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UNITED NATIONS, Sep 27 2012 (IPS) - The United States and a small group of other nuclear-armed nations are apparently coming under increasing pressure to accept the international community’s resolve to legally ban nuclear testing without delay.
“The elimination of nuclear weapons is the ultimate guarantee that they will never be used, and the best non-proliferation mechanism,” Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister, told delegates at a high-level ministerial meeting held here Thursday in support of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Teaty (CTBT).
The Swedish minister, who was joined by his counterparts from Australia, the Netherlands, Indonesia, Japan, Finland, Canada and other nations, added: “Ending nuclear testing is a critical step toward nuclear disarmament.”
The treaty prohibits “any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion” anywhere in the world. Opened for signature in September 1996, the treaty has been signed by 183 nations and ratified by 157. However, it cannot be enforced without ratification by 44 countries that had nuclear power or research reactors when the CTBT was negotiated.
Most of those nations have ratified the treaty, but the United States, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, Iran, and Egypt remain unwilling to do so. In 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama declared his intention to seek Senate reconsideration of the treaty. The administration has given no firm timeframe for action.
In order to verify compliance with its provisions, the treaty establishes a global network of monitoring facilities and allows for on-site inspections of suspicious events. The overall accord contains a preamble, 17 treaty articles, two annexes, and a protocol for verification procedures.
In their joint statement, the foreign ministers urged countries that have not signed and or ratified the treaty not to cause further delay in the implementation process. The CTBTO Executive Secretary Tibor Tóth provided the historical context to the meeting against the background of the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
“Fifty years ago, nearly to the day, the Soviet Union and the United States brought the world to the edges of the abyss. However, as the tensions had reached the boiling point in Washington, Moscow, and countless other world capitals, a moment of clarity arose in realisation of the need to diminish the occurrence of such threats,” he said.
In the midst of the crisis, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev proposed to U.S. President John F. Kennedy a resolution to the Cuban Missile Crisis in a “‘parallel fashion’ with the cessation of nuclear tests. This was an opportunity, he said, to ‘present humanity with a fine gift,” Tóth said. “It was clear then as it is today, that nuclear testing poisons the natural and political environment.”
For his part, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told nations that are outside the fold of the test ban treaty, “You are failing to live up to your responsibility as a member of the international community.”
At the meeting, Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Rhodes, author of the play “Reykjavik”, described the risk of nuclear extinction as human-made and said that a human-made solution could be found, as the Reykjavik summit had demonstrated in 1986.
Recalling that In Reykjavik, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev had come close to an agreement to abolish their nuclear arsenals, Rhodes said, “A nuclear-weapon free world is not a utopian dream.”
During his encounter with the Japanese media at the sidelines of the General Assembly meeting, the Japanese foreign minister stressed the need for an accelerated monitoring system. His is the only nation which actually faced massive destruction of life as a result of nuclear bombing by the United States in 1945.
While both Iran and North Korea came under scathing criticism for their nuclear-related activities, no one spoke about Israel, India and Pakistan, three nations that possess hundreds of nuclear weapons and have shown no intent to join the CTBT.
Nor was there any discussion of reports that the U.S. is engaged in modernising its nuclear weapons.
Records show that in the five decades before the CTBT, over 2,000 nuclear tests shook and irradiated the Earth. The post-CTBT world saw only a handful of nuclear tests: those by India and Pakistan in 1998 and North Korea in 2006 and 2009.
The treaty bans all nuclear explosions by everyone, everywhere: on the Earth’s surface, in the atmosphere, in outer space, underwater and underground. In particular, it stresses the need for the continued reduction of nuclear weapons worldwide with the ultimate goal of their elimination.
The preamble recognises that a CTBT will constitute an effective measure of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation by “constraining the development and qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons and ending the development of advanced new types of nuclear weapons.” It further recognises that a test ban will constitute “a meaningful step in the realization of a systematic process to achieve nuclear disarmament.”
Under Article VII, each state-party has the right to propose amendments to the treaty after its entry into force. Any proposed amendment requires the approval of a simple majority of states-parties at an amendment conference with no party casting a negative vote.
Asked for their views on the amendment process relating to the so-called “peaceful nuclear explosions”, the foreign ministers from Australia, Japan, and Indonesia seemed to have no answer. They all looked each other and kept silent.
The Australian foreign minister, Bob Carr, however, later told IPS that he would “check into it”.
According to CTBTO preparatory commission, under Article VIII, a conference will be held 10 years after the treaty’s entry into force to review the implementation of its provisions, including the preamble. At this review conference, any state-party may request that the issue of so-called “peaceful nuclear explosions” (PNEs) be put on the agenda.
However, the CTBTO’s presumes that PNEs remain prohibited unless “certain virtually insurmountable obstacles are overcome. First, the review conference must decide without objection that PNEs may be permitted, and then an amendment to the treaty must also be approved.”
The CTBTO explains that such an amendment must also “demonstrate that no military benefits would result from such explosions. This double hurdle makes it extremely unlikely that peaceful nuclear explosions would ever be permitted under the treaty.”
According to the CTBTO, from the 1960s to the end of the 1980s, the Soviet Union and the United States in particular pursued the notion of “Peaceful Nuclear Explosions” (PNE’s) “for economic reasons, with mixed results”.
Of the nearly 2,050 nuclear explosions detonated in the world between 1945 and 1996, over 150 or approximately seven percent were for peaceful purposes.
Experts say PNE’s are qualitatively no different from weapons tests in terms of their adverse effects on health and the environment. Also the explosive device itself has the same technical characteristics.
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