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The Poor Prospects of the CTBT Entering Into Force

Dr. Ch. Viyyanna Sastry was Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi
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  • January 09, 2012

    The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) which prohibits all forms of nuclear weapons testing has for long been considered important to curb the spread of nuclear weapons technology. Together with the NPT and the Fissile Materials Cut-Off Treaty, the CTBT was considered as completing the essential components of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime. The CTBT was debated intensely during the Clinton years (1993-96) at the UN Conference on Disarmament, Geneva. The treaty was opened for signature in New York on September 24, 1996 but is yet to enter into force. Till date, 182 States have signed the treaty. Out of the 44 countries under Annex 2, whose ratification is a must for the treaty’s entry into force, eight are yet to ratify. They are Egypt, North Korea, Israel, Iran, China, US, Pakistan and India.

    In this scenario, Indonesia’s ratification of the treaty on December 6, 2011 has been viewed by some States and non-proliferation lobbyists as a positive step towards bringing the treaty into force. Indonesia is one of the 44 countries under Annex 2 of the treaty. As on date, Egypt and Iran are the only two non-NWS under the NPT not to ratify the treaty; India, Pakistan, North Korea are the three non-signatories; and the US, China and Israel have signed but not ratified the CTBT. However, as the required number of ratifications becomes lesser, the process is bound to be tougher.

    The global scenario has changed since the 1990s when the treaty was discussed and opened for signature. Over these years, the verification regime of the CTBT has grown in strength to offer confidence in the system. Much progress has been achieved in the establishment of the International Monitoring System given that 270 of the total 337 monitoring stations (in 89 countries) meant to detect nuclear explosions globally are certified as on date. The remaining stations also have to become operational before the treaty enters into force. The functioning of the International Data Center (IDC), which is a central element of the CTBT verification mechanism, is also believed to be satisfactory. The CTBT verification system also played a role in disseminating data relating to earthquakes/tsunamis in March 2011 and December 2004.

    Since the 9/11 attacks, the global terrorism scenario has changed completely. There are growing concerns about terrorists and other militant groups procuring and detonating weapons of mass destruction. The purported use of radiological and other nuclear materials by these groups in the making of a dirty bomb has also ignited concerted global efforts to secure all the nuclear and radiological materials. The issue of nuclear safety/security has thus become prominent.

    The CTBT provides an opportunity for the member States under Article XIV to convene a conference every two years to discuss ways and methods to make other countries sign and ratify the treaty. Starting in 1999, seven such conferences have taken place so far, the last being on September 23, 2011. The US skipped many of these conferences after the inaugural one in 1999, even though it has resumed its representation at the conference since 2009.

    The CTBT was put in cold storage during the George W. Bush years and prospects of a possible US ratification improved with Obama Administration taking oath in 2009. President Obama committed his administration to immediately and aggressively pursue US ratification as well as work with other Annex 2 States to bring the treaty into effect at an early date. However, even after three years in office, no progress is visible on this front. Attending the recent Article XIV conference, the US under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Ellen Tauscher, said that the US is committed to the entry into force of the CTBT but added that it cannot do it alone. The next US Presidential elections are a few months away and in the prevailing situation, it is difficult to see the Obama Administration focusing its energies on generating bipartisan support in the Senate to ratify the CTBT.

    The Chinese White Papers on Defence propagate that China supports the early entry into force of the CTBT and that China has strictly abided by its commitment to a moratorium on nuclear testing. Further, they also indicate that China has actively participated in the work of the Preparatory Commission of the CTBT Organization, and is steadily preparing for the national implementation of the Treaty. However, it is logical that China is watching the domestic developments in the US on the Senate ratification. It may not speed up efforts to ratify the treaty unless the US ratifies it.

    Israel has signed the CTBT but has not ratified it citing various factors ranging from national interests to regional issues. While there is a possibility that the country may ratify the CTBT if the US were to do so, at the same time it cannot be ruled out that Israel might demand that its national security concerns stemming from regional nuclear developments be addressed first.

    North Korea’s signing and ratification is going to be another clinching issue. Since 2000, North Korea has twice tested nuclear weapons in October 2006 and May 2009, and US efforts to resolve North Korean nuclear issue through the six-party talks has not yielded the desired results. The talks have been stalled since 2009 and it is not irrational to expect that North Korea will not yield till the nuclear issue is resolved. The demise of its leader Kim Jong Il and the ongoing power transition further complicates the issue.

    India voted against the draft CTBT at the Conference on Disarmament when its demand for time bound nuclear disarmament was rejected. India also objected to its inclusion in the Annex 2 list of countries. As on date, India says that it will not stand in the way of the treaty becoming operational. However, the treaty cannot become operational without India signing and ratifying it.

    Pakistan has always linked its signing and ratification of any international treaty to that of India’s. It always blames India as the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the region and that it carried out its own nuclear tests in 1998 only in response to India’s tests. At the same time, Pakistan is also appearing as an observer in the Article XIV conferences to facilitate the entry into force of the CTBT. However, given its objections to the mismatch of nuclear materials stocks with India, it is not sure whether Pakistan will sign the CTBT even if India signs at a later date. It may be noted that Pakistan had changed its tone on the issue of NPT vis-à-vis India last year.

    Thus, though the conditions appear to have improved than when the CTBT was opened for signature, it is difficult to expect the treaty to enter into force in the near future. The US failure to ratify the treaty and its inability to influence other countries is a major factor in the delay. But the remaining eight countries, whose ratification is required for the treaty to enter into force, have their own reasons for non-ratification as well.