Nuclear Weapons

CTBT Article XIV Conference

09.30.09 | 7 min read | Text by Alicia Godsberg

by: Alicia Godsberg

This past Thursday and Friday marked the 6th bi-annual Article XIV Conference, the Conference on Facilitating the Entry Into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).  This year’s conference was held at the United Nations in New York and was met with a measure of cautious optimism – most states voiced their appreciation of President Obama’s pledge to work toward US ratification of the CTBT, while many states recognized the challenges of obtaining all the necessary ratifications for entry into force of the Treaty and mentioned the challenges to the nonproliferation regime stemming from the lack of the Treaty’s entry into force (despite former commitments to do so) and from the DPRK’s 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.

Entry into force of the CTBT has been on the international agenda for thirteen years. Because the US, China, UK, France, and Russian Federation have all imposed a voluntary moratorium on national nuclear testing, many question the need for entry into force of the CTBT.  Although the Treaty would bring few new tangible benefits, the political impact of entry into force would be tremendous.  As explained below, the vast majority of sates see entry into force of the CTBT as somewhat of a litmus test for the future viability of the nonproliferation regime.

The CTBT was opened up for signature in 1996 and since then the Treaty has obtained 181 signatories and 150 ratifications.  In order for the Treaty to enter into force, 44 states mentioned in annex II of the Treaty must ratify.  As of today, only 35 of these states have ratified the Treaty, leaving the full implementation of the Treaty in the hands of the remaining nine states.[i] The Treaty has an extensive verification system that is continuing to be built and includes 321 monitoring stations and 16 laboratories in 89 countries that make up an International Monitoring System (IMS).  This system is now approximately 85% operational and since 2000 has been transmitting data to an International Data Center (IDC) to be interpreted and shared with all signatories to the Treaty.  The IMS provides valuable data for civilian applications, such as advance tsunami warnings, but the main focus of the IMS is detection and attribution of nuclear test explosions.  The system was proven effective even without the CTBT entering into force after collecting and interpreting data from both of the recent DPRK nuclear tests.  However, the option of imposing intrusive on-site inspections is necessary for an extra layer of investigation into the attribution of nuclear explosions.  According to the terms of the CTBT this option cannot be exercised before the Treaty enters into force, and is one main reason for the need to obtain the remaining nine “annex II” state ratifications.

Entry into force of the CTBT is also important, as many states reiterated at this latest conference, because the early entry into force of the CTBT was one of the conditions under which the non-nuclear weapon states parties (NNWS) to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) agreed to indefinitely extend the NPT in 1995.  Similarly, at the 2000 NPT Review Conference, early entry into force of the CTBT was the first of 13 Practical Steps toward nuclear disarmament that was adopted by consensus by all states parties to the NPT that year.  Nuclear weapon states parties to the NPT (NWS) have all signed the CTBT, but China and the US have not ratified the Treaty.  President Obama has pledged to work toward US ratification, but it seems he is going to have to fight to get the 67 votes he needs in the Senate to do so.  Indonesia, also an annex II state, recently publicly stated that once the US ratifies the CTBT they will follow with ratification, and it is likely that China will follow US ratification as well.  Ratification of the CTBT by the last two NWS before the NPT Review Conference in May 2010 would be an important first step toward fulfilling NWS’s political commitments and legal obligations to NNWS.  US and China’s ratifications of the CTBT could set the tone for cooperation on President Obama’s nonproliferation agenda and perhaps even on the sensitive topic of the control of the nuclear fuel cycle at the upcoming NPT Review Conference in May.

If you go here and read a random selection of statements from the Article XIV Conference, you will find that most states are looking to the US to fulfill its past promises and to take up the leadership position on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, about which President Obama speaks so eloquently.  Yet, with all the positive reasons for states to ratify the CTBT, there still remain some important international and domestic stumbling blocks.  Because countries like the DPRK and Iran are on the list of annex II states, many in the US and around the world believe that the Treaty will never enter into force.  These voices in the US use such countries as one excuse not to support US ratification of the Treaty.  While US ratification is not sufficient for the Treaty to enter into force it is necessary, and US ratification is likely to be followed by the ratification of at least some other annex II states as well.  In addition, the international community would certainly see US ratification of the CTBT as a positive step toward a world free of nuclear weapons and toward fulfilling the nuclear disarmament obligation under Article VI of the NPT.

Policy makers in Washington don’t seem to make the connection between keeping political commitments/upholding international treaty obligations and getting support from the global community for US nonproliferation objectives.  This point is never lost at the UN on the vast majority of states (meaning all but the five permanent members of the Security Council).  In speech after speech, in forum after forum, NNWS – along with India, Pakistan, and Israel – call upon NWS to fulfill their obligations from the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995 and from the 13 Practical Steps of the 2000 NPT Review Conference.  President Obama recognizes the need for the international community to work together to manage our common security (see his speech to the GA here and to the Security Council here) and last week began reasserting US leadership at the UN in matters of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.  To show the high-level of engagement that the US intends to have on the subject, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led the US delegation to the Article XIV Conference (the first US delegation at an Article XIV Conference in ten years) and President Obama addressed the 64th General Assembly the day before the conference started and chaired the first ever Security Council Summit on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation in a separate meeting on the conference’s first day.  All this high-level attention from the US for the CTBT, nuclear disarmament, and nonproliferation was noted and welcomed by most of the states in attendance at the conference.

One thing that was not mentioned by any states in their official statements to the conference was the possibility of the provisional entry into force of the Treaty prior to obtaining all remaining annex II ratifications.  Provisional entry into force of the CTBT could allow states parties to the Treaty to agree to on-site inspections when necessary, an important added layer to detect potential cheating.  Provisional entry into force might also put pressure on those annex II states that have not yet ratified the Treaty to do so by being yet another indicator of the importance the vast majority of the international community places on the CTBT.  Recognizing that international law helps solidify norms of state behavior and brings predictability and stability to international relations, many states at the conference spoke about the importance of codifying the voluntary nuclear testing moratoria the NWS have made into the CTBT, a legally binding treaty.  Provisional entry into force of the Treaty before all annex II states have ratified could be an important step in the cementing of the norm against nuclear testing, thus providing another motivation for more annex II states to work toward ratification of the Treaty.

One other interesting note from the conference is that the actual measures to promote early entry into force of the CTBT – the main stated purpose of the conference – were not mentioned by many countries.  Japan was one of only a few countries to discuss such measures in their speech, measures that included sending high-level envoys to annex II states to encourage their ratification of the Treaty at an early date.  And while 103 states were represented at the conference, attendance during the bulk of state speeches was relatively low.  This could be due to the fact that the General Assembly was simultaneously in session, and it should be noted that the large number of participants is indicative of the importance the international community places on the early entry into force of the CTBT.

The conference ended with the adoption of a final document but without much celebration.  NNWS want serious progress to be made toward nuclear disarmament before NWS further restrict nuclear technology for peaceful purposes; the ratification of the CTBT by the two hold-out NWS is a promise that needs to be fulfilled for the vast majority of the world to recognize such serious progress.  Despite the positive developments many states mentioned since the last Article XIV Conference in 2007, the CTBT is still not in force.  US ratification of the CTBT might become the strongest signal of the revitalization of the nonproliferation regime, which will be tested for its durability at the upcoming NPT Review Conference in May 2010.

[i] The following is the list of annex II states that need to ratify the CTBT before it can enter into force: China; DPRK; Egypt; Indonesia; India; Islamic Republic of Iran; Israel; Pakistan; and the United States of America.  Of these nine countries, three have not yet signed the Treaty (DPRK, India, and Pakistan).