Making the CTBT’s Valuable Benefits Permanent

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By Michael Krepon – Fifteen years ago, world leaders gathered at the United Nations to join
in a celebratory signing ceremony for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
 First in line was President Bill
Clinton, who called the treaty’s aim to end nuclear testing permanently “the longest sought, hardest-fought prize in
the history of arms control.”

Since then, no permanent member of the UN Security Council has tested
nuclear devices.  But India, Pakistan,
and North Korea
have, and the CTBT remains in limbo.  Its
entry into force requires ratifications from no less than 44 specified
countries.  Six — the United States, China, Egypt,
Iran, Israel, and Indonesia – have signed but not
ratified.  Three — India, Pakistan,
and North Korea
– haven’t signed or ratified.  The CTBT
could remain in limbo for a very long time.

The treaty’s tortured entry-into-force provision was the handiwork of China, Russia,
and France,
whose leaders felt obligated to sign, but remained reluctant to end nuclear
testing permanently.  They resolved this
conundrum by giving other recalcitrant states vetoes over the treaty’s entry
into force.  No other treaty has had to
run this fierce a gauntlet.  The 1963 treaty
that stopped atmospheric testing required only three ratifiers: the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom.
 The 1970 Nonproliferation Treaty
required these three, plus any 40 states that wished to join them.  

The 15 year-long wait for the CTBT has been put to good use.  A Preparatory Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
Organization and a Provisional Technical Secretariat have been established in Vienna.  They are working diligently to complete a
global monitoring system and to dispense data that have undisputed value.  The treaty organization’s monitoring network
is almost 80 percent complete.  It currently
consists of 254 monitoring stations and ten laboratories situated across the
globe.  Monitoring is done by means of stations
that detect motion, sound and radiation in the ground, water, or atmosphere
that is evidence of nuclear testing.    

The capabilities of this global monitoring network were showcased after
North Korea
tested a nuclear device in October, 2006.  This test fizzled, producing a small
fraction-of-a kiloton yield. 
Nonetheless, signals of this test were immediately detected by seismic
stations connected to the treaty organization’s grid in Bolivia, the United
States, Canada,
Australia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan,
Finland, Ukraine, Germany,
and Norway. 

The United States
also possesses a world-class monitoring system, but even Washington has found the test ban treaty
organization’s data useful.  Parts of the
world do not take Washington’s
word as gospel when it comes to nuclear weapon-related developments in other
states; the treaty organization’s data can therefore help remove potential
error in judgment as well as veils of artifice and deceit, all helpful in deterring
covert nuclear tests.  

The Preparatory Commission for the
Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Organization and its Provisional Technical
Secretariat help produce valuable global services in other areas as well.  In 2005, treaty
members mandated the organization to provide data directly to national tsunami
warning centers to save lives and help mitigate disasters. The organization also
has the capacity to serve public safety by tracking radiation released after
nuclear plant accidents and venting from underground tests by outlier

The treaty has generated valuable global services, but its monitoring
system can atrophy while it remains in limbo.  While awaiting the entry into force of the
CTBT, it makes good sense to ensure that these essential global services are permanent
rather than provisional.

The most symbolic and effective way to do so is to remove the words
“preparatory” and “provisional” from their letterheads of the Preparatory
Commission and Provisional Technical Secretariat.  This step could be accomplished by a UN
Security Council resolution or a collective decision by treaty signatories.

This step could help convince some participating states act to
complete, maintain, and upgrade the treaty’s monitoring network.  Outlier states, such as India, can
demonstrate responsible nuclear stewardship by providing monitoring stations and
data for the treaty.  New Delhi does not even connect to the treaty
organization’s tsunami warning system.

Other states that matter, including Pakistan, Brazil, Egypt, China,
France, Israel, Iran, Great Britain, South Africa, Russia, and the United
States, have yet to fulfill all of their pledges to the treaty’s international monitoring
system.  Beijing,
for example, does not share its monitoring data to the treaty organization,
unlike Washington and Moscow.

Some treaty supporters will argue that this step is a poor substitute for
the treaty’s entry into force.  They are correct.  But they are also unable to persuade enough Republican
Senators in the United States
to vote for the Treaty, or convince states like Egypt,
Iran, India, Pakistan,
and North Korea
to come on board.  

It took France and China 22 years to join the
Nonproliferation Treaty.  It is likely to
take even longer for all of the 44 states to relinquish their vetoes over the CTBT’s
formal entry into force.  In the mean
time, states that matter can reaffirm their commitment to end nuclear testing
by making the treaty organization’s essential global services permanent rather
than provisional.

Photo Credit: Sophie Paris, United Nations,⟨=en&id=411/411974&key=15&query=comprehensive%20test%20ban%20treaty&sf

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