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"I learned so much about arms control and disarmament at ACA! I learned more about arms control here in four months than I had in all three years at my college."

– Alicia Sanders-Zakre
Intern, Fall 2016
December 16, 2016
Nonproliferation and the CTBT

Arms Control NOW


The 2010 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference concluded on May 28 with a consensus document that commits states parties to universalize norms against nuclear nonproliferation, strengthen safeguards, respond quickly to cases of noncompliance and treaty withdrawal, and take further steps on nuclear disarmament.

The NPT states parties agreed to very strong and specific action steps on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Most importantly, the final document calls for nuclear weapon states to ratify the accord "with all expediency."

In addition to calling for Annex 2 states to ratify the CTBT, the final document underscores the nonproliferation value of the test ban:

"The Conference reaffirms the essential role of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty within the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime and that by achieving the cessation of all nuclear weapon test explosions and all other nuclear explosions, by constraining the development and qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons and ending the development of advanced new types of nuclear weapons, the treaty combats both horizontal and vertical proliferation. The Conference calls on all States to refrain from any action that would defeat the object and purpose of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty pending its entry into force, in particular with regard to the development of new types of nuclear weapons."

The CTBT has long been a critical element of the global nonproliferation system. The completion of CTBT negotiations was promised as part of the package to indefinitely extend the NPT at the 1995 NPT Review Conference. The Final Document of the 2000 NPT Review Conference contained the 13 Practical Steps, an action plan for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, which called for the entry into force of the CTBT.

The CTBT prohibits nuclear tests among all signatories, bridging the divide between nuclear haves and have-nots. It curbs the development and improvement of new types of weapons by nuclear states, and stunts the burgeoning weapon programs and grandstanding by nuclear-hopefuls.

CTBT ratification is a useful barometer to gauge commitment and progress toward nonproliferation, and makes the case to non-nuclear states for support and participation in other efforts against proliferation. In the most straightforward sense, the test ban underpins each pillar of the NPT. "It signals commitment to disarmament, it strengthens non-proliferation, it facilitates peaceful uses," CTBTO Executive Secretary Tibor Toth told the Review Conference.

At the 2010 NPT RevCon, more than 61 countries mentioned the test ban as a key tenet in nonproliferation during their opening statements. The recent announcement by Indonesia that it would soon ratify the CTBT has also added momentum towards CTBT entry into force.

"This is yet again a powerful and overwhelming verdict on the part of the international community in favor of a legally binding and effectively verifiable global nuclear test ban," CTBTO Executive Secretary Toth said.

In the joint statement of the NPT-recognized nuclear weapon states, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States all reaffirmed their commitment to moratoria on nuclear test explosions and called on all states to "refrain from conducting a nuclear test explosion." Acknowledging that a moratorium is not a "substitute for legally binding commitments under the CTBT," they committed to continuing their efforts in pursuit of CTBT entry into force.

China and the United States are the only NPT-recognized nuclear weapon states that have signed but not yet ratified the CTBT. The Obama administration has on numerous occasions expressed its support for the CTBT and intention to pursue ratification, and China has suggested that it will ratify the treaty following U.S. ratification.

In recent months, several countries, including Indonesia, have brought good news for the entry into force of the CTBT. The Central African Republic and Trinidad & Tobago both ratified the treaty last month. The treaty's International Monitoring System, designed to detect and deter nuclear test explosions, is over 80% completed. Iraq, Papua New Guinea, and Thailand have all expressed intent to ratify the CTBT in the near future.

While each of these steps is a small one if taken individually, it builds upon a growing momentum for CTBT entry into force from around the world.