Indian Diplomacy

In Vienna, a Renewed Effort to Push the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

Chair of the Sixth Ministerial Meeting on the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in New York, 27 September, 2012. From left to right, Dutch Foreign Minster, Uri Rosenthal; Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt; Japanese Foreign Minister, Koichiro Gemba; Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon; Australian Foreign Minister, Bob Carr; Canadian Foreign Minster, John Baird; Finnish Foreign Minister, Erkki Tuomioja; Executive Secretary of the CTBTO, Tibor Tóth. Credit: CTBTO via Wikimedia Commons

Chair of the Sixth Ministerial Meeting on the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in New York, 27 September, 2012. From left to right, Dutch Foreign Minster, Uri Rosenthal; Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt; Japanese Foreign Minister, Koichiro Gemba; Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon; Australian Foreign Minister, Bob Carr; Canadian Foreign Minster, John Baird; Finnish Foreign Minister, Erkki Tuomioja; Executive Secretary of the CTBTO, Tibor Tóth. Credit: CTBTO via Wikimedia Commons

“Nuclear tests not only poison the environment, they also poison the political climate. They breed mistrust, isolation and fear.” – Dr. Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the Preparatory Commission of the CTBTO.

Vienna: Twenty years have passed since the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) opened for signature in 1996. Since then, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) has achieved a lot – 183 states have signed the treaty and 164 have ratified it, including some but not all nuclear weapon states. However, the United States, China, Israel, Iran and Egypt have signed but not ratified the treaty, while India, Pakistan and North Korea have not signed it. A stringent verification regime, in compliance with the treaty’s provisions, has been built and other civil applications of the treaty’s international monitoring systems (IMS) are continuously being developed. Additionally, the international community clearly shares the view that nuclear tests should be prohibited, especially in the shadow of the North Korea’s nuclear tests. On the flip side, however, it has been 20 years and the CTBT still hasn’t been able to become a global law.

At the invitation of the CTBTO,  more than 120 delegations of state signatories, non-signatory sates and observers, heads of international organisations and members of the civil society attended a 20th anniversary event in Vienna on June 13-14 with the aim of reviving the CTBT from a state of stupor.

Despite two decades of global efforts, the treaty has not been able to come into effect due to its unique ‘entry into force’ clause – all 44 countries listed as “nuclear technology holders” need to sign and ratify the treaty. Eight of these ‘Annex 2’ countries – identified above – have yet to accede to the CTBT. The treaty, adopted in 1996, by the United Nations General Assembly with the objective of banning all nuclear explosions everywhere – underground and above ground, military or civilian – and thwarting the development of new generations of weapons, is considered ‘discriminatory’ by countries like India. Questions have also been raised about its contribution to disarmament since it allows states with sufficient explosive test data and technical skill to refine and ‘test’ bomb designs using computer techniques.

High-powered diplomacy at CTBT@20

In his opening address, CTBTO executive secretary Lassina Zerbo said that he had visited nuclear test sites in Nevada and Semipalatinsk, and even Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and wagered that nobody could remain unaffected by what they see in such places. He highlighted the value of advocacy and urged everyone in a position of leadership and responsibility to do what they could to bring this treaty into force. The tone of the ministerial meeting was sombre as UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon stated that this anniversary event was not a celebration, but a call to action and a grim reminder of the work left to do. The ministerial roundtable discussions witnessed ministers and other high-level government representatives discussing the need for the treaty to come into force, and analysing the prevalent challenges and insecurities among Annex 2 states that deter them from ratifying the treaty. Federica Mogherini, high representative of EU foreign affairs and security policy, focused on overcoming these challenges. Mogherini made an urgent case to transform the CTBT into global law by recounting its civil and security benefits.

Rose Gottemoeller, US under-secretary of state for arms control and international security, delivered a statement at the CTBTO from President Barack Obama which conveyed his position that a legally binding prohibition of nuclear weapon test explosions is a meaningful step towards nuclear disarmament. Gottemoeller stated that US dedication to the treaty was “demonstrated through unmatched monetary and technical support… ensuring that the verification regime is completed”. A common thread that ran through the statements of leaders was the acknowledgement that securing ratification from the Annex 2 states would be a difficult process but that, in Gottemoeller’s words, “We cannot, and must not, give up.” In the US, ratification has been blocked by the Senate, with Republicans insisting the CTBT will hamper the efficacy of the US nuclear arsenal. Though Beijing does not say so in as many words, analysts believe its reluctance to ratify the treaty is linked to the American failure to do so.

It was interesting to note the statements made by Li Baodang, vice foreign minister of China, and ambassador Ayesha Riyaz from Pakistan. Li called for consolidation of the political foundation for the ‘entry into force’ of the treaty, and noted that countries should abandon the Cold War mentality of zero-sum games and instead make efforts to build “win-win cooperation” through dialogue. He laid out a five-point agenda of institutional and public support for the CTBT and asserted that the five NWSs should assume an exemplary role by strictly observing the moratorium on nuclear tests. However, Li refrained from making any commitments on behalf of his government.

NSG membership debate catching up on CTBTO’s platform

Pakistan’s Riyaz said that her country supports the objectives of the CTBT by maintaining a voluntary moratorium and declared that Islamabad would not be the first to resume nuclear testing. She called for proposals to keep South Asia free from nuclear weapons. With India choosing to keep away from the ministerial meeting – New Delhi has a policy of not engaging with the CTBT in any way – Riyaz used the platform to air Pakistani reservations about India’s membership bid for the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Riyaz cautioned against the “propensity for selective exemptions on the issue of new Nuclear Suppliers Group membership” which, in her view, were increasingly driven by “commercial and strategic considerations,” thereby “overshadowing global non-proliferation values”.

The June 23-24 plenary meeting of the 48-member NSG in Seoul ended with the refusal of China and other ‘like-minded” countries to accept India into the group.

New thinking about CTBT

In some ways, the CTBTO ministerial meeting marked a new dawn in thinking regarding the place of the CTBT in promoting global peace and security. To help the CTBTO preparatory commission, Zerbo brought in voices from civil society which included members of the CTBTO group of eminent persons (GEM). The GEM members adopted the Vienna declaration, noting that the CTBT is one of the most effective instruments of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament and emphasised the voluntary moratoria on nuclear testing as an interim measure.

The meeting also witnessed the robust presence and participation of women leaders, scholars and youth actively contributing to sustainable peace and social development across the globe. The CTBTO, that prides itself in having a workforce in which 43% are women, has under Zerbo made devoted efforts to bring women into the nuclear non-proliferation mainstream. Another achievement of the CTBTO@20 has been its ability to get Annex 2 country youth from diverse backgrounds to take an interest in the CTBT and its relevance in the present day context.

Kenneth Martinez, principal organiser of the CTBTO Youth Initiative, stated that the importance of this initiative could not be understated. “Youth can talk about things that are politically toxic to those entrenched in old mindsets. One of the main objectives of the project is to build real ties among future leaders.”

When it enters into force, the CTBT will be one crucial step toward the long-cherished yet ever elusive goal of nuclear disarmament; however, the treaty will not become law unless countries are prepared to listen carefully and patiently to the Annex 2 countries so as to understand the factors deterring them from ratifying the CTBT. The success of the CTBTO’s preparatory commission will be contingent on its ability to get all those countries on board in a way that assuages their security concerns while strengthening the long-standing nonproliferation principles of the global nuclear order.

Sylvia Mishra is a researcher with the Observer Research Foundation and a member of the CTBTO Youth Initiative.