"...the Arms Control Association [does] so much to keep the focus on the issues so important to everyone here, to hold our leaders accountable to inspire creative thinking and to press for change. So we are grateful for your leadership and for the unyielding dedication to global nuclear security."
– Lord Des Browne
Vice Chairman, Nuclear Threat Initiative
CTBT & Nuclear Testing

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



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


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.

Country Resources:

Republicans Seek to Cut CTBTO Funds

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.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

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

Recalibrating U.S. Policy Toward North Korea



Volume 9, Issue 1, February 2017

North Korea’s advancing nuclear and ballistic missile program is one of the most serious national security challenges that Donald Trump faces as president. The new administration has a narrow window of opportunity to recalibrate U.S. policy toward North Korea and seek a lasting arrangement that halts and then ultimately rolls back Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a coastal defense unit on Mahap Islet in this undated photo released by the official Korean Central News Agency on November 11, 2016. (Photo credit: KNS/AFP/Getty Images)Currently, North Korea is assessed to have the capability to deliver a warhead on a short- or medium-range ballistic missile, threatening allies and U.S. troops in the region. But if North Korea remains on its current trajectory, it could soon begin testing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and deploy the system within the next decade, which would pose a direct threat to the continental United States and upset the security situation in East Asia.

A concerted diplomatic effort aimed first at freezing North Korea’s nuclear and missile testing, followed by negotiations designed to roll back Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, will be difficult and may not succeed. However, when compared to other policy options, it stands the best chance of halting North Korea’s program.

The Obama administration’s policy toward North Korea, known as ‘strategic patience,’ failed to halt Pyongyang’s illicit nuclear and missile activities. The strategic patience approach involved increasing sanctions pressure on North Korea and returning to negotiations only after Pyongyang took steps toward denuclearization, which it committed to in the Six Party Talks with the United States, China, South Korea, Russia and Japan in 2005.

The onerous preconditions in the Obama administration’s policy approach, coupled with the failure to provide sufficient incentives, prevented the resumption of negotiations with North Korea. Instead, over the past eight years, North Korea expanded its stockpile of weapons-usable nuclear material, conducted four nuclear tests, and accelerated its missile activities.

North Korea’s leadership is likely waiting for Washington to signal what its approach will be. They will not likely wait long. The Financial Times reported February 1 that the White House launched a review of its North Korea policy.

A new U.S. policy that first seeks to resume negotiations, followed by pressure if North Korea scuttles diplomatic efforts, is still no guarantee of success. But is the most promising approach.

North Korea’s Advancing Programs
North Korea is currently estimated to possess about 50 kilograms of separated plutonium, enough material for more than 10 warheads, and activities suggest that its stockpile will continue to expand.

Kim Jong-Un stated his intention to continue expanding the country’s nuclear arsenal. Most recently in his annual New Years address on Jan. 1, 2017, he said that North Korea "will continue to build up” its nuclear forces… as long as the United States and its vassal forces keep on nuclear threat and blackmail and as long as they do not stop their war games they stage at our doorstep disguising them as annual events.”

To that end, Pyongyang restarted its 5mw nuclear reactor at Yongbyong in August 2013, which has since operated intermittently. The reactor produced the plutonium that North Korea used for its nuclear program, but was shut down in 2007 as part of the Six Party Talks. Satellite imagery from 38 North, a site run by the U.S. Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) suggests that North Korea’s reprocessing facility, which separates plutonium for weapons from the reactor’s spent fuel, is also operating.

North Korea is also known to possess centrifuges, and may enrich uranium for weapons purposes. Based on estimates from North Korea’s known centrifuge facility, Pyongyang could have produced enough highly-enriched uranium for an estimated 6-8 warheads, bringing the total count to 16-18 as of late 2016. Independent experts assess that North Korea could have as many as 20-100 warheads by 2020.

It is highly likely that North Korea is also taking steps to refine its warhead design, both to increase the explosive yield and develop a miniaturized weapon that can be mounted on a ballistic missile.

After the February 2013 test, North Korea claimed it had tested a miniaturized device. Pyongyang announced after the January 2016 test that it exploded a hydrogen bomb. While it is extremely unlikely that Pyongyang did test a hydrogen bomb, North Korea may have tested a boosted fission device. Boosted fission increases the explosive yield of a warhead by using isotopes of hydrogen to increase the efficiency of the reaction. While the assertions that North Korea tested a miniaturized or boosted fission device cannot be ascertained with certainty, continued testing gives Pyongyang more information about the performance of its warheads.

North Korea’s missile testing activity also indicates that Pyongyang is taking steps to extend the range of its ballistic missiles and develop delivery options, including a submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM).

In 2016, North Korea tested its Musudan missile eight times, the first tests of the missile since it was unveiled in 2010. The Musudan is a medium-range ballistic missile that experts assess could deliver a 650-kilogram payload over 1,200 kilometers. There is uncertainty about the range of the system, given there was only one successful test. However, a 1,200-kilometer range puts South Korea, Japan, and parts of China and Russia within range, but falls short of Guam. Although only one of the tests was a success, North Korea gained data relevant to the performance of the Mususdan and its longer-range systems.

North Korea is also taking steps to field SLBMs. John Schilling, an aerospace engineer, suggests that North Korea could initially field this capability in the second half of 2018. If North Korea can successfully field nuclear-tipped SLBMs, it would pose a regional threat, and could allow Pyongyang to evade the regional missile defense system set for deployment in South Korea. Given the nature of North Korea’s submarines and the estimated range of the SLBM, it is unlikely to pose an intercontinental threat.

Given North Korea’s continued production of fissile material and its ballistic missile activities, the threat posed by its nuclear program will continue to grow, unless checked.

“A New Approach” Toward North Korea
The new U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, recognized the need for a new approach to North Korea during his confirmation process. In a response to written questions from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tillerson said that “North Korea is one of the leading threats to regional and global security. If confirmed, I will work closely with my interagency colleagues to develop a new approach to proactively address the multitude of threats that North Korea poses to its neighbors and the international community.”

Tillerson, however, provided little insight into what his approach will be. He mentioned working with regional partners to increase pressure on North Korea and further isolate the country. He also talked about the need for China to enforce UN sanctions and mentioned the possibility of secondary sanctions if Beijing does not enhance its compliance.

Steps such as increasing sanctions on North Korea or putting in place secondary sanctions for failure to implement UN measures, do not alone constitute a strategy that will halt North Korea’s advancing nuclear weapons program and ultimately roll it back. Indeed, pursing certain types of sanctions could have the opposite effect ­‑ secondary sanctions on China could alienate Beijing.

First and foremost, the Trump administration’s new policy should focus on signaling to Pyongyang that Washington is ready and willing to engage in serious negotiations without preconditions.

To start, the new administration should deliver a message directly and carefully to North Korea’s leadership that recalls positive statements that Pyongyang has made about negotiations over its nuclear program, such as to Pyongyang’s statement from July 2016 calling for denuclearization of the entire Korean Peninsula: “The denuclearization being called for by the DPRK is the denuclearization of the whole Korean peninsula and this includes the dismantlement of nukes in South Korea and its vicinity.” This will also make clear that the United States remains committed to denuclearization as the end state in negotiations with Pyongyang.

The United States should also simultaneously reach out to states in the region to discuss the administration’s negotiating position and provide assurances that Washington remains committed to the security of its allies. Clear communication with China, given its close relationship with North Korea, will be particularly necessary. In the communication with President Xi, the United States should emphasize importance of China strictly enforcing existing sanctions, and the U.S. intent not to seek new sanctions as long as the North acts with restraint, including no nuclear and missile flight tests.

If North Korea is willing to negotiate, initial talks should focus on obtaining a moratorium to prevent additional nuclear and ballistic missile tests. The advantage of pursuing a testing freeze is that it would prevent North Korea from continuing to advance its capabilities, halting progress toward an ICBM and an SLBM capability.

The United States will need to be prepared to put something on the table in return for North Korea’s commitment to freeze nuclear and missile tests. After consultations with Seoul, Washington might consider scaling-back or delaying its annual joint military exercises with South Korea. The United States could also commit not to take actions viewed by North Korea as deliberately threatening, such as flying nuclear-capable bombers over the Korean peninsula.

The advantage of putting military exercises on the table is that they can easily be scaled back up if North Korea breaks the agreement and conducts a test. Monitoring for nuclear and missile tests also does not require inspectors on the ground.

Another option could be a U.S. commitment to delay the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system, so long as Pyongyang observes a strict test moratorium. Beijing has voiced a strong opposition to the system over concerns that the THAAD radar coverage will include parts of China. In addition to alienating China, deploying THAAD could provoke Pyongyang to continue developing missiles capabilities that would allow it to evade and/or over whelm U.S. missile defenses in the region.

If the initial moratorium holds, North Korea and the United States could discuss steps that would roll back Pyongyang’s nuclear activities, including a verifiable halt to fissile material production (including plutonium production and uranium enrichment) that would be monitored by international inspectors into North Korea’s nuclear sites. In return, the United States might extend to North Korea limited sanctions relief and negative security assurances against military attack under certain conditions.

To maintain leverage, the United States and its partners should strengthen implementation of UN Security Council-mandated sanctions that have not been fully enforced thus far. This would also preserve the option to try to increase economic and financial sanctions pressure if North Korea refuses to negotiate.


Flawed Alternatives
Other policy approaches pose very high risks and have a low chance of success. A campaign to impose crippling sanctions on the North is likely to fail, since it will be opposed by China. Any attempt to coerce Beijing will likely be met with a strong response, creating a rift that North Korea will exploit to continue to move forward with its weapons of mass destruction programs. Preemptive military strikes will face severe operational difficulties and almost certainly a strong, likely military, response from Pyongyang that could trigger a second Korean War. It would also be opposed by South Korea and Japan and draw China into what may be an escalating regional conflict.

The dangers posed by North Korea—ranging from the direct threat to the United States and a growing threat to South Korea and Japan, to the possibility that Pyongyang will transfer nuclear technology abroad to earn hard currency—cannot be ignored. Simply maintaining the current policy will not slow North Korea’s advances; and more robust missile defenses provide only a partial defense for the United States and its allies, at best.

In formulating a more effective approach, the new administration must jettison flawed assumptions that have underpinned a failed U.S. policy for the past eight years. A new policy that tries negotiations first, and then puts pressure on the North if its intransigence scuttles diplomacy, is still no guarantee of success, but is the most promising approach.

DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director and KELSEY DAVENPORT, director of nonproliferation policy


The new administration has a narrow window to shift U.S. policy toward North Korea in ways that halt its nuclear activities.

Country Resources:

Copenhagen: a Play about the Science, Politics, and Morality of Atomic Weapons

On a calm and cool January evening, we found ourselves attending a stimulating showing of Michael Frayn’s 1998 Tony award-winning play, Copenhagen , at Theater J in Washington D.C. Before going any further, perhaps we should start with some personal background (and humility). We are not nuclear weapons experts. Or physicists. Or historians, really. Rather, our recollection and understanding of World War II and the race to the atomic bomb is, shall we say, rusty. We’re both young professionals working more on conventional weapons issues–from examining the global arms trade to analyzing defense...

The Nuclear Test Ban: Technical Opportunities for the New Administration

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.


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. 

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

The CTBT at 20: Ambition on the Road to Success

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.

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

CTBTO’s Zerbo Gets Second Term

December 2016

By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). (Photo credit: CTBTO)

The member states of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) reappointed Lassina Zerbo as executive secretary for a second four-year term. The CTBTO, established in 1996, supports the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) verification regime and promotes the treaty’s eventual entry into force. To date, 183 states have signed the CTBT, and 166 have ratified it. Eight remaining Annex 2 states, including the United States, must ratify the treaty for it to enter into force. 

In an address to the EU Nonproliferation and Disarmament Conference on Nov. 4, Zerbo noted the high-level conference in June to mark the CTBT’s 20th anniversary. He applauded UN Security Council Resolution 2310, adopted on Sept. 23, which reaffirmed support for the international moratorium on nuclear weapons testing, calling it an “inspiration.” Zerbo acknowledged several challenges to the treaty, such as continued North Korean nuclear testing, the failure of U.S. and China to ratify, and completing and maintaining the international test monitoring system.

The member states of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) reappointed Lassina Zerbo as executive secretary for a second four-year term.

IAEA Condemns North Korea’s Actions

November 2016

By Kelsey Davenport

Member states of the Inter-national Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) passed several resolutions at the organization’s yearly meeting, including one that condemns North Korea’s nuclear activities, but did not vote on a controversial resolution singling out Israel’s nuclear program. 

The IAEA’s 60th General Conference was held Sept. 26-30 in Vienna. 

Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, addresses delegates September 26 at the 60th IAEA General Conference in Vienna. (Photo credit: Dean Calma/IAEA)The agency’s resolution on North Korea was adopted unanimously Sept. 30. It reaffirmed that North Korea cannot have the status of a nuclear-weapon state under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and called on Pyongyang to implement comprehensive safeguards and resolve all outstanding issues that have emerged since agency inspectors were last granted access to North Korea’s nuclear facilities in 2009. 

North Korea joined the IAEA in 1974, but withdrew in 1994. The agency has not been able to conduct safeguards activities since then, although inspectors had limited periodic access through 2009.

Laura Holgate, U.S. representative to the IAEA, said in a statement on Sept. 30 that the resolution is “strong, resolute, and unequivocal” and underscores that North Korea could “not harbor any illusions that its illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons will achieve legitimacy in the eyes of the international community.” 

Holgate said that enhanced pressure on North Korea will remain essential to compel Pyongyang to “correct its course.” 

In June, the Arab member states of the IAEA made a request to put Israel’s nuclear capabilities on the agenda, but unlike past years did not introduce a resolution on the subject during the conference. 

Zeev Snir, head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, said in his opening statement at the meeting that Israel welcomed the decision to refrain from putting forward a draft resolution but regretted the Arab Group’s decision to include the topic on the agenda for discussions, saying it leads to “politicized, irrelevant discussions.” 

Holgate said the United States welcomed the decision by the Arab states and that the resolution singling out Israel was “not an appropriate item” for the conference.

In the last decade, the resolution has passed once, in 2009, and was not put forward in 2011 and 2012. It failed to pass in 2010, 2013, and 2014.

The member states did approve a resolution on Sept. 29 on the application of safeguards in the Middle East. The measure was approved 122-0, with six abstentions, including the United States. Explaining the U.S. position, Holgate said that efforts to advance toward the creation of a Middle Eastern zone free of weapons of mass destruction have been pursued at IAEA general conferences “without seeking consensus among states in the region” and that this approach undermines trust. 

The resolution calls on all states in the Middle East to accede to the NPT and accept full-scope IAEA safeguards on their nuclear activities. It also calls on states in the region to take measures toward supporting a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. 

The resolution does not specifically single out Israel, but Israel is the only Middle Eastern country not party to the NPT. Israel is suspected of having a nuclear arsenal of about 80 warheads, with enough material for up to 200 weapons, although it has never officially acknowledged possessing such arms or demonstrated its capability through a declared nuclear test.

The conference also passed resolutions relating to the agency’s budget, nuclear security work, and technical cooperation. It approved three new applications for IAEA membership for Gambia, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Pyongyang’s defiance tops the issues International Atomic Energy Agency’s annual meeting.

Second Debate Provides Opportunity to Discuss North Korea

Oct. 9 marks both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s second presidential debate and the 10th anniversary of North Korea’s first nuclear test. This serendipitous timing should push each candidate to present a clear plan of action to confront North Korea’s rapid nuclear development. To date, Clinton has avoided making policy recommendations about North Korea and Trump has provided a handful of troubling remarks. North Korea’s most recent nuclear test Sept. 9 , its fifth thus far, took place only eight months after its last Jan. 6. The explosive yield from the September test was greater than 10...

The Future of the CTBT: Collective Goals and Strategies for Building Momentum

The Arms Control Association brought together representatives from several like-minded organizations and visiting members of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization's Youth Group for a September 23 discussion on the future of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty. The session, hosted by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies , addressed collective efforts to promote the CTBT and the challenges for mobilizing awareness and support for the Treaty in the near future. The CTBTO Youth Group, a separate entity from the CTBTO, is an expanding group of next generation students, young...


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