Washington's 20-year-long Refusal to Ratify the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Puts the World at Risk
February 12, 2016
Rachel Oswald / The Roll Call & Thalif Deen / InterPress Service & Michael Coleman /Albuquerque Journal
The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty -- which would make it illegal to detonate a nuclear device -- was opened for signature 20 years ago but has yet to become law because the US Senate has refused to ratify the accord. The international community is growing increasingly impatient for the Senate to ratify a key nonproliferation pact amid warnings that hopes for a global ban on nuclear weapons testing may falter if momentum toward the accord's entry into force is not seen in the next five years or so.
World Grows Impatient for Senate to Ratify Test-Ban Treaty
Rachel Oswald / The Roll Call
(February 3, 2016) -- The international community is growing increasingly impatient for the Senate to ratify a key nonproliferation pact amid warnings that a global taboo against nuclear weapons testing may falter if momentum toward the accord's entry into force is not seen in the next half-decade or so.
The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which would make it illegal to detonate a nuclear device, was opened for signature 20 years ago but has yet to become international law in large part because the United States has not ratified the accord.
Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, the Vienna-based UN organization charged with overseeing implementation of the treaty, said he fears if another five or eight years passes without US ratification, international support for the accord could weaken, particularly if no other nuclear weapons states such as Pakistan or India ratify the accord in the interim. "We get into the risk to lose what we've achieved for 20 years," Zerbo said in an interview.
But don't expect the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to begin consideration of the treaty anytime soon. Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee told CQ Roll Call last week that "there's been no discussion" on holding a committee vote on the nuclear accord.
Secretary of State John Kerry attracted some media attention last October when he declared "I am determined that in the months to come, we're going to reopen and re-energize the conversation about the treaty on Capitol Hill and throughout our nation."
However, in the more than three months since Kerry made those remarks at an Energy Department nuclear stockpile stewardship event, there has been no evidence of a concerted administration campaign to lobby senators in favor of the treaty.
Early on in his administration, President Barack Obama promised to seek Senate approval of CTBT but decided to focus first on negotiating and achieving Senate ratification of what became the New START treaty with Russia, an accord that replaced an older strategic arms control pact that expired at the end of 2009.
But negotiating the treaty with Moscow and then pushing it through the Senate proved to be much more time-intensive and politically costly than the administration had initially anticipated.
Coupled with the gradual winnowing of Republican foreign policy moderates in the Senate such as Richard G. Lugar of Indiana through electoral defeats and retirement, the Obama administration essentially determined after the New START ratification fight it did not have the votes or the energy for another uphill arms control treaty push.
"I think it was nearly ripe [to ratify CTBT] during the beginning of the Obama administration but the priority was on the New START treaty, which I respect," said Zerbo, a diplomat from Burkina Faso, who previously served as head of the CTBTO's International Data Center. "There was a lot more energy and resources put into [New] START than anyone had expected when they started the negotiations and that didn't help the CTBT."
Bill Clinton was the last president who tried to secure ratification of CTBT but his effort fell far short of the minimum two-thirds vote needed in the Senate.
Opponents of US ratification contend there may come a day where it will be necessary for the United States to return to underground testing in order to ensure a reliable nuclear deterrent, particularly as it builds and deploys new combinations of older warhead components.
It's additionally argued that many of the US weapons scientists who gained expertise through years of testing are in the process of retiring and the generation taking their place lacks some of their hands-on experience, potentially raising questions about their ability to guarantee the reliability of the US nuclear arsenal.
The United States has observed a moratorium on nuclear testing since 1992.
A Global Stalemate
For the test ban treaty to "enter into force" and become law, eight advanced nuclear countries must ratify the accord. Those countries are China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the United States.
Siddharth Varadarajan, an Indian journalist and editor of The Wire, sees a global deadlock for at least four of those countries -- Pakistan, India, China and the United States -- so long as Washington does not ratify.
"Pakistan will not sign and ratify the CTBT as the smallest and weakest of the nuclear-armed states before India does, India will not do the same until China does and the Chinese will not do it until the US does," said Varadarajan, speaking last week on a panel at a Vienna conference commemorating the 20th anniversary of the treaty being opened for signing.
Varadarajan argued it was up to the United States to take the initiative in ratifying the treaty as it has by far the superior nuclear arsenal.
"In technological terms, the treaty as it stands places the US at a huge advantage in terms of its ability to continue to design weapons," he said. "It has the greatest amount of scientific, technical, historical knowledge that it can build upon to ensure that it has far more destructive weapons than any other potential nuclear rival. Despite that, the US wants to keep its option open to test, which is astonishing."
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said absent Senate approval of the treaty in the short-term, there are other steps the United States can take to reinforce international support for the nuclear pact.
He suggested that in the wake of North Korea's January nuclear test, the UN Security Council should pass a new resolution calling on all nations to refrain from nuclear testing.
Additionally, now that the Iran nuclear deal has been implemented, there is a new opening for Iran to be coaxed into ratifying the treaty in concert with fellow Middle East holdouts Egypt and Israel.
"We need to think about other measures to reinforce the global taboo against testing so that it doesn't erode," Kimball said. "We have to think about other ways to reinforce the moratorium
After 20 Years, Nuclear Test Ban
Treaty Still in Political Limbo
Thalif Deen / InterPress Service
UNITED NATIONS (February 4, 2016) - 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 UN 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
New Push for Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
Michael Coleman /Albuquerque Journal
WASHINGTON (February 4, 2016) -- Almost two decades after the US Senate rejected an international treaty to ban nuclear testing, President Barack Obama hopes to rekindle a national debate on the issue during his final year in office.
Rose Gottemoeller, US undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, is in New Mexico this week as part of an Obama administration push for ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, known as the CTBT.
Then-President Bill Clinton signed the treaty in 1999, but the US Senate voted not to ratify it. The treaty would ban nuclear explosions, for any purpose, by any country. Historically, the test ban has met with resistance from Republicans who worry that it would limit the United States' ability to ensure reliability of the US nuclear stockpile and that it would prove ineffective in verifying other counties' nuclear activities.
Gottemoeller met with officials of Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories Thursday to discuss the test ban. Today, she heads south to tour the Trinity Site at White Sands Missile Range, where the world's first nuclear detonation took place in 1945.
In a Journal interview from Washington this week, Gottemoeller said she hoped "to expand the national conversation about how a global ban on nuclear testing is in our national security interests."
"I'm focused on the education effort," she said. "I'm trying to get the American public again focused on the value of the CTBT to our national security. We made a pass at ratifying the treaty back in 1999, and at the time . . . there wasn't, I think, the clear knowledge that we could maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear stockpile without testing. The situation has changed quite a bit in the ensuing 17 years."
That's because of high-level, high-priced scientific work performed at America's three nuclear weapons laboratories -- Sandia and Los Alamos in New Mexico, and at Lawrence Livermore in California.
Madelyn Creedon, principal deputy administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, said the labs' stockpile stewardship program that maintains nuclear weapons and verifies their effectiveness negates the need for nuclear testing, which carries immense environmental and public health risks. The NNSA oversees work at the nuclear weapons labs.
"The whole underpinning for the CTBT is the stockpile stewardship program," Creedon said in a Journal interview.
The United States conducted 1,032 nuclear tests from 1945 to 1992. Meanwhile, US adversary North Korea continues to conduct nuclear testing, with its fourth explosion last month. North Korea claimed it had tested a hydrogen bomb, but international experts, including those in South Korea, contend that it was more likely a boosted fission weapon.
Creedon said that when the US Senate rejected the test ban treaty in 1999 by a 51-48 vote, the science behind stockpile stewardship "was in its infancy." At the time, then-Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., voted against the treaty, and then-Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. voted for it.
"There was a lot of uncertainty about the ability to verify the treaty" through science, Creedon said. "It's that work of the labs that has put us in a much different situation than we were 20 year ago. We know how to certify the stockpile and maintain the stockpile, all without testing. It's a very mature program. We can do this."
Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both New Mexico Democrats, told the Journal this week that they support the ban.
"Ultimately, the advanced computers and simulators at our labs allow our nation to meet commitments under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty as a signatory and to make progress toward reducing the total number of nuclear weapons in the world," Heinrich said in a statement.
"Ratifying CTBT would send a strong signal to deter other nations from developing and testing nuclear weapons, including China, India and Pakistan, and help eliminate the harmful effects of nuclear testing worldwide."
Heinrich also pointed out that today (Friday) marks the fifth anniversary of the New START Treaty between Russia and the US, which allows monitoring on the world's two largest nuclear arsenals.
"The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is an important element of global nonproliferation efforts, and I believe the United States should ratify it," Udall said, noting that the nuclear Life Extension Programs at the labs support his position.
Rep. Steve Pearce, the New Mexico delegation's lone Republican, declined through a spokeswoman to comment on the test ban treaty.
196 Nations Affected
One hundred ninety-six nations would be affected by the treaty, which was negotiated in the mid-1990s at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. So far, 183 nations have signed the treaty and 164 have ratified it.
But the treaty has not entered into force, because it still needs ratification by eight countries that had nuclear power reactors or research reactors when the UN General Assembly adopted it. Those countries are the United States, China, Iran, Israel, Egypt, India, Pakistan and North Korea. If any of those countries fail to ratify the treaty, it can not be officially enforced, according to the treaty itself.
Obama has suggested that the Republican-controlled Senate would block ratification in the current Congress, and Gottemoeller said the administration's public relations campaign to bring the issue up for debate isn't aimed at ratification this year.
"I don't think he (Obama) is unrealistic about trying to rush things through in 2016, but he definitely wants to lay some solid groundwork in the hope that the treaty, if it is not taken up in 2016, it can be taken up in the near future," Gottemoeller said.
Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CQ Roll Call last month that "there's been no discussion" about voting on the issue this year.
Although much of the opposition to ratifying the treaty in 1999 centered on doubts about maintaining a reliable US stockpile without testing, many senators were also concerned about the ability to verify that other countries weren't conducting nuclear tests. Gottemoeller said those concerns have been addressed.
"The treaty promised an international monitoring system, but in 1999 it was just a gleam in people's eyes," Gottemoeller said.
"Now, all these years later it is over 85 percent complete and it is already serving important purposes. It provides monitoring of seismic signals, as well as radiation traces, and does other things like infrasound. When the North Korean (nuclear) tests happened a couple of weeks ago, it (the monitoring system) was very quickly out of the block with an assessment of the yield of the tests and was very able to provide a continuing analysis of what was going on."
Although ratification has some high-profile supporters in the US, not all Americans in the foreign policy and nuclear weapons establishment support it. Robert Joseph, who held the same job at the State Department during the administration of President George W. Bush that Gottemoeller holds now, has said the treaty is "fatally flawed."
"We must not sign treaties like the CTBT that would compromise the US ability to test if necessary to maintain the safety and reliability of the stockpile," Joseph wrote in a paper published by the conservative Hudson Institute in 2014.
"While the United States is taking some steps to modernize its strategic platforms and address the deterioration of the nuclear weapons infrastructure, it is proceeding in a slow, uncertain, and piecemeal fashion -- and in the absence of a coherent strategic framework that is vital to guiding planning and investments."
Sig Hecker, a former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, said there are pros and cons to ratifying the test ban treaty -- the biggest negative being that nothing is as dependable as actual testing to ensure nuclear weapons' reliability.
"When you don't test, you lose something; you lose some confidence" Hecker told the Journal. "That is true in every complex technological system, whether it's an airplane a rocket or a nuclear weapon. What we've done with stockpile stewardship is everything you can possibly do beside nuclear testing and try to keep the confidence at an acceptable level.
On the other hand, not testing also gets you some benefits. We do not want China to test, or Pakistan or India to test, and they are influenced by the international norms associated with the CTBT. In China, Indian and Pakistan, nuclear testing would be most important for new nuclear development, and that is not where the world needs to go.
"Since we're observing it (the test ban), in my view you'd be better-off to ratify it," Hecker added.
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