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"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
Nuclear Testing

UNSC Test Ban Initiative: Reinforcing The Existing Norm Against Nuclear Testing

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Volume 8, Issue 5, September 9, 2016

Diplomats at the UN Security Council (UNSC) are engaged in consultations on a proposal from the United States for a council resolution designed to reinforce the existing global norm against nuclear weapons testing established by the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The resolution would be complemented by a separate political statement from the council's five permanent members (P5) further asserting their support for the object and purpose of the treaty.

North Korea is the only country to test nuclear weapons in the 21st century. All other nuclear powers have voluntarily enacted testing moratoria. The effort is all the more vital in the wake of North Korea’s fifth nuclear weapon test explosion September 9.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) in Vienna reports that preliminary data from more than two dozen of the seismic stations that are part of their International Monitoring System confirm that the seismic event is in the 5.1 magnitude range, is at very shallow depth, and is in the immediate vicinity of North Korea's Pyunggye-ri test site.

Barring unforeseen diplomatic disputes, the UNSC resolution and the P5 statement will likely be approved later this month at UN headquarters in New York.

The Testing Taboo

As President Bill Clinton said when he became the first world leader to sign the treaty on Sept. 24, 1996: "The signature of the world’s declared nuclear powers … along with the vast majority of its other nations will immediately create an international norm against nuclear testing, even before the treaty enters into force.” 

Since then, 183 states have become CTBT signatories and a robust, international monitoring system has been established that can effectively detect and deter clandestine nuclear testing anywhere in the world. The CTBT has near universal support.

Only North Korea has conducted nuclear test explosions in this century.

However, the door to further nuclear testing by North Korea and possibly other countries remains ajar. There are still eight key states—including the United States—that must still ratify the treaty in order to trigger its formal entry into force.

Until then, it is clearly in the interests of the United States and the international community to strengthen the taboo against nuclear testing and the work of the CTBTO to maintain and operate the global monitoring system and international data center established to verify compliance with the treaty.

What the UNSC Resolution and P5 Statement Would and Would Not Do

According to the State Department, the initiative would not establish new binding legal limitations on nuclear testing. The proposed UNSC resolution and P5 statement are:

  • “… intended to reinforce global support for the CTBT and its verification system” and “stigmatize those that continue to test and to act in ways contrary to the de facto norm of international behavior;” and are
  • “… in no way a substitute for early entry into force of the treaty.”

The proposed P5 statement on the CTBT would reaffirm the support of the five major nuclear powers for the treaty and clarify that “a nuclear test explosion or any other nuclear explosion would violate the object and purpose of the CTBT.

Such a statement would give public expression to an existing obligation by the United States, as a signatory to the CTBT that seeks ratification and entry into force, not to take any action that would defeat the object or purpose of the treaty, which is to halt nuclear explosive tests.

The Misplaced Concerns of Some Senators

Unfortunately, some Republicans in the Senate have mistakenly chosen to interpret this common sense initiative as an effort to circumvent the U.S. Senate’s constitutional role by promoting ratification of the CTBT through the United Nations.

In reality, presidents do not circumvent the U.S. Constitution by seeking support for treaties at the United Nations; they have done this many times in the past without usurping the Senate’s prerogatives for advice and consent. The resolution would, as UN Security Council Resolution 1887 (2009), annual UN General Assembly resolutions, and national statements at the bi-annual Article XIV Conferences on Facilitating the Entry Into Force of the CTBT have already done before, exhort states to take the steps necessary to ratify the treaty so the treaty can enter into force.

Nevertheless, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) convened a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee September 7 to examine the issue.

On September 8, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and 32 other senators threatened U.S. funding for the seismic monitoring stations that detected the North Korean test the next day. (Photo: U.S. Senate)

In a letter to President Obama dated August 12 and in the hearing, Corker expressed concern about the language in the proposed P5 statement “expressing the view that a nuclear test would violate the object and purpose of the CTBT.” He suggested that this “… could trigger a limitation on the ability of future administrations to conduct nuclear test explosions.” 

In a letter to the White House published September 8, a group of 33 Republican senators went much further, threatening that: “If you decide to pursue a Security Council Resolution that accepts the imposition of international obligations the Senate has explicitly rejected, we would make every effort to prevent the authorization or appropriation” of the

These arguments rest on two incorrect assertions:

  1. The George W. Bush administration’s decision not to pursue the Senate’s consent to the CTBT’s ratification has, in effect, constituted a permanent repudiation of the CTBT even though the United States did not formally notify the depository; and
     
  2. The Bush administration’s position on the CTBT reflected a shared understanding between the legislative and executive branches. Corker erroneously suggested in his August 12 letter that: “The planned U.N. effort would reverse course on that shared understanding between the Senate and Executive Branch.

These assertions are incorrect for several reasons:

  • Sometimes administrations pursue the ratification of treaties negotiated by their predecessors, and sometimes they don’t. For example, the Geneva Protocol banning the use of asphyxiating gases remained on the Senate Calendar for 50 years until the Senate responded to the strong urgings of Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford to consent to its ratification. The fact that their predecessors did not seek the Senate’s consent did not constitute formal repudiation of the Geneva Protocol, any more than the Bush administration’s lack of interest in the CTBT did.
     
  • Political statements of intent regarding treaties do not formally release the United States from its Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties Article XVIII obligation “not to take actions that would defeat the object or purpose” of a treaty Washington has signed. When the Bush administration wanted to formally release the United States from the legal obligations established when President Clinton signed the Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court and the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, they did so by formally notifying the depositories. This was not done vis-a-vis the CTBT.
     
  • Ever since the Oct. 13, 1999, vote on the CTBT in the Senate, the treaty remains before the Senate. The Senate has not voted to discharge the treaty and send it back to the executive branch. The executive branch does not have the right to unilaterally withdraw from the Senate a treaty that is still formally before the Senate. In other words, there has never been any shared understanding that the CTBT would not be reconsidered. As Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) said Oct. 13, 1999: “Treaties never die, even when defeated and returned to the Executive Calendar of the Senate.”
     
  • Even if political statements by the executive branch during the Bush years provided a sufficient legal basis for releasing the United States from its obligation as a signatory not to take actions that would defeat the object and purpose of the treaty, the Obama administration’s many statements of support for the CTBT and its intention to seek and obtain ratification recommitted the United States to its obligations as a treaty signatory.

There is no technical need or military requirement for the resumption of U.S. nuclear testing. If, however, a U.S. president did seek to resume nuclear explosive testing, he/she would need to formally notify the depository that the supreme national interests of the United States require such an action and that the United States no longer intends to seek ratification of the treaty. This would be the case even were there not a P5 political statement expressing the view of the leaders of the P5 about what action(s) would violate the object and purpose of the CTBT. 

Reality Check

In response to the questions about the administration’s UNSC initiative on the test ban, Secretary of State John Kerry sent a letter September 7 to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He stressed that the initiative on the test ban will not establish any new binding legal limitations on nuclear testing and “will not cite Chapter VII of the UN Charter or impose Chapter VII obligations.”

It will,” Kerry writes, “be a nonbinding resolution that advances our interests by affirming the existing nuclear testing moratoria, while highlighting support for the CTBT and its verification regime.

Kerry underscored that the proposed P5 statement will give public expression to an existing U.S. (and British, Chinese, French, and Russian) commitment not to test. The United States, as a signatory state that seeks to ratify the CTBT, is obligated under customary international law not to take any action that would “defeat the object or purpose of the treaty,” which is to halt “any nuclear weapon test explosion and any other nuclear test explosion.”

Overall, the resolution and the P5 statement would strengthen the barriers against testing in the years ahead, encourage action by CTBT holdout states to sign and ratify, and reinforce support for the treaty’s nearly complete International Monitoring System to detect and deter clandestine testing.

As ranking member of the committee Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) explained in his opening statement at the September 7 hearing:

“We do not need nuclear active testing to have our deterrent stockpile. It’s the countries that are trying to develop a stronger capacity in nuclear weapons that could benefit by active nuclear testing. It’s those countries that we don’t want to test. It is in our national security interest that they don’t test. Therefore, as I look at this, if we are capable of putting more pressure on those countries not to test, it’s in our national security interest.”

Furthermore, North Korea’s nuclear test should underscore why it is irresponsible for some senators to threaten to cut off funding for the CTBTO’s international monitoring system out of misplaced and overwrought concerns that efforts to strengthen global support for the existing norm against nuclear testing would infringe upon their role in the treaty ratification process.

The New Senate Should Take Another Serious Look at the Treaty

Lost in the legal back-and-forth about executive and legislative branch authorities is the fact that the Senate has not taken a serious look at the CTBT for well over a decade.

Much of the skepticism that is expressed by some Republicans is based on outdated information and misconceptions about nuclear testing and the test ban treaty.

Much has changed since the Senate last examined the CTBT in 1999 and rejected the treaty after a brief and highly partisan debate that centered on questions about the then-unproven stockpile stewardship program and then-unfinished global test ban monitoring system.

A decade and a half later, those programs are fully functioning and have been proven effective. Today, the three U.S. nuclear weapons lab directors report that they are in a better position to maintain the arsenal than they were during the era of nuclear weapons test explosions. No ally or foe questions the lethal power of the U.S. arsenal. All U.S. allies want Washington to ratify the CTBT.

As former Secretary of State George Shultz has said, “Republican senators might have been right voting against [the CTBT] some years ago, but they would be right voting for it now.”

Bringing the CTBT back to the Senate for another vote requires a lengthy, intensive educational and outreach campaign by the executive branch to present the new information, answer detailed questions, and dispel misconceptions about the treaty. But the process of reconsideration should begin—and soon, with the new president and Senate.

Until such time as the U.S. ratifies and the CTBT enters into force, it is common sense U.S. policy to strengthen the barriers against nuclear testing by others.

—DARYL G. KIMBALL, Executive Director

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North Korea’s nuclear weapon test explosion September 9 underscores the need to reaffirm the existing global norm against nuclear testing and early entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

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Statement on North Korea's Fifth Nuclear Test by Daryl Kimball and Kelsey Davenport

Fifth North Korean nuclear test is alarming and cause for action to freeze its programs and reinforce global testing taboo—Statement by Executive Director Daryl G. Kimball and Director for Nonproliferation Policy Kelsey Davenport, 5am GMT, September 9, 2016.

U.S. Moves Forward on Test Ban Resolution

September 2016

By Shervin Taheran

President Barack Obama is seeking a UN Security Council resolution that would strengthen the global norms against nuclear weapons explosive testing in a move that coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

The proposed resolution “is intended to reinforce global support for the CTBT and its verification system” and to “stigmatize those that continue to test and act in ways contrary to a de facto norm of international behavior,” a State Department spokesperson said in an Aug. 11 email to Arms Control Today

President Barack Obama shakes hands with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key April 1 during the nuclear security summit in Washington. New Zealand assumes the presidency of the UN Security Council in September, when a U.S.-backed resolution reinforcing the global norm against nuclear testing may be adopted. [Photo credit: Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images]Although President Bill Clinton was the first world leader to sign the treaty on Sept. 24, 1996, its first day open for signature, the failure of the United States and seven other key nations to ratify the accord has prevented its entry into force. The move for Security Council action reflects the uncertainty about when and even whether holdout nations will ratify the treaty, which bans all nuclear test explosions.

The State Department official said that the Obama administration has begun to engage with Security Council members, including the other permanent members (China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom), on “potential steps” to “support existing national moratoria on nuclear tests.” New Zealand is set to assume the presidency of the Security Council during September, when the issue may be debated. 

The concept of a Security Council resolution on the test ban has been discussed in diplomatic circles for months. At a special June 13 ministerial meeting on the CTBT in Vienna, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov proposed that the Security Council raise the issue of the CTBT to encourage the treaty’s entry into force and to solidify the global norm against nuclear testing. (See ACT, July/August 2016.)

A total of 183 states, including the five permanent Security Council members, have signed the CTBT. But under terms outlined in Annex 2 of the treaty, 44 specified countries must ratify the treaty to bring it into force. 

There are eight Annex 2 states that have yet to ratify: China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, and the United States, which have signed the treaty, and India, North Korea, and Pakistan, which have not signed. Of those, China, India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan have nuclear weapons, while Iran gave up the capacity to produce nuclear weapons under a 2015 accord with the P5+1 nations (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States). Egypt does not have nuclear weapons or the technical means to produce them.

In addition to the resolution, the administration is exploring the option of a “political” statement by the five permanent Security Council members “expressing the view that a nuclear test would defeat the object and purpose of the CTBT,” according to an Aug. 12 letter to Obama from Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who was briefed on the initiative by administration officials in early August. 

Corker and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) were quick to oppose what they claim is an effort to “circumvent” the Senate. In his letter, Corker said that any political statement expressing the view that a nuclear test would defeat the object and purpose of the CTBT “could trigger a limitation on the ability of future administrations to conduct nuclear weapons tests.” 

Pending entry into force, treaty signatories are obliged under Article 18 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties to refrain from acts that would defeat the object or purpose of the treaty. While Corker notes that the United States has not yet ratified the Vienna Convention, he adds that “object and purpose” obligations “have been recognized by successive U.S. administrations as customary international law that present a binding restriction on the United States.” 

The administration maintains that the proposed resolution would not create any new legal restrictions on testing, although it may strengthen the political barriers. Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, stressed to Politico on Aug. 9 that the “Obama administration is not—and I repeat not—proposing or supporting a UN Security Council resolution that would impose any legally binding prohibition on nuclear explosive testing.” 

“We remain committed to pursuing U.S. ratification of [the] CTBT,” she said. “We fully respect the Senate’s role in the advice and consent process. Our goal with this [resolution] is to improve the global verification architecture for detecting such testing.” The Security Council resolution “is in no way a substitute for early entry into force of the CTBT,” she said.

On Oct. 13, 1999, the Senate rejected the treaty by a vote of a 51-48. Treaty approval requires a two-thirds majority of the Senate. Since 2009, the Obama administration has sought without success to re-engage the Senate on issues related to the CTBT, which remains on the executive calendar of the Senate.

Some members of Congress welcomed the initiative to reinforce the nuclear test moratorium. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said in an Aug. 5 statement that he “commend[s] President Obama for leading the international community to reinforce the global moratorium against testing. The U.S. Senate should join in this effort by voting to ratify” the CTBT.

At the United Nations, President Barack Obama is seeking to strengthen global norms against nuclear weapons explosive testing.

The UN and the Test Ban

By Daryl G. Kimball

Twenty years ago this month, in a major nonproliferation breakthrough, more than 158 nations came together to adopt a resolution at the United Nations in support of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Since then, the treaty has been signed by 183 states and has established a powerful taboo against nuclear test explosions, which for decades were used to perfect new and more deadly warhead designs and fueled the global nuclear arms race. Only one country—North Korea—has conducted nuclear test explosions in this century.

The Icecap tower in this undated photo houses the diagnostic cannister for a planned Los Alamos National Laboratory underground nuclear test scheduled for the spring of 1993; however, all operations ceased with the announcement of the testing moratorium. (Photo credit: National Nuclear Security Administration)As U.S. President Bill Clinton said when he signed the treaty on Sept. 24, 1996, “The signature of the world’s declared nuclear powers…along with the vast majority of its other nations will immediately create an international norm against nuclear testing, even before the treaty enters into force.”

But the door to renewed nuclear testing remains ajar, largely due to the U.S. Senate’s rejection of the treaty in 1999 and failure to reconsider it in the 16 years since. U.S. inaction in turn has given a cynical excuse for delay to the seven other states that also must ratify the treaty to trigger its entry into force.

Unfortunately, even if the next U.S. president and a new U.S. Senate can work together to reconsider and ratify the treaty, its entry into force is some time away.

In the meantime, it is clearly in the self-interest of the United States and all other treaty signatories to strengthen the taboo against testing. That is why President Barack Obama’s new proposal for a UN Security Council resolution and a separate political statement from the council’s five permanent members, who are the major nuclear powers, to reinforce the existing norm against testing is sensible and prudent. 

The initiative would not establish any new binding, legal limitations on nuclear testing. Yet, it would strengthen the barriers against testing in the years ahead, encourage action by CTBT holdout states to sign and ratify, and reinforce support for the treaty’s nearly complete International Monitoring System to detect and deter clandestine testing.

Unfortunately, some Republicans in the Senate, including Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (Tenn.), erroneously claim that the initiative would “cede the Senate’s constitutional role” on advice and consent of the CTBT. 

In fact, the initiative being pursued by the administration would, as other UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions have done several times previously, exhort states to take the steps necessary to ratify the treaty so that it can enter into force. The proposed resolution is not a substitute for Senate advice and consent for ratification.

In a letter to the White House, Corker also claims that the administration’s proposal for a political statement that says nuclear testing “would defeat the object and purpose” of the test ban treaty “could trigger a limitation on the ability of a future president to conduct nuclear weapon tests.” Wrong again.

This would not be a new obligation but would give public expression to an existing one. The United States, as a signatory state that seeks to ratify the CTBT, is obligated under customary international law not to take any action that would defeat the object or purpose of the treaty, which is to halt “any nuclear weapon test explosion and any other nuclear test explosion.”

Unless Corker wants to make it easier for other states, including China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia, to conduct nuclear test explosions, he and other senators should support efforts to reinforce the existing but fragile legal norm against testing.

Ultimately, U.S. ratification of the CTBT is essential to shut the door on all nuclear test explosions. In 1999 the Senate rejected the treaty after a brief and highly partisan debate that failed to resolve questions about the then-unproven nuclear Stockpile Stewardship Program and the unfinished global test ban monitoring system. A decade and a half later, those programs are fully functioning and have been proven effective. 

It has been 24 years since the last U.S. nuclear test explosion in the Nevada desert. Today, the three U.S. nuclear weapons lab directors report that they are in a better position to maintain the arsenal than they were during the era of nuclear weapons test explosions. No ally or foe questions the lethal power of the U.S. arsenal. All U.S. allies want Washington to ratify the CTBT. 

Although the United States no longer needs or wants nuclear weapons testing, other states could use nuclear testing to create more sophisticated and deadly arsenals. Our ability to ensure that states like Russia are not conducting clandestine tests will be improved after the CTBT’s entry into force, which will allow short-notice, on-site inspections to investigate suspicious events.

When the United States does eventually ratify the treaty, it will put pressure on other holdout states to follow suit. Until then, it is prudent to reduce the risk that other nations might resume testing and trigger a new and more dangerous cycle of global nuclear arms competition.

Twenty years ago this month, in a major nonproliferation breakthrough, more than 158 nations came together to adopt a resolution at the United Nations in support of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Reinforcing the Taboo on Nuclear Testing is in the United States' National Security Interests

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For Immediate Release: August 4, 2016

Media Contacts: Tony Fleming, communications director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 110; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, D.C.)—In response to a column written by Josh Rogin in The Washington Post, Arms Control Association Executive Director Daryl G. Kimball issued the following comments:

President Obama addresses the Security Council on nuclear non-proliferation and resolution 1887 (2009), expressing the Security Council's resolve to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons. (Photo credit: UN)We applaud President Obama’s consideration of a politically-binding UN Security Council resolution this fall that would reinforce the global norm against nuclear weapon test explosions and strongly dispute the allegation made by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) that such an effort would "cede the Senate’s constitutional role” on advice and consent of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
 
It is our understanding that the initiative being pursued by the administration would, as other UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions have already done several times before, exhort those states that have not yet ratified the CTBT to do so and call upon all states to refrain from further nuclear testing and to support ongoing efforts to maintain the monitoring system established to detect and deter clandestine nuclear testing.

With President Bill Clinton’s signature of the CTBT in 1996, the United States ended the practice of nuclear testing and today all but one state—North Korea—respects the de facto moratorium on nuclear testing. 
 
More than two decades after the last U.S. nuclear test in 1992, the United States' nuclear weapons labs are in a better position to maintain the reliability of the U.S. arsenal than during the era of nuclear weapons test explosions.
 
Clearly, in order for the United States to ratify the CTBT and the treaty to enter into force, the U.S. Senate would have to reconsider the treaty and provide its advice and consent to ratification. 
 
In the meantime, it is clearly in the interests of the United States to seek ways to reinforce the de facto global nuclear testing moratorium and make it more difficult for states, including Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and Iran, from conducting nuclear test explosions.
 
We would hope that Sen. Corker and other members of Congress would not attempt to sabotage efforts to increase the political barriers against nuclear testing by other states and to reinforce the existing, but fragile, legal norm against testing that already exists.
 
As President Bill Clinton said upon his signature of the CTBT in September 1996: “The signature of the world’s declared nuclear powers… along with the vast majority of its other nations will immediately create an international norm against nuclear testing, even before the treaty enters into force.”

The most effective way to verifiably end nuclear testing is to bring the treaty into force. To succeed, U.S. leadership is essential.

Bringing the CTBT back to the Senate for another vote requires a lengthy, intensive educational and outreach campaign to present the new information, answer detailed questions, and dispel old myths and misconceptions.

It was through such a process that the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) was approved in 2010. Unfortunately, in recent years, the Senate has shown it is not prepared for a serious discussion of the CTBT. 

The Obama administration has made it clear in congressional hearings, including on December 1, 2015 and July 14, 2016, that it is not pursuing "a prohibition of nuclear testing through a U.N. Security Council resolution.” 

The initiative that the administration is seeking, while not legally binding, would have tremendous political value in reinforcing the global norm against testing and reduce the risk that other nations might use nuclear testing to improve or develop nuclear weapons capabilities that threaten U.S. and global security.

Finally, any efforts by Congress to withhold the U.S. contribution for the global test monitoring system could undermine long-term U.S. security by eroding our ability to detect and deter clandestine nuclear test explosions by countries such as Russia and Iran.

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In response to a report in The Washington Post, Arms Control Association Executive Director Daryl G. Kimball made the following comments.

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The Complex and Increasingly Dangerous Nuclear Weapons Geometry of Asia

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By Greg Thielmann
July 2016

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While much of the world’s attention is focused on efforts to halt the nuclear and missile tests of North Korea, the nuclear arsenals and ambitions of India, Pakistan, and China also pose significant dangers and deserve more attention.

The complicated nuclear weapons geometry of Asia extends from the subcontinent to the other side of the world. While Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is designed to counter India’s conventional and nuclear forces, New Delhi measures its own nuclear weapons program against that of China. Beijing, in turn, judges the adequacy of its nuclear arsenal against the threat it perceives from the United States’ strategic offensive and defensive capabilities. And in its efforts to mitigate the ballistic missile threat from North Korea, the United States and its allies in the region are expanding their strategic and theater missile defense capabilities.

In order to fully understand how the pace and direction of nuclear proliferation can be influenced, the interconnections of these countries must be considered, along with the kinds of nuclear weapons they have at their disposal.

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Asian states Pakistan, India, China, and North Korea comprise four of the world's nine nuclear-armed states. The interconnections of these countries must be considered to fully understand how nuclear nonproliferation can be influenced.

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.

Description: 

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.

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