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

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)

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

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.”

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.

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

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.”

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.

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

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.

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

 

Conference Report Available "CTBT at 15: Status and Prospects"

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Description: 

(Washington, D.C.) The Arms Control Association, in association with the UK Government and the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Nonproliferation, organized a day-long conference on February 17, 2012 in Vienna, Austria, to mark the 15th anniversary of the establishment of the Preparatory Commission of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). This conference report details the value of the CTBT and explores pathways to its entry into force.

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For Immediate Release: October 24, 2012

Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, 202-463-8270, ext. 107; Tom Z. Collina, Research Director, 202-463-8270, ext. 104;

(Washington, D.C.) The Arms Control Association, in association with the UK Government and the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Nonproliferation, organized a day-long conference on February 17, 2012 in Vienna, Austria, to mark the 15th anniversary of the establishment of the Preparatory Commission of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). This conference report details the value of the CTBT and explores pathways to its entry into force.

The 48-page report includes presentations by leading CTBT experts such as Dr. Lassina Zerbo, who on Oct. 23 was elected as the next Executive Secretary of the CTBT Organization, based in Vienna, as well as Amb. Tibor Toth, the current Executive Secretary of the CTBTO. Other speakers include: Robert Wood, the United States’ Acting Permanent Representative to the CTBTO; Ambassador I Gusti Puja, Permanent Representative of Indonesia to the International Organizations in Vienna; Ambassador Nils Daag, Permanent Representative of Sweden to the International Organizations in Vienna; Ambassador Michael Weston, former U.K. Representative to the Conference on Disarmament; Pramit Pal Chaudhuri of The Hindustan Times; and others.

The CTBT has already helped bring an end to nuclear testing and reduced nuclear arms competition. Before the treaty was opened for signature in Sept. 1996, over 2,000 nuclear tests had been conducted worldwide. Since then, only three countries have tested, and since 1998 only one country--North Korea--has tested. But until the CTBT enters into force, the door to renewed nuclear testing remains open. To close the door on testing, eight key states must still ratify the treaty: the United States, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, Egypt, Iran and North Korea.

With the CTBT in force, the established nuclear-weapon states would not be able to proof-test new nuclear warhead designs, and emerging nuclear states would encounter greater obstacles in fielding a reliable arsenal. The CTBT strengthens global capabilities to detect and deter testing and would reduce nuclear dangers.

To download a copy of the report, please click here.


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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal,
Arms Control Today.

CTBT at 15: Status and Prospects

Organized by the Arms Control Association in partnership with the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation with financial support from the Government of the United Kingdom.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has already helped to bring an end to nuclear testing, reduced nuclear arms competition, and improved global capabilities to detect and deter nuclear testing in the future. But until the CTBT enters into force, the door to renewed testing is still open. Entry into force requires ratification by a handful of key states.

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