Strengthening the Taboo Against Nuclear Testing
Prepared Remarks by Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Association
Arms Control Association and Stimson Center Event:
The State of the Comprehensive Test Ban and Nonproliferation Treaties
February 11, 2016, Washington, D.C.
Two decades ago, on August 11, 1995, President Bill Clinton announced the United States would seek the negotiation of a true, zero-yield global nuclear test ban treaty, thereby ending the practice of using nuclear weapons detonations to proof-test new designs.
The decisions opened the way for the conclusion of negotiations on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996. The treaty has effectively halted nuclear explosive testing worldwide (only North Korea has conducted nuclear tests since 1998) and slowed the global arms race.
The International Monitoring System (IMS) established by the treaty to verify compliance is operational. With 183 state signatories, the treaty is now a centerpiece of the international nuclear nonproliferation system.
As President Bill Clinton said upon his signature of the CTBT in September 1996:
“The signature of the world’s declared nuclear powers … along with the vast majority of its other nations will immediately create an international norm against nuclear testing, even before the treaty enters into force.”
But not every state accepts the norm. Not all states formally support the CTBT.
The door to further nuclear testing remains open, in large part because of the U.S. Senate’s highly partisan and rushed vote to reject ratification of the treaty in 1999 and the United States’ failure to reconsider the treaty in the 16 years since.
U.S. inaction has, in turn, given the leaders of the seven other states that must ratify the CTBT for its entry into force an excuse for delay.
At an event last month commemorating Clinton’s 1995 actions, Energy Secretary Moniz and Secretary of State Kerry suggested that the Senate should re-examine the CTBT in light of the proven success of the Stockpile Stewardship Program and the advances in the IMS to verify compliance with the treaty.
Such an effort is welcome and long overdue. A new push for U.S. CTBT ratification can and will succeed, but it cannot be done hastily.
Bringing the CTBT back to the Senate for another vote requires a lengthy, intensive educational and outreach campaign to present the new information, answer detailed questions, and dispel old myths and misconceptions. It was through such a process that the New START agreement was approved in 2010.
Senators serious about our nation’s security should carefully consider the new information and analysis of the issues surrounding the CTBT.
But unfortunately, there is not enough time for President Obama to launch such an effort before he leaves the White House.
Even if were to launch such an effort, the Republican-led Senate is simply not prepared for such a debate and vote, particularly in an election year.
Even though the concerns that led many Senators to vote “no” in 1999 have been addressed, the vast majority of today’s Senators were not in Congress in 1999 and they are not familiar with the newest information about the treaty and its value to U.S. security.
Perhaps in 2017 or 2018, with stronger presidential leadership and if the political conditions are better, there will be another opportunity to achieve secure Senate advice and consent for U.S. ratification.
Unfortunately, U.S. inaction gives other states, particularly China a cynical excuse not to ratify the treaty. This situation means that entry into force is some time – years – away.
In the meantime, it is essential that U.S. leaders seek and support ways, including actions by the UN Security Council, to reinforce the de facto global nuclear testing moratorium and make it clear that further nuclear testing would be a threat to international peace and security.
As Kazakh foreign minister Idrissov and Japanese foreign minister Kishida said at a special meeting on the CTBT on Sept. 29, “business as usual” efforts will not suffice.
We would recommend a two-part strategy in this, the 20th anniversary year of the CTBT.
Part one, requires a serious, high-level diplomatic outreach effort on the part of key “friends of the CTBT states” to encourage key states such as Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, and Pakistan to reaffirm their support for the global testing taboo and for the CTBT, and along with the United States and China, to pledge that they will consider CTBT ratification “at the earliest possible time.”
Japan, Kazakhstan, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, and the European Union, among others, have an important role to play.
There will be a high-level, foreign-ministerial meeting in Vienna in June that will provide an important opportunity to advance this effort.
Part two, could be the pursuit and adoption later this year or early next of a new UN Security Council resolution and a parallel UN General Assembly measure that:
- Calls on all states to refrain from testing and calls upon those states that have not ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to do so at the earliest possible time;
- Declares that nuclear testing would trigger proliferation and undermine international peace and security;
- Declares that the conduct of a nuclear test explosion would defeat the object and purpose of the CTBT; and
- Determines that, in light of the threat to international peace and security posed by any further nuclear weapon test explosion, it is necessary to maintain a continuous, real-time global nuclear test monitoring capability and associated data processing, analysis, and reporting to provide states, including members of the Security Council, with timely, high-fidelity information necessary to detect, identify, and locate nuclear test explosions whenever they may occur, and
- Recognizes the vital contribution of the Provisional Technical Secretariat and Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, including the International Monitoring System and International Data Centre, in providing the monitoring capabilities necessary to promptly detect, identify, locate, and attribute nuclear weapon test explosions.
Such an initiative, while not legally binding, would have tremendous political value in reinforcing the global norm against testing in the years ahead and possibly stimulating action by key hold-out states.
There was a similar initiative in 2009: UN Security Council Resolution 1887, which was approved in a special session of the Council chaired by President Obama.
Resolution 1887 expressed the Council’s grave concern about the threat of nuclear proliferation and the need for international action to prevent it. It reaffirmed that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery are threats to international peace and security and outlined a broad range of actions to address nuclear proliferation and disarmament, including the test ban treaty.
A new UNSC resolution focused on nuclear testing and the CTBT, especially if pursued in combination with a parallel UNGA resolution, would be in the interest of all but perhaps one nuclear-armed state and all of the nonnuclear weapon states.
This initiative would be entirely consistent with the letter and spirit of the treaty.
It would also help guard against the danger of treaty fatigue, including the possibility of the slow erosion of support for the CTBTO, including the maintenance and effective operation of the IMS and the IDC.
As we enter the 20th anniversary year of the CTBT, the time is right for a more robust effort in support of the CTBT and international security.