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January 1, 2005
CTBT & Nuclear Testing

2016 Report Card on Nuclear Disarmament, Nonproliferation Efforts

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Leaders Convene to Push Test Ban Treaty

July/August 2016

By Daryl G. Kimball

Foreign ministers and representatives from more than 69 states and international organizations gathered in Vienna on June 13-14 for a special meeting to mark the 20th anniversary of the opening for signature of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and to explore options for advancing its entry into force. Following a visit from the head of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) to Jerusalem on June 20, the Israeli government pledged to ratify the treaty “at the right time.”

In his welcoming remarks, Lassina Zerbo, the executive secretary of the CTBTO Provisional Technical Secretariat, noted that “we cannot really approach the anniversary as a cause for celebration. Until it enters into force, the CTBT is unfinished business. Until we finish what we started, there is a risk that the world will backslide into nuclear testing.”

The gathering included a message from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and formal public statements from treaty signatories and nonsignatory Pakistan, as well as a closed ministerial roundtable discussion. 

Speaker after speaker expressed support for the prohibition on nuclear test explosions, praised the significant advances in operationalization of the global monitoring systems to verify compliance with the treaty, condemned North Korea’s ongoing nuclear testing, and called for action from the remaining eight states listed in Annex 2 of the treaty that must still ratify to trigger formal entry into force: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States.

Only a few ministers, however, offered new proposals for catalyzing progress or new arguments for why the remaining holdout states should ratify. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini suggested the CTBT could contribute to the realization of a Middle Eastern zone free of nuclear weapons, all other weapons of mass destruction, and their means of delivery.

“As a stepping-stone towards this long-term objective, a ‘nuclear-test-free zone’ could be created in the Middle East, by way of CTBT ratifications by the remaining states of the region,” Mogherini said.

New Zealand’s ambassador in Vienna, Deborah Geels, pledged that her delegation would work in “close cooperation” with Australia and Mexico to bring forward a “strong and supportive” resolution at the UN General Assembly this year.

Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov, in the ministers’ roundtable discussion, raised the possibility of the UN Security Council taking up the issue of the CTBT later this fall with the goal of encouraging entry into force and reinforcing the norm against nuclear testing.

The United States did not send a cabinet-level official to the meeting, which prompted other members of the group of five original nuclear-weapon states to downgrade their level of representation, according to diplomatic sources. Instead, Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, read a written message from President Barack Obama in which he said that the treaty’s “full potential has not been fulfilled.” 

In her own statement, Gottemoeller also said that “the United States acknowledges that we have not completed our work on ratification and that our delay gives cover to other Annex 2 countries who have also failed to secure ratification of the Treaty.”

She told the meeting, “[W]e are building support for this Treaty, state by state, and sometimes person by person, because we know that a global ban on nuclear explosive testing is good for our country. We are certain that we have a good case to make. We will continue to make it.” But on June 6, at the Arms Control Association annual meeting in Washington, Benjamin Rhodes, assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said bluntly, “Senate ratification of CTBT is not going to happen this year.” 

“Following the 2010 midterm elections,” Rhodes said, “the composition of the Senate changed, leaving us with no viable path for [the] CTBT.” 

Rhodes added, however, that “we will continue to consider ways to affirm the international norm against testing nuclear weapons.”

In his remarks at the Vienna meeting, Mikhail Ulyanov, director of the department for nonproliferation and arms control in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reiterated Moscow’s support for the treaty, which it ratified in 2000, and chided the United States for its failure to ratify.

“Unfortunately, despite repeated statements on plans to ratify [the] CTBT and facilitate its soonest entry into force…no concrete steps in this direction have been made,” he said. 

Echoing the U.S. comments on its ratification situation, Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Li Baodong pledged that the Chinese government “will continue to encourage the National People's Congress to discuss the ratification of the treaty…and continue to enhance public recognition and support for the Treaty.” 

Baodong also announced that China has “made progress” through cooperation with the CTBTO on building and certifying the five seismic monitoring stations on its territory that are part of the International Monitoring System. CTBTO officials told Arms Control Today that as of June 13, data from these stations had begun to flow to their International Data Centre (IDC) in Vienna.

Iranian representative Hamid Baeidinejad, the foreign ministry’s director-general of international political and security affairs, asserted that the nuclear-weapon states “bear the main responsibility in entry into force.” Iran has signed the treaty, but has not ratified it and does not allow data from monitoring stations on its territory to be transmitted to the IDC. 

Baeidinejad asserted that “banning the development of nuclear weapons is vital in the region of the Middle East,” complained that Israel is the only state in the region that has not joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and urged progress on the establishment of a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. At the same time, he reiterated Iran’s long-standing concern about the regional grouping of states in the text of the CTBT for the Middle East and South Asia because it recognizes Israel as a state in the region.

Following a meeting in Jerusalem on June 20 with Zerbo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement expressing Israel’s support for the treaty, adding that “the issue of ratification depends on the regional context and the appropriate timing.” Netanyahu signed the treaty in 1996. 

Key ministers from CTBT states-parties plan to convene again in New York in September to mark the Sept. 24 anniversary of the treaty opening for signature.

In an effort to jump-start progress toward entry into force, foreign ministers met in Vienna to focus attention on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which opened for signature two decades ago.

Resuming Negotiations with North Korea

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By Elizabeth Philipp
2016 Scoville Fellow
June 2016

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The window of opportunity to prevent North Korea from fielding nuclear-armed ballistic missiles is closing. Diplomatic engagement with North Korea has been scant in recent years. In response to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests, the United States and other countries, through actions of the United Nations Security Council and independent policies, have adopted an approach of increasing political and economic isolation. Yet, during this time, Pyongyang has improved its nuclear weapons capability quantitatively and qualitatively.

The next presidential administration must prioritize reviewing and renewing Washington’s diplomatic approach to North Korea. With each successive nuclear and missile test, North Korea advances its knowledge and consolidates its capability. History has shown that it is far easier to convince North Korea to negotiate away a military capability it does not yet possess. Washington’s stated primary concern is a North Korean nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Pyongyang will achieve this capability if it is not reined in through a diplomatic agreement or understanding. Once Pyongyang achieves this status, the security balance in Asia will be disrupted and U.S. diplomats will be hard-pressed to convince North Korea to abandon the capability.

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The window of opportunity to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear-armed ballistic missile systems is closing and Washington should explore every serious diplomatic overture from Pyongyang.

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Time to Translate Words Into Action: Statement by Daryl G. Kimball at the 20th Anniversary of the CTBT

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Time to Translate Words Into Action

Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association
Panel on "The Role of Civil Society" at the 20th Anniversary of the CTBT

Vienna, Austria
13 June 2016

Distinguished delegates and colleagues the world over. It is an honor to address you at this important meeting on the role and perspectives of NGOs on the path forward on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) some 20 years after its entry into force.

Since the beginning of the movement to ban nuclear test explosions, ordinary people, civil society organizations, and individual scientists, doctors, and community leaders have been and will continue to be a driving force in the long journey to end all nuclear testing.

Ellen Tauscher, former Congresswoman and Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, and Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of Arms Control Association, spoke on a panel on pathways for civil society organizations working on CTBT ratification. (Photo: CTBT0 Youtube channel)

Public pressure for the test ban all over the globe has been driven by the environmental and health impacts of the 2,050 nuclear detonations conducted since 1945, as well as the realization that nuclear testing fuels the development of new and more deadly types of nuclear weapons and dangerous nuclear competition.

Recall that some twenty-five years ago, a popular movement in Soviet-controlled Kazakhstan forced the government in Moscow to halt nuclear weapons testing at proving grounds in their homeland where more than 456 explosions had contaminated the land and damaged the health of its people.

As a result of their efforts and those of other nongovernmental and elected leaders, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev declared a test moratorium on October 5, 1991, prompting U.S. activists in Oregon to push their new member of Congress to introduce legislation mandating a 9-month U.S. test moratorium as a reciprocal measure of restraint designed to help put an end to the decades-long U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms race.

With strong nongovernmental support and campaigning, the legislation was approved with a bipartisan majority.

Under pressure from civil society organizations and members of Congress, on July 3, 1993, President Bill Clinton decided to extend the moratorium and to pursue a multilateral nuclear test ban treaty at the Conference on Disarmament. There has not been a U.S. nuclear test explosion since September 23, 1992.

Just four years later, the world’s nations concluded the CTBT to prevent nuclear proliferation and help end the nuclear arms race. Since the opening for signature of the CTBT twenty years ago, the vast majority of the world’s nations have signed and ratified the Treaty. They recognize that nuclear testing is a dangerous and unnecessary vestige of the past and understand that the CTBT is a cornerstone of the international security architecture of the 21 st century.

But the CTBT has become a victim of its own success.

This has had a profound impact for the role of civil society organizations and the future of the CTBT.

Because the CTBT has established an effective global norm against nuclear explosive testing, nuclear testing has come to an end for all but one nuclear-armed state – the DPRK.

As a consequence, and despite the ongoing threat of further North Korean nuclear testing, there is low awareness about the dangers posed by renewed nuclear testing, and the need to achieve entry into force of the CTBT.

In the absence of strong leadership on the CTBT from the U.S. government and the increasingly pro forma statements of support from other states, it has become increasingly difficult to generate the pressure necessary to encourage ratification by the remaining Annex 2 hold-outs.

Unfortunately, the CTBT is not a top objective for most of the civil society organizations working in the nuclear security field and there are increasingly fewer sources of financial support for civil society education and advocacy work on the CTBT.

As a result, there is a growing risk that governments and publics will take the non-testing norm and the enormous benefits of the International Monitoring System and the International Data Center for granted.

These are important realities that we need to take into account. These realities pose unique challenges for the governmental leaders who are truly committed to seeing the CTBT enter into force – and for nongovernmental organizations seeking to close the door on nuclear testing in the years ahead.

Business as Usual Will Not Do

Bringing the CTBT into full legal force will require more energetic, more creative, more pragmatic and more focused efforts on the part of us all. As Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said at a special meeting on the CTBT on Sept. 29, “business as usual” efforts will not suffice. We must also recognize that actions speak louder than words.

I sincerely hope that today’s events will help catalyze the hard work necessary to produce a serious diplomatic action plan and renewed civil society focus on the CTBT.

20th Anniversary Should Be a Catalyst

In the United States we are looking ahead to possibilities for the CTBT in 2017 or 2018, when, with stronger presidential leadership and better political conditions in the Senate, there will be another opportunity to secure Senate advice and consent for U.S. ratification.

The Arms Control Association and a network of partner organizations and experts connected through our Project for the CTBT are ready to jump into action. There is a core of Senators who support the treaty and are ready to provide their support and leadership.

In the meantime, it is essential that we take steps to reinforce the norm against nuclear testing moratorium and raise awareness about why further nuclear testing would be a threat to international peace and security.

The Sept. 24 anniversary of the opening for signature of the CTBT provides a critical opportunity. We would recommend a two-part strategy.

Part one, requires a serious, high-level diplomatic outreach effort on the part of key “friends of the CTBT states” to engage with key hold-out states regarding their concerns about signing/ratifying the treaty, to reaffirm their support for the global testing taboo, and to encourage them pledge that they will consider CTBT ratification “at the earliest possible time.”

We made some limited progress in this regard at the ministerial meeting held earlier today. The gathering has been an important way to refocus high-level governmental attention on the challenges facing entry into force. But much more needs to be done. Unfortunately, some states did not send representatives at the requested ministerial level, most notably the United States, thus limiting the potential of the meeting.

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 CTBT 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 it is necessary to maintain a continuous, real-time global nuclear test monitoring capability and associated data processing, analysis, and reporting to detect and help deter clandestine nuclear 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.

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 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization.

The U.S. government appears to be open to such an approach. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said on June 6, that: “we will continue to consider ways to affirm the international norm against testing nuclear weapons.

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.

Thank you.

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The CTBT has established an effective global norm against nuclear explosive testing. This has had a profound impact for the role of civil society organizations and the future of the CTBT.

North Korea’s Nuclear and Missile Tests Set the Stage for Party Congress

In the four months leading up to the North Korean Workers’ Party Congress convening on May 6, the country’s young dictator, Kim Jong Un, has ordered up a dazzling display of the country’s putative prowess in nuclear weaponry. The mixed results of nuclear and missile testing may succeed in impressing Kim’s domestic audience and alarming or inciting his neighbors to the south. But the testing also demonstrates that North Korea’s achievements fall far short of its claims and that political goals rather than technological imperatives are driving weapons development programs. All Eyes on the...

In Hiroshima, Chart the Path Forward

May 2016

By Daryl G. Kimball

As a 13-year-old schoolgirl, Setsuko Thurlow saw her classmates and other fellow citizens of Hiroshima obliterated by the hurricane-like blast, burned by searing heat, or sickened by the radiation of one atomic bomb. 

She was one of the lucky ones, rescued from the rubble of a collapsed building 1.8 kilometers from ground zero. By 1950, some 250,000 had died from the bomb that was detonated on August 6, 1945, and the second that scorched Nagasaki three days later.

Over the past seven decades, Thurlow and the other survivors have served the cause of peace by reminding the world of the horrors of nuclear war and calling on leaders to ensure that nuclear weapons will never be used again.

With a historic visit to one or both of these cities when he travels to Japan for the summit of the Group of Seven industrialized countries May 26-27, U.S. President Barack Obama could not only acknowledge the experience and contributions of the hibakusha, but also use the opportunity to map out ways the United States and other countries can move closer to a world free of nuclear weapons. 

As he declared in Prague seven years ago, “[A]s the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act.” 

Obama has refocused global attention on the need to reduce and eliminate nuclear dangers. His leadership has led to significant progress in preventing terrorists from obtaining nuclear weapons-usable material and the conclusion of a long-term verifiable agreement to block Iran’s pathways to the bomb.

But the impact of the president’s actions and policies to reduce the role and number of the world’s 15,000 nuclear weapons has been far more modest. Even after the 2010 U.S.-Russian New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, each side can still deliver some 1,800 strategic nuclear warheads, each of which is more powerful than the bombs that wiped out Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

In 2013, Obama announced the United States has one-third more nuclear weapons than necessary, but made further cuts contingent on Russian reciprocity. At the same time, Obama’s push for a massive and costly program to upgrade each element of the U.S. arsenal would maintain excess force levels for decades to come.

As he winds up his time in office, tensions with Russia are high, and further nuclear arms talks are on hold; no functioning multilateral forum for nuclear disarmament has been established; the door to further nuclear testing remains open; and a new technological arms race involving the world’s nuclear-armed states is underway.

With just months remaining, Obama can still make a positive impact but only if he is more creative and is prepared to provide bolder leadership. 

In Japan, he could take a dramatic step to reduce the risk of inadvertent nuclear weapons use by announcing he will eliminate the launch-under-attack posture from U.S. nuclear strategy and call on other states to do the same. This would not undermine deterrence capabilities because U.S. nuclear forces are designed to withstand an initial first strike. 

Obama said in April, “[W]e do have to guard against…new and more deadly and more effective systems that end up leading to a whole new escalation of the arms race.” If he is serious, he should take another look at the Pentagon’s unaffordable, Strangelove-ian nuclear force modernization scheme and announce he will halt plans for 1,000 to 1,100 new air-launched cruise missiles, which would introduce new capabilities and are designed for nuclear war-fighting, not deterrence. 

Obama should also propose a new global nuclear restraint and disarmament dialogue. He should call for other nuclear-armed states, particularly China, India, and Pakistan, to halt fissile material production for weapons use and freeze the overall size of their nuclear weapons stockpiles as long as the United States and Russia continue to reduce theirs. To work out a framework for further progress, he could propose a series of high-level summits on multilateral nuclear disarmament involving nuclear-armed and non-nuclear-weapon states. 

Obama says he wants to secure Senate support for ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), but has fallen miserably short of his call in 2009 for “an immediate and aggressive” effort for the treaty. As a result, entry into force remains a distant goal, 20 years after the negotiation of the treaty. 

In his final months, Obama has a responsibility to reinforce the norm against testing by supporting efforts to formulate and adopt a nonbinding UN Security Council resolution that calls on all states to refrain from testing, urges CTBT holdout states to ratify the treaty, and declares that conducting a nuclear test explosion would defeat the object and purpose of the treaty.

Obama’s visit to Japan represents one of his last and best opportunities to take steps necessary to head off a new phase of global arms competition and establish a more meaningful legacy on nuclear disarmament.

As a 13-year-old schoolgirl, Setsuko Thurlow saw her classmates and other fellow citizens of Hiroshima obliterated by the hurricane-like blast...

Statement by Daryl G. Kimball on Challenges on Disarmament and Opportunities for Progress

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Political and Security Challenges on Disarmament
and Opportunities to Achieve Progress 

Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association
Framework Forum Roundtable organized by the
Canadian Mission, the Middle Powers Initiative, and Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung 

Mission of the Government of Canada in Geneva, April 18, 2016

Under Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), each of the parties, including the nuclear-weapon-state parties, “undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

In its 1996 advisory opinion, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found that the threat and use of nuclear weapons was generally illegal, but it could not decide whether this illegality applied “in an extreme circumstance of self-defense in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.” Three judges dissented from that ruling, arguing that nuclear weapons were illegal in all circumstances. In its 1996 opinion, the ICJ also concluded unanimously that the disarmament obligation is not limited to NPT parties.

But today, and contrary to these legal obligations, progress on nuclear disarmament is at a standstill, and the risk of unbridled nuclear competition is growing.1

U.S. MX missile re-entry vehicles being tested at Kwajalein Atoll. Each line represents the potential explosive power of about 300 kilotons of TNT. All nine of the world's nuclear weapon states are replacing or upgrading their nuclear weapons strike capabilities. (Photo courtesy of Department of Defense.)As the delegations here at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) and the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on Disarmament realize, there are still no legally-binding restrictions on the nuclear buildups of world’s four non-NPT nuclear-armed states, and are currently no active bilateral or multilateral negotiations to further regulate, cap, or reduce the stockpiles of any of the world’s five original nuclear-armed states.

Worse still, key treaties like the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) have not yet entered into force due to political divisions in Washington and inaction by seven other Annex 2 states, leaving the door to renewed nuclear weapons testing ajar twenty years after the Conference on Disarmament completed its negotiation and the treaty was opened for signature.

In addition to the tensions between key nuclear-armed states, the biggest challenge to the disarmament enterprise is the fact that all of the world’s nine nuclear-weapon states are, to varying degrees or another, devoting vast sums of money to modernize, upgrade, and in some cases expand the size and lethality of their nuclear arsenals and delivery systems.

As Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists wrote in in 20142, the numerical nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia may be over; but elsewhere, “a dynamic technological nuclear arms race is in full swing and may increase over the next decade.”

Although there is abundant evidence that even a “limited” exchange of nuclear weapons would result in a catastrophic humanitarian catastrophe—and in the view of many would violate the principles contained in the Law of War and be contrary to widespread interpretations of International Humanitarian Law—each of the nuclear-armed states continue to reaffirm the importance of such weapons for their security and maintain plans for the use of these weapons in a conflict.

U.S.-Russian Tensions

Undoubtedly, renewed tensions between Moscow and Washington are blocking progress on nuclear disarmament. The United States and Russia have a special responsibility to provide leadership to further reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons, but they are not doing so.

Although the number of nuclear weapons is down from its Cold War peak, the United States and Russia deploy far more nuclear weapons—some 1,800 each—than necessary for nuclear deterrence purposes. As President Barack Obama correctly noted in a speech in 2012, “we have more nuclear weapons than we need.”

Yet progress on further nuclear cuts is on hold. As President Obama recently acknowledged and the Russian [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] MFA confirmed, new negotiations on further nuclear disarmament beyond [the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] New START are unlikely any time soon.

Russian leaders cite concerns about limited but unconstrained U.S. ballistic missile interceptors, NATO conventional military capabilities, and third-country nuclear arsenals, as reason for rejecting the June 2013 U.S. proposal for a further one-third reduction in each side’s strategic nuclear forces. But Russia has failed to put forward a counterproposal and has rejected U.S. offers to discuss the full range of strategic issues.

Complicating matters, Russia also has tested ground-based cruise missiles in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. U.S. and Russian officials say they are interested in discussing the issue, but the matter remains unresolved. So long as it does, the prospects for negotiation of a follow-on agreement to New START are low.

Making matters even worse, Russian officials have begun to highlight their nuclear forces as a deterrent against what they see as increasingly threatening U.S. and NATO conventional military capabilities. Late last year, Russia “leaked” plans for a new nuclear-armed underwater torpedo, implying it is eyeing new types of nuclear weapons.

Now, in a troubling shift of rhetoric, the Defense Department has unwisely begun to frame its unaffordable, all-of-the-above plan for replacing and upgrading U.S. strategic bombers, nuclear-armed cruise missiles, and land- and sea-based strategic nuclear forces as part of its strategy to “counter Russia’s aggressive policies in Eastern Europe,” according its fiscal year 2017 budget request.

In reality, U.S. nuclear weapons, including the remaining forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons are irrelevant to the protection of nervous NATO allies in the Baltics and elsewhere.

Obama and his successor, along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, have a responsibility to pull back from a nuclear action-reaction cycle that would put both countries at greater risk and block further nuclear reductions for many more years to come.

Other Nuclear-Armed States

Meanwhile, as the U.S. and Russian tensions and arsenals attract most international attention, China, India, and Pakistan are all pursuing new ballistic missile, cruise missile, and sea-based nuclear delivery systems3 themselves and increasing the size of their warhead stockpiles or their capacity to produce material to make more weapons.

Although smaller in number, these arsenals are just as dangerous. Pakistan has lowered the threshold for nuclear weapons use in a potential conflict with India by developing tactical nuclear weapons capabilities to counter perceived Indian conventional military threats.

Pakistan’s stated concern about India’s larger fissile stocks has led it to block negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty, even though the United States has recently opened the possibility of changing the mandate to address fissile stocks4.

For its part, India says it would support fissile cut-off talks, but it appears to be expanding its fissile material production capacity as the CD remains deadlocked.

Leaders in Beijing, New Delhi, and Islamabad profess support for nondiscriminatory approaches to disarmament and minimal deterrence, but their programs are moving in the opposite direction and there is little or no dialogue among them, and with others, on nuclear risk reduction options.

Chinese officials suggest they will not consider limits on their nuclear arsenal unless there are additional, deeper U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons cuts.

Although North Korea may be under tighter and tighter international sanctions, its nuclear weapons and ballistic programs remain unconstrained. With further nuclear and ballistic missile tests, it will likely have missile-deliverable nuclear warheads.

Israel’s nuclear opacity and the inability of the Arab League to find a way to agree on an agenda acceptable to Israel for a meeting Middle East Nuclear WMD Free Zone Treaty has frozen discussion of practical measures to reduce nuclear and missile dangers in that region.

Another challenge is the relatively low-level of public and policy-maker awareness about the dangers of renewed nuclear competition and the consequences of nuclear weapons use is relatively low in the United States—and perhaps elsewhere.

While there is support among Democrats in Congress for efforts to further cut U.S. and Russian arsenals, there is strong skepticism among Republicans in Congress about any further nuclear reductions, and even though the U.S. Defense Department acknowledges that it cannot afford its costly, all-of-the-above plan to replace each component of the U.S. nuclear arsenal5, for the time being there is bipartisan support for most U.S. nuclear weapons modernization programs.

Moving Forward

Obviously, these are very challenging conditions. These difficulties are reflected in the inability to achieve consensus here in Geneva at the CD and in the failure of the nuclear weapon states to meet key 2010 NPT Review Conference commitments and the inability of the states parties at the 2015 NPT Review Conference to agree on an updated action plan on disarmament.

Frustrated by the slow pace of the so-called “step-by-step approach” to disarmament, many non-nuclear-weapon states have tried to catalyze progress through the humanitarian consequences initiative. The effort has helped raise awareness once again about the unique destructive power of nuclear weapons and the dubious legal and moral basis for their possession and use.

But that initiative and the open-ended working group to discuss possible measures “to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons" has not yet produced a unified, realistic diplomatic proposal for halting nuclear competition or starting multilateral disarmament talks.

There is no substitute for serious dialogue, the political will and support to achieve results, and international and domestic pressure to achieve meaningful results.

Simply repeating calls for action are not sufficient. Creative, practical ideas are needed to overcome persistent obstacles and new challenges.

It does not appear to me that there is any one initiative that can overcome these broader systemic challenges that impede progress on disarmament.

Rather, it will likely take the pursuit of multiple, practical, and sometimes bold, initiatives on the part of responsible leaders and groups of states.

So, what options might states participating in the OEWG and the CD pursue to jumpstart progress? Allow me to briefly comment on a few that are in circulation here in Vienna and to offer a few others for your consideration.

  • A Ban Treaty
    At the February OEWG discussions some states and civil society campaigners suggested it is time to launch talks on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons possession and use. Such a ban is, in my view, eventually a necessary step toward a world without nuclear weapons.

    But if such a negotiation is launched and concluded, it would not help the nuclear weapon states meet their nuclear disarmament obligations and would not likely do much to change opinion, policies, dangerous nuclear use doctrines, or accelerate progress on the elimination of the nuclear arsenals in the nuclear-armed states.

    This is due in large part to the fact that the nuclear weapons states will simply ignore the process and the results. The key is to draw them in such a way that they are compelled or persuaded to shift their approach and accelerate action toward zero nuclear weapons.
  • Challenge Nuclear Weapons Use and Use Doctrines 
    Another, approach—which would help address the longstanding goal of assuring non-nuclear-weapon states against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons—would be to pursue the negotiation of a legally-binding instrument banning the use of nuclear weapons.

    Such an instrument would not, as some have suggested, legitimize the possession of nuclear weapons. Even if the nuclear-weapon states do not initially join in the negotiation or sign the instrument, the process itself and the final product could further delegitimize nuclear weapons, strengthen the legal norm against their use, and put pressure on nuclear-armed states to revise their nuclear doctrines.

    Another approach would be to press each of the nuclear-armed states to report, in detail, on the physical, environmental, and human impacts of their nuclear war plans, if these plans were to be carried out, and how they believe the use of hundreds of such weapons would be consistent with humanitarian law and the laws of war as some nuclear-armed states claim6.

    Such a process could force an examination of dangerous nuclear doctrines and focus public attention on the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons use.
  • UN Study on Effects of Possible Nuclear Exchanges Between Weapons States
    Part of the OEWG mandate is to make recommendations on “measures to increase awareness and understanding of the complexity of and interrelationship between the wide range of humanitarian consequences that would result from any nuclear detonation.”

    One important way to do so is to launch a UN study on the climate effects and related humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons use.

    Tremendous advances in climate modeling and research on both the immediate effects and impacts on climate and agriculture from large-scale nuclear weapons use have been completed since the United Nations looked at the issue 25 years ago. It is time for an up-to-date UN study and report on these issues to inform current and future debate and decisions on global nuclear policy.
  • Disarmament Discussions in the CD or Through Another Forum
    Theoretically, the CD can be a forum for a dialogue on disarmament. The United Kingdom has put forward a useful, and wide-ranging proposal for a working group to discuss and identify effective measures on nuclear disarmament7. It would appear to be flexible enough to all states’ interests into account. If states do not burden this proposal with poison pill demands, it could help extend the conversations taking place at the OEWG and engage key nuclear-armed states. If launched, it would be vital for all states to bring forward detailed and considered proposals, not tired talking points.

    Another option would be to initiate a series of high-level summits approach to put the spotlight on the issue and spur new ideas. This would complement the ongoing P5 [China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States] dialogue on nuclear terms and concepts and the humanitarian impacts initiative.

    Leaders from a core group of states could invite their counterparts from a representative group of 20 to 30 nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states to join a one- or two-day summit on steps to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons. The high-level meeting could be a starting point for ongoing, regular disarmament discussions at the expert and ministerial levels on the basis of a clear understanding of the devastating impacts of nuclear weapons use and an objective assessment of the security concerns of states.

    Borrowing a concept from the nuclear security summit process, all participants should be encouraged to bring “house gifts”—specific actions by states that would concretely diminish the threat of nuclear weapons use, freeze or reduce the number of nuclear weapons, reduce the role of nuclear weapons, bring into force key agreements such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, or make their nuclear programs more transparent.
  • UN Security Council and UN General Assembly Action to Reinforce the Test Ban Pending Entry Into Force
    The CTBT was concluded twenty years ago, yet entry into force is still many years away. It is essential that states that support the norm against nuclear testing support initiatives that raise the political and legal barriers for testing pending entry into force of the CTBT.

    Specifically, we urge you to actively support a non-binding UN Security Council resolution and a parallel UN General Assembly measure later this year that:
  1. Calls on all states to refrain from testing and calls upon those states that have not ratified the CTBT to do so at the earliest possible time;
  2. Declares that the conduct of a nuclear test explosion would defeat the object and purpose of the CTBT;
  3. Underscores the need for a continuous, real-time global nuclear test monitoring capability to detect, identify, and locate nuclear test explosions, and recognizes the vital contributions of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, including the International Monitoring System and International Data Centre.

    In light of the North Korea’s ongoing nuclear testing, the central importance of the CTBT to the NPT and nonproliferation, and the ongoing efforts by several nuclear-armed states to improve their capabilities, the time is right to take this initiative. The place to begin discussing it is the upcoming June 13 high-level meeting in Vienna on the CTBT.
  • Call for Parallel U.S.-Russian Reductions Without a New Treaty
    In 2010, all of the nuclear-weapon states committed “to accelerate concrete progress on the steps leading to nuclear disarmament,” including “all types of nuclear weapons.”

    Further nuclear reductions need not wait for a new U.S.-Russian arms control treaty. More states need to call upon the United States and Russia to accelerate the pace of reductions under New START to reach the agreed limits before the 2018 deadline and call on both states to continue to reduce force levels below the New START ceilings, to be verified with the treaty’s monitoring regime.
  • New START Follow-On Talks No Later Than 2017
    States can also call upon the leaders in Moscow and Washington to begin formal negotiations on a follow-on to New START, and on other relevant strategic weapons issues, no later than 2017.

    The aim should aim to cut each side’s strategic arsenals to fewer than 1,100 deployed strategic warheads and 500 deployed strategic delivery vehicles, including any strategic-range conventional prompt-strike weapons. Such talks can and should explore a wider range of issues, including transparency and confidence-building steps on tactical nuclear weapons and joint understandings on missile defense capabilities and deployments8. Talks should begin soon and before New START expires in 2021 
  • Reinforce the INF Treaty and Pursue Nuclear-Armed Cruise Missile Limits
    To sustain progress on nuclear disarmament, it is essential to reinforce and expand the INF Treaty. States at the CD and elsewhere need to speak up and call upon the United States and Russia to immediately resolve compliance concerns.

    The United States and other like-minded states could also propose and initiate talks with other states in talks on limiting and eventually phasing out all nuclear-armed cruise missile systems. President Obama could spur progress in this area by cancelling plans for a costly new U.S. air-launched cruise missile, which would have new military capabilities and is destabilizing former U.S. Secretary of Defense William J. Perry and others have proposed9.

    Such an initiative would allow the United States, Russia and other countries to forgo expensive modernization programs for such missiles, and in cooperation with other key states, head off dangerous cruise missile buildups around the globe.
  • Call On Other Nuclear-Armed States to Freeze Their Nuclear Buildups
    The world’s other nuclear-armed states must do their part too.

    In addition to urging the United States, China, and the other CTBT Annex 2 states to finally take the steps necessary to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Russia and the world’s other nuclear-armed states should be called upon by all NPT states parties to freeze the overall size of their stockpiles as long as the United States and Russia continue to reduce their nuclear arsenals. 

    A unified push for further U.S.-Russian arms cuts combined with a global nuclear weapons freeze by the other nuclear-armed states would help create the conditions for multilateral, verifiable nuclear disarmament and an eventual ban on nuclear weapons.

In the coming months and years, creative, bold approaches will be needed to overcome old and new obstacles to the long-running effort to eliminate the potential for nuclear catastrophe.


1. "Race for Latest Class of Nuclear Arms Threatens to Revive Cold War,” By William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, The New York Times, April 16, 2016

2. “Nuclear Weapons Modernization: A Threat to the NPT?,” Hans M. Kristensen in Arms Control Today, May 2014.

3. “India’s Submarine Completes Tests,” Kelsey Davenport, Arms Control Today, April 2016

4. “U.S. Floats New Fissile Talks Formula, “ Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Today, March 2016.

5. “The U.S. Nuclear Weapons Spending Binge,” by Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Today, December 2015

6. The June 2013 Report on the Nuclear Weapons Employment Strategy of the United States claims that: [t]he new guidance makes clear that all plans must be consistent with the fundamental principles of the Law of Armed Conflict. Accordingly, plans will, for example, apply the principles of distinction and proportionality and seek to minimize collateral damage to civilian populations and civilian objects. The United States will not intentionally target civilian populations or civilian objects.”

7. Letter dated 19 February from the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the Conference on Disarmament.

8. “Second Report of the Deep Cuts Commission: Strengthening Stability in Turbulent Times,” published by the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, April 2015.

9.“Overkill: The Case Against a New Nuclear Air-Launched Cruise Missile” by Kingston Reif, Arms Control Association Issue Brief, October 19, 2015

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Under Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), each of the parties, including the nuclear-weapon-state parties...

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ICJ Hears Nuclear Disarmament Case

April 2016

By Daryl G. Kimball

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague began hearing arguments March 7 in a case brought against nuclear-armed India, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom by the Republic of the Marshall Islands, which contends that the UK has failed to meet disarmament obligations under Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and NPT nonsignatories India and Pakistan have breached nuclear disarmament obligations established under customary international law.

The action by the island republic, which was a U.S. protectorate until 1986, represents the most significant international legal challenge on nuclear weapons since the ICJ issued an advisory opinion on the “the legality of threat of or use of nuclear weapons” in 1996. It also reflects the growing frustration of many non-nuclear-weapon states over what they see as the slow pace of nuclear disarmament.

The Marshall Islands, whose land and people were severely affected by 67 U.S. atmospheric nuclear tests conducted there from 1946 to 1958, is petitioning the ICJ to declare the three states in breach of their nuclear disarmament obligations and order them to initiate negotiations on nuclear disarmament.

In its 1996 advisory opinion, the ICJ judged that the threat and use of nuclear weapons was generally illegal, but added that it could not decide whether this illegality applied “in an extreme circumstance of self-defense in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.” Three judges dissented from that ruling, arguing that nuclear weapons were illegal in all circumstances. In its 1996 opinion, the ICJ also concluded unanimously that the disarmament obligation is not limited to NPT parties.

In court arguments, India, Pakistan and the UK separately argued that the Marshall Islands case was without merit and that they were committed to achieving nuclear disarmament. India in particular emphasized its votes in favor of nuclear disarmament at the UN General Assembly.

The Indian government “believes that given our consistent and principled position on the NPT, to which India is not a party to, NPT provisions cannot be extended to India as a legal obligation,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said in a March 7 statement.

On the same day that the nuclear disarmament case opened at the ICJ, India conducted a test of its new, nuclear-capable K-4 submarine-launched ballistic missile.

Tony de Brum, a representative of the Marshall Islands in the case and the former foreign minister, charged at the ICJ on March 15 that by “proudly and rapidly enhancing and diversifying” its nuclear arsenal, India’s “conduct is the opposite of satisfying a legal obligation to negotiate in good faith nuclear disarmament.”

In April 2014, the Marshall Islands filed formal applications in the ICJ instituting proceedings against all nine of the world’s nuclear-armed states. But only India, Pakistan, and the UK accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the court and appeared in The Hague to argue their side in the case. The other nuclear-armed states were invited to respond, but China declined and the others did not respond.

The ICJ is expected to issue separate rulings on the jurisdiction and admissibility of each case later this year. If the court rules in favor of the Marshall Islands, the process will move to the merits phase. If the court rules against the plaintiffs, the case will be over.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague began hearing arguments March 7 in a case brought against nuclear-armed India, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom by the Republic of the Marshall Islands...

Countries Pledge Renewed CTBT Effort

March 2016

By Daryl G. Kimball and Shervin Taheran

24_NEWS_CTBT.jpgIn the wake of North Korea’s nuclear test explosion on Jan. 6, diplomats from several states have announced they will intensify efforts to accelerate progress toward entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which was opened for signature two decades ago.

Cristian Istrate, permanent representative of Romania to the international organizations in Vienna and chair of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), said on Jan. 25 in remarks delivered at a symposium in Vienna that plans are in motion for a “high-level ministerial meeting” during the organization’s scheduled June 13-15 meeting in Vienna. In addition to the foreign ministers, the meeting will involve UN officials, independent experts, and the media, Istrate said.

The high-level meeting “is an ambitious and good idea,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in remarks Feb. 1 following a meeting with CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo in Paris, according to the CTBTO.

Citing the Jan. 6 North Korean test and the impending 20th anniversary of the CTBT, Zerbo said in a Jan. 27 column in Le Monde that “it is imperative to redouble efforts” to get “real results” with regard to the CTBT’s entry into force.

Since the CTBT was opened for signature in 1996, 183 states have signed and 164 have ratified the treaty, including 36 of the 44 states referenced in Annex 2 of the treaty as being required for entry into force. The eight states listed in Annex 2 that have not ratified the treaty are China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States.

At the Vienna symposium, several government officials and nongovernmental experts suggested the treaty could serve as a confidence-building measure in the Middle East.

Israel’s representative in Vienna, Merav Zafary-Odiz, said in remarks at the symposium that a regional moratorium on nuclear testing “could enhance security and potentially lead to a future ratification of the CTBT.” She said that “Israel has announced its commitment to a moratorium” and that “it would be useful for others to do the same.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed the CTBT in 1996, but the country has not ratified the pact.

Other symposium speakers underscored the importance of U.S. leadership on treaty ratification decisions by other Annex 2 states.

Siddharth Varadarajan, a veteran Indian journalist, argued that U.S. ratification is essential to secure ratification by at least three other countries—China, India, and Pakistan.

“Pakistan will not sign and ratify the CTBT as the smallest and weakest of the nuclear-armed states before India does, India will not do the same until China does, and the Chinese will not do it until the U.S. does,” Varadarajan said in his Jan. 26 remarks.

The Obama administration has said it is undertaking an effort “to reopen and re-energize the conversation about the treaty on Capitol Hill and throughout [the] nation,” as Secretary of State John Kerry put it last October. (See ACT, November 2015.)

Since then, State Department officials have been delivering speeches to audiences in several states, including Alaska, Colorado, Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Utah, on the benefits of a test ban.

In a Feb. 4 interview with the Albuquerque Journal during a visit to New Mexico, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said she was working “to get the American public again focused on the value of the CTBT to our national security.”

“We made a pass at ratifying the treaty back in 1999, and at the time…there wasn’t, I think, the clear knowledge that we could maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear stockpile without testing. The situation has changed quite a bit in the ensuing 17 years,” Gottemoeller said.

But she made clear that the administration was not pushing for a vote. “I don’t think [President Barack Obama] is unrealistic about trying to rush things through in 2016, but he definitely wants to lay some solid groundwork in the hope that the treaty, if it is not taken up in 2016, it can be taken up in the near future,” she said in the interview.

Some senators, including New Mexico’s Tom Udall (D) and Martin Heinrich (D), have expressed their support, saying they believe the technical questions surrounding the treaty have been addressed. The CTBT “is an important element of global nonproliferation efforts, and I believe the United States should ratify it,” Udall told the Albuquerque Journal on Feb. 4.

In a Feb. 3 article, Roll Call quoted Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) as saying that “there’s been no discussion” on holding a vote on the CTBT in his committee. 

Diplomats want a renewed, “high-level” push as the treaty’s 20th anniversary nears.

The State of the Comprehensive Test Ban and Nonproliferation Treaties

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Thursday, February 11, 2016
12:30 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.
Stimson Center
1211 Connecticut Avenue NW, 8th Floor, Washington, D.C.

The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) was indefinitely extended in 1995. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was negotiated in 1996. Two decades later, both treaties are not in good shape. The CTBT remains in limbo, shackled by a provision designed to delay its entry-into-force. The health of the NPT requires strong bonds between states recognized by the treaty as possessing nuclear weapons and non-nuclear-weapon states. The divide between these camps is growing, and future NPT review conferences may well exacerbate these divisions.

Where do we stand? And where do we go from here? The Stimson Center and the Arms Control Association hosted a luncheon meeting to address these questions with presentations from Stimson co-founder Michael Krepon, the former U.S. ambassador to the 2010 NPT Review Conference Susan Burke, Arms Control Association executive director Daryl G. Kimball, and Professor David Koplow from Georgetown University.

Text of Prepared Opening Statement by Daryl G. Kimball

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The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) was indefinitely extended in 1995. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was negotiated in 1996. Two decades later...

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