one major area of these negotiations where the end is in sight, yet where a fresh start is badly needed, is in a treaty to outlaw nuclear tests. The conclusion of such a treaty, so near and yet so far, would check the spiraling arms race in one of its most dangerous areas. It would place the nuclear powers in a position to deal more effectively with one of the greatest hazards which man faces in 1963, the further spread of nuclear arms. It would increase our security—it would decrease the prospects of war.”
—John F. Kennedy, American University, June 10, 1963

“After nearly a quarter century of danger and fear—reason and sanity have prevailed to reduce the danger and to greatly lessen the fear. Thus, all mankind is reassured.

As the moment is reassuring, so it is, even more, hopeful and heartening. For this treaty is evidence that amid the tensions, the strife, the struggle, and the sorrow of these years, men of many nations have not lost the way—or have not lost the will—toward peace. The conclusion of this treaty encourages the hope that other steps may be taken toward a peaceful world.

It is for these reasons—and in this perspective—that I have described this treaty as the most important international agreement since the beginning of the nuclear age.
It enhances the security of all nations by significantly reducing the danger of nuclear war among nations.”
—Lyndon Johnson, remarks on the signing of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, July 1, 1968

“The Governments of the United States and the Soviet Union…have agreed to concentrate this year on working out an agreement for the limitation of the deployment of anti-ballistic missile systems…[and] on certain measures with respect to the limitation of offensive strategic weapons.

If we succeed, this…may well be remembered as the beginning of a new era in which all nations will devote more of their energies and their resources not to the weapons of war, but to the works of peace.”
—Richard Nixon, announcement of an agreement in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, May 20, 1971

“There is only one way safely and legitimately to reduce the cost of national security, and that is to reduce the need for it. And this we’re trying to do in negotiations with the Soviet Union. We’re not just discussing limits on a further increase of nuclear weapons; we seek, instead, to reduce their number. We seek the total elimination one day of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.

Now, for decades, we and the Soviets have lived under the threat of mutual assured destruction—if either resorted to the use of nuclear weapons, the other could retaliate and destroy the one who had started it. Is there either logic or morality in believing that if one side threatens to kill tens of millions of our people our only recourse is to threaten killing tens of millions of theirs?”
—Ronald Reagan, second inaugural address, January 21, 1985

“In the area of security and arms control, we’ve stepped up patrol against the spread of weapons of mass destruction. The new [C]hemical [W]eapons [C]onvention will ban chemical weapons from the arsenals of all participating states. And once implemented, the agreements we’ve negotiated will ban new nuclear states on the territory of the former Soviet Union. And above all, we’ve sought to erase nuclear nightmares from the sleep of future generations.”
—George H.W. Bush, Texas A&M University, December 15, 1992

“I ask Congress to join me in pursuing an ambitious agenda to reduce the serious threat of weapons of mass destruction. This year, four decades after it was first proposed by President Eisenhower, a comprehensive nuclear test ban is within reach. By ending nuclear testing, we can help to prevent the development of new and more dangerous weapons and make it more difficult for non-nuclear states to build them.”
—Bill Clinton, State of the Union address, January 27, 1998

“There is a consensus among nations that proliferation cannot be tolerated. Yet this consensus means little unless it is translated into action. Every civilized nation has a stake in preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction. These materials and technologies, and the people who traffic in them, cross many borders. To stop this trade, the nations of the world must be strong and determined. We must work together, we must act effectively.”
—George W. Bush, announcement of new measures to counter proliferation, February 11, 2004

“[A]s a nuclear power, as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it….

So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. This goal will not be reached quickly—perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence. But now we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change.

…[T]he United States will take concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons. To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same.…

To achieve a global ban on nuclear testing, my administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty….
And to cut off the building blocks needed for a bomb, the United States will seek a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials intended for use in state nuclear weapons….

[T]ogether, we will strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a basis for cooperation.…

[W]e must ensure that terrorists never acquire a nuclear weapon.”
—Barack Obama, Prague, April 5, 2009


Daryl G. Kimball is executive director of the Arms Control Association.


1. Glenn Seaborg, Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Test Ban (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1981), p. 176.

2. Ibid.

3. Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, “107 - The President’s News Conference,” The American Presidency Project, n.d., http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=9124 (transcript of President John Kennedy’s press conference on March 21, 1963).

4. Miller Center, “Remarks on Signing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty,” n.d., http://millercenter.org/president/speeches/detail/4037 (remarks by President Lyndon Johnson on July 1, 1968).

The impact of President John F. Kennedy’s June 1963 “Strategy of Peace” speech at American University can be seen in the events of the years that followed and in the language that Kennedy’s successors used in speaking about nuclear weapons policy.

The Prague Nuclear Agenda, Part Two

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen speaks at ACA's event at the National Press Club on April 11, 2013 By Tom Z. Collina Four years after the historic speech in Prague laying out his nuclear policy priorities, President Barack Obama must now decide which issues to focus on in his second—and last—term. The administration accomplished many important arms control and nonproliferation milestones since April 2009, such as the New START treaty, the Nuclear Posture Review, the Nuclear Security Summits, and the 2010 NPT review conference consensus, but much is left to be done, as this ACA fact sheet underscores. To...

Time to Move Forward on the Test Ban Treaty

Daryl G. Kimball

A ban on nuclear testing has long been and continues to be a key part of a comprehensive, effective U.S. nuclear risk reduction strategy. Four years ago on April 5, President Barack Obama said in Prague, “After more than five decades of talks, it is time for the testing of nuclear weapons to finally be banned.”

Obama has consistently expressed support for U.S. reconsideration and ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which prohibits all nuclear test explosions anywhere.

Unfortunately, the administration has not yet launched the kind of effort necessary to achieve this long-sought and still vital nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation objective. Now is the time for the president to begin that effort.

U.S. ratification is essential to close the door on nuclear testing. Action by Washington would likely trigger reconsideration and ratification of the treaty by China, India, and Pakistan, which also must ratify the CTBT before the treaty can formally enter into force.

Gaining the necessary 67 Senate votes in support of ratification of the CTBT remains difficult, but is within reach. “As we look towards ratification of this treaty,” acting U.S. Undersecretary of State Rose Gottemoeller said in a March 20 speech, “we acknowledge that the process will not be easy.” Nothing in Washington ever is.

But since the Senate’s brief debate on and rejection of the CTBT 13 years ago, the arguments raised by treaty opponents have been addressed; and a wide range of national security leaders, including former skeptics, now support the treaty.

On March 8, George Shultz, secretary of state under Ronald Reagan, said, “Yes, I clearly think we should ratify that treaty. A senator might have been right to vote against it when it was first put forward and right to vote for it now.”

The technical and strategic case for the CTBT is stronger than ever. Today, the U.S. Stockpile Stewardship Program is more successful and better funded than ever before. Even with mandatory cutbacks in U.S. federal spending, the U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories will continue to have approximately 10 percent more funding for maintaining and extending the service lives of existing U.S. nuclear warhead types than they did prior to 2009.

The combination of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization’s International Monitoring System and U.S. national monitoring capabilities, along with tens of thousands of civilian seismic monitoring stations, ensures that no potential CTBT violator could be confident that a nuclear explosion of military utility would escape detection.

With the CTBT in force, established nuclear-weapon states, including China, would not be able to proof-test new nuclear warhead designs; newer nuclear-armed nations, including North Korea, would find it far more difficult to build more-advanced warhead types; and emerging nuclear states, such as Iran, would encounter greater obstacles in fielding a reliable arsenal. With the option of short-notice, on-site inspections, states could better detect and deter testing.

Last year, Siegfried Hecker, the former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, underscored that “it is critical to erect as many barriers as possible to the resumption of testing. Ratification of the CTBT and its entry into force is the most important such barrier.”

The latest North Korean nuclear test explosion makes it all the more important that the major nuclear-armed states, particularly the United States and China, reinforce the global taboo against testing by completing the ratification process themselves.

U.S. and Chinese ratification of the treaty also is an essential part of strengthening the credibility of their commitments in the action plan adopted at the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference, which calls for early entry into force of the CTBT. Delay and dithering will diminish Washington’s ability to forestall future nuclear arms competition, particularly in the Middle East, South Asia, and the Korean peninsula.

A closer, serious look by senators should make it clear that a global, verifiable test ban treaty has been and continues to be in the United States’ interest. But it will take presidential leadership and a high-level, sustained effort, like the campaign that led to Senate approval of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in 2010 and the effort to win approval for the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963, to win the necessary support for the CTBT.

Fifty years ago, on April 24, 1963, President John Kennedy pressed hard for a test ban accord on the grounds that it would “prevent diffusion of nuclear weapons.” Today, U.S. leadership on the CTBT is still a vital way to head off proliferation risks and bolster international security in the years ahead. It is past time to move on the CTBT.

A ban on nuclear testing has long been and continues to be a key part of a comprehensive, effective U.S. nuclear risk reduction strategy. Four years ago on April 5, President Barack Obama said in Prague, “After more than five decades of talks, it is time for the testing of nuclear weapons to finally be banned.”

Former Secretary of State Shultz Reiterates Support for CTBT

George Shultz walking with President Reagan outside the White House in December 1986. By Daryl G. Kimball At a March 8 public forum, former Secretary of State George Shultz underscored once again his support for U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Shultz's remarks came in response to a question following his talk at an event organized by the Partnership for a Secure America on Capitol Hill. Shultz was asked for his "personal view on whether the U.S. should ratify the test ban treaty as a way to enhance U.S. security?" Shultz, who served as President Ronald...

Obama Renews Commitment to Reducing Nuclear Weapons Threat

By Daryl G. Kimball President Obama in the State of the Union Address Feb. 12: "America will continue to lead the effort to prevent the spread of the world's most dangerous weapons." Barack Obama's State of the Union pledge to continue "to lead the effort to prevent the spread of the world's most dangerous weapons" represents a renewal of the President's commitment to pursue a step-by-step plan toward a world without nuclear weapons, which he first outlined in Prague on April 5, 2009 . In his address, the President made it clear that he will press forward to find a diplomatic solution to the...

Defying Global Taboo, North Korea Conducts 3rd Nuclear Blast

By Daryl G. Kimball and Greg Thielmann The DPRK's Punggye-ri nuclear test site April 18, 2012. The government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has apparently conducted its third nuclear test explosion, defying the explicit demands of the UN Security Council and the international community that it "abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programmes in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner." The Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), Tibor Toth, issued the following statement on Feb. 12 at 04:19:17 CST: "Today our...

Obama’s Second Chance

Daryl G. Kimball

In a dramatic speech in Prague less than 100 days after his 2009 inauguration, President Barack Obama warned that “the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up. More nations have acquired these weapons. Testing has continued. The technology to build a bomb has spread.”

Like other U.S. presidents, Obama said the United States has a “moral responsibility” to prevent nuclear weapons use and proliferation. In his address, he outlined a step-by-step plan to move closer to “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

In relatively short order, Obama and his team negotiated the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia and won Senate approval of the pact, helped secure an action plan to strengthen the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, accelerated global efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism, completed a top-to-bottom review of the U.S. nuclear weapons posture, and took steps to engage Iran in negotiations and build international pressure on Tehran to meet its nonproliferation commitments.

But following the significant progress achieved during Obama’s first two years in office, the administration’s nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation effort has lost energy and focus. Talks with Russia on deeper nuclear cuts have not begun, implementation of the new U.S. nuclear posture review has been delayed, plans to seek Senate approval for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) were never pursued, and the off-and-on talks on Iran’s nuclear program have not produced results.

To move the United States and the world farther away from the nuclear precipice, Obama and his team should focus on three high-priority nuclear risk reduction initiatives. First, the White House needs to move with greater urgency to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran through sustained multilateral diplomacy. Iran apparently has not yet made a decision to build nuclear weapons, but its capabilities are improving.

In the coming rounds of talks, the U.S. negotiators must adjust their tactics and focus on the most important nonproliferation goals: restricting (not permanently suspending) Iran’s uranium enrichment and securing Iranian agreement to more-intrusive international inspections to ensure that Tehran has halted all weapons-related work. A near-term deal to halt Iran’s accumulation of 20 percent-enriched uranium, which is closer to weapons grade, in exchange for supplies of medical isotopes and a phased rollback of some international sanctions is within reach. This could buy time and build momentum for a more comprehensive deal that limits Iran’s ongoing uranium-enrichment work to normal power reactor-grade levels.

Second, Obama can follow through on his 2009 pledge to “end Cold War thinking” and further reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons. To do so, the White House should implement a saner, “nuclear deterrence only” strategy that eliminates outdated targeting assumptions and removes U.S. weapons from prompt-launch status. In addition, the White House should delay plans for more-advanced but still unproven U.S. missile interceptors in Europe, which are leading the Kremlin to resist further cuts in offensive nuclear weapons.

These adjustments in U.S. policy would help clear the way for far deeper Russian strategic nuclear reductions. As a 2012 report from the secretary of state’s International Security Advisory Board suggests, with New START verification tools in place, further reciprocal U.S.-Russian nuclear reductions need not wait for a formal follow-on treaty.

To jump-start progress, Obama could announce that he is prepared to accelerate reductions under New START and, along with Russia, move below the treaty’s ceiling of 1,550 deployed warheads. This would help reduce the enormous cost of planned strategic force modernization by both countries in the coming years. Such actions would put pressure on China to abandon its slow increase in nuclear forces and open the door for serious, multilateral disarmament discussions.

U.S. ratification of the CTBT should also be a major nuclear nonproliferation objective for Obama’s second term. As the president said in 2009, “After more than five decades of talks, it is time for the testing of nuclear weapons to finally be banned.” U.S. ratification of the treaty would advance prospects for global entry into force; increase Washington’s leverage with Iran, North Korea, and other states of concern; build momentum ahead of the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference; and improve capabilities to detect and deter nuclear testing.

As with any treaty, securing Senate approval will not be easy. But with a sustained campaign like the one the administration waged for New START, approval of the CTBT is within reach before the end of 2014. Advances in stockpile stewardship and improvements in nuclear test monitoring make the technical case for U.S. ratification stronger than ever. There is substantial bipartisan support for the treaty, including from a number of former skeptics.

By taking these bold steps, President Obama would advance U.S. and global security, reinforce the beleaguered nuclear nonproliferation system, and establish a lasting nuclear security legacy. Doing nothing in the face of persistent nuclear dangers is not an option.

In a dramatic speech in Prague less than 100 days after his 2009 inauguration, President Barack Obama warned that “the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up. More nations have acquired these weapons. Testing has continued. The technology to build a bomb has spread.”

Mr. President, It's Time to Move Forward on the Test Ban Treaty

President Obama at his 2009 Inaugural Address. Weeks later, he pledged to "immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty." (Image Source: New York Magazine) By Daryl G. Kimball Following the November 2012 U.S. election, the prospects for achieving U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) have improved. Moving forward and gaining the necessary 67 Senate votes in support of ratification of the CTBT remains difficult, but is within reach. Since the beginning of his first term, President Barack Obama and senior...

CTBTO Picks Lassina Zerbo as Next Head

Marcus Taylor and Daniel Horner

The member states of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) last month chose Lassina Zerbo of Burkina Faso to succeed Tibor Tóth as executive secretary when Tóth’s term expires next year.

After the vote at its headquarters in Vienna, the CTBTO, which is building the monitoring system that would verify compliance with the 1996 treaty banning all nuclear tests, announced the selection in an Oct. 23 press release. Zerbo is currently the director of the CTBTO’s International Data Centre Division, a position he has held since November 2004.

Zerbo is the first non-European to head the CTBTO. Tóth is Hungarian, and his predecessor, Wolfgang Hoffmann, is German.

Of the five candidates (see box), Zerbo was one of two without significant experience as a diplomat, a rare circumstance for someone assuming leadership of a major international organization. Before holding his position with the CTBTO data center, Zerbo worked as a senior geophysicist at a number of mineral companies. He holds degrees in fundamental and applied geology and in geophysics from several universities in France, including a Ph.D. in geophysics from the Université de Paris-Sud.

The executive secretary’s term is four years. Hoffmann and Tóth were elected to two terms. Tóth’s term ends on July 31, 2013.

The CTBTO press release did not provide details of the election, but a former CTBTO official said there was a series of votes, with the candidate receiving the lowest number of votes eliminated in each round. The first three rounds eliminated, in order, Jargalsaikhany Enkhsaikhan of Mongolia, Hein Haak of the Netherlands, and Libran Cabactulan of the Philippines, the former official said.

That left Zerbo and Alfredo Alessandro Labbé Villa of Chile. In the fourth round, Zerbo received a majority of the votes, but fell short of the required two-thirds majority, the former official said. At that point, however, Labbé Villa requested that the CTBTO declare Zerbo the winner, the former official said.

Tóth had been “grooming Zerbo, in a way,” by providing him with “a fair amount of visibility,” the former official said. On top of qualifications such as his technical background and his public speaking ability, Zerbo is “from a part of the world that does not serve frequently as head of international organizations,” an important consideration because the position of executive secretary is supposed to rotate among regional groups, the former official said.

In an Oct. 23 press release, the U.S. State Department said Zerbo has displayed the “management skills, technical skills, and diplomatic acumen needed for the position” of executive secretary. In a statement e-mailed to Arms Control Today on Oct. 24, Nils Daag, the permanent representative of Sweden to international organizations in Vienna, said, “We are confident that he will be able to carry on and build on” Tóth’s efforts.

A key part of Zerbo’s job will be to oversee completion of the CTBTO’s International Monitoring System, which is designed to detect nuclear explosions. Of the system’s planned 337 monitoring stations, 272 are now in place, 15 are undergoing testing, 22 are under construction, and 28 are planned.

Another facet of the CTBTO’s mandate is to promote membership in the treaty, which cannot enter into force until a specified group of 44 states, listed in Annex 2 of the pact, ratify the treaty. Eight of those states—China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States—have not done so.

Candidates for CTBTO Executive Secretary

At a meeting last month at its headquarters in Vienna, the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) elected Lassina Zerbo as executive secretary. There were five candidates for the position.

  • Jargalsaikhany Enkhsaikhan (Mongolia): Enkhsaikhan has been Mongolia’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Vienna since 2008. He is also the chairperson on administration for Working Group A of the CTBTO, which deals with the budget and other administrative issues of the organization.

  • Hein Haak (Netherlands): Haak has been the chairperson on verification for the CTBTO since 2006. He is also the head of the Division of Seismology at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute and was a member of the group of scientific experts on the scientific basis for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). He represented the Netherlands during negotiations on the CTBT.

  • Libran Cabactulan (Philippines): Cabactulan is the ambassador of the Philippines to the United Nations. He was president of the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference and served as assistant secretary for disarmament and nonproliferation in the Department of Foreign Affairs for the Philippines from 2009 to 2010.

  • Alfredo Alessandro Labbé Villa (Chile): Labbé Villa is the permanent representative of Chile to the United Nations in Vienna and the Chilean ambassador to Austria. Prior to his appointment to that post in 2010, he was the director for international and human security in the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

  • Lassina Zerbo (Burkina Faso): Zerbo has served as the director of the International Data Centre Division of the CTBTO since 2004. Before that, he held senior positions as a geophysicist for the Anglo American mining company in Africa.—MARCUS TAYLOR


The CTBTO’s member states chose Lassina Zerbo of Burkina Faso as the organization’s next executive secretary. Zerbo is to succeed Tibor Tóth in August 2013.


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