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After 20 Years, Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Still in Political Limbo

UNITED NATIONS , Feb 4 2016 (IPS) - After nine years in office, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will step down in December perhaps without achieving one of his more ambitious and elusive political goals: ensuring the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).

“This year marks 20 years since it has been open for signature,” he said last week, pointing out that the recent nuclear test by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – the fourth since 2006 — was “deeply destabilizing for regional security and seriously undermines international non-proliferation efforts.”

Now is the time, he argued, to make the final push to secure the CTBT’s entry into force, as well as to achieve its universality.

In the interim, states should consider how to strengthen the current defacto moratorium on nuclear tests, he advised, “so that no state can use the current status of the CTBT as an excuse to conduct a nuclear test.”

But how close – or how further away– are we from the CTBT coming into force?

Jayantha Dhanapala, a member of the Group of Eminent Persons appointed by the Executive Secretary of the Provisional Technical Secretariat of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), told IPS: “The CTBT was widely acclaimed as the litmus test of the sincerity of nuclear weapon states in their commitment to nuclear disarmament. The concrete promise of its conclusion was among the causes that led to the permanent extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1995 under my Presidency.”

He said the fact that this important brake on the research and development of the most destructive weapon invented is not in force is ominous as relations between the major nuclear weapon states – the US and the Russian Federation who hold 93% of the weapons between them – deteriorate with no dialogue across the divide.

Huge sums of money are being spent on modernisation of the weapons and extremist groups practising barbaric terrorism may acquire them adding to the existential threat that the weapons pose, said Dhanapala, a former UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs.

John Hallam, Nuclear Disarmament Campaigner with People for Nuclear Disarmament and the Human Survival Project, told IPS he has, over the years, suggested a number of possibilities for entry into force of the CTBT, including a ‘group of friends’ (governments) declaring that, for them, the CTBT has already entered into force.

Once such group of governments could constitute a comfortable General Assembly (GA) majority in a resolution cementing this in some sense, he added. Possibly at a later stage, he said, one could put up a GA resolution simply declaring that it is now in force. Period.

“I understand fully that such approaches are likely to encounter resistance from non-ratifiers. However the pressure would then be on them to ratify. And a majority should not be bound by the tiny minority of holdouts however influential,” said Hallam.

“And it is an idea I have been gently suggesting in a number of quarters for a number of years,” he pointed out.

The CTBT, which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly back in 1996, has still not come into force for one primary reason: eight key countries have either refused to sign or have held back their ratifications.

The three who have not signed – India, North Korea and Pakistan – and the five who have not ratified — the United States, China, Egypt, Iran and Israel – remain non-committal 20 years following the adoption of the treaty.

Currently, there is a voluntary moratoria on testing imposed by many nuclear-armed States. “But moratoria are no substitute for a CTBT in force. The four nuclear tests conducted by the DPRK are proof of this, Ban said.

In September 2013, a group of about 20 “eminent persons” was tasked with an unenviable job: convince eight recalcitrant countries to join the CTBT.

Under the provisions of the CTBT, the treaty cannot enter into force without the participation of the last of the eight key countries.

Addressing the UN’s Committee on Disarmament and International Security last October, Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the CTBTO, said it was necessary to reignite the spirit of the 1990s and go beyond the “business-as-usual” approach of recent years.

“It was necessary to further disarmament, because they would lead the process and see it through. Operationalizing the CTBT would greatly increase the capacity of the international community to address proliferation and advance prospects for those weapons’ eventual elimination”.

In the current millennium, he pointed out, there had only been one county (DPRK) that had violated the moratorium on nuclear testing. “Action was still needed to secure the future of the Treaty as a firm legal barrier against nuclear testing and the nuclear arms race,” he said.

He said nuclear weapons and nuclear testing had a dangerous and destabilizing impact on global security, as well as a negative impact on the environment. More than $1 billion had so far been invested in the most sophisticated and far-reaching verification regime ever conceived.

Significant national security decisions were made in good faith, with the expectation that the Treaty would become legally binding, in line with international law. Countries should finish the job done by experts, he added.

“The challenges of disarmament and non-proliferation required bold ideas and global solutions, as well as the active engagement of stakeholders from all corners of the world. Equally important was building capacity among the next generation of experts, who would carry the endeavours forward,” Zerbo declared.

Hallam told IPS whatever multilateral initiative is adopted, something has got to be done that does an end run around entry-into-force conditions in the text of the treaty, that are, almost impossible ever to satisfy. They have to be in some way short-circuited.

He said that other alternatives must be sought, and that” we should be creative in doing so.”

“I think the CTBTO is already doing a splendid job (and specifically that Lassina Zerbo is doing a great job in promoting it), and this fact already stands it in good stead.”

It would be important to ensure that raw data from the CTBTO sensor network is readily and quickly available to the research community – not just the nonproliferation community but others who might be interested such as geophysicists and climate researchers, not to mention tsunami warning centres, he added.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

 
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