The treaty calling for a global ban on nuclear tests was rejected by the United States Senate ten years ago. Over 180 countries have signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), but nine countries still need to ratify the treaty in order for it to come into force. Deepti Choubey describes the treaty’s importance and how it impacts U.S. national security.
“If the United States is to credibly reclaim its leadership position in preventing the further spread and use of nuclear weapons, taking steps like ratifying the CTBT will start to create the conditions by which other non–nuclear-weapons states, particularly more skeptical members of the non-aligned movement, would be willing to consider additional nonproliferation obligations,” explains Choubey.
Ratifying the CTBT will provide greater leverage over states of concern and enhance international peace and security. “That is in the interest of the United States. And in that way disarmament is not altruism—disarmament by the United States is very key for our own security interests.”
Choubey addresses the following questions:
What is the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty?
The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is a global ban on all nuclear test explosions. There are 44 countries that are required to sign and ratify the treaty before it enters into force. Out of those 44, all of them have ratified except for nine. And those nine include the United States, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, and North Korea.
How will the CTBT impact the United States?
The past decade has brought about a lot of progress that helps answer three of the key criticisms that were raised ten years ago when the Senate last considered the treaty. Those three criticisms were: 1) will cheaters be detected? 2) will the United States have the capacity it needs to assure that its arsenal works correctly without nuclear tests? And 3) if the United States ratifies, will others?
In terms of the first concern, which is will cheaters be detected, we now have empirical evidence that that will be the case and that’s because of the North Korean test. As the international monitoring system’s stations have come online, we have greater assurance that we will be able to detect any nuclear test of military significance.
Secondly, in terms of the United States’ own capacity to ensure that its arsenal works, this has largely been a question of supercomputing speeds. Thankfully we have now entered, in the last few years, into the range of what is actually necessary to ensure that our nuclear weapons simulations work the way that we need to so that we don’t have to conduct nuclear tests.
And third, in terms of the other states that are required to ratify, we have already seen some great progress, largely due to President Obama’s pledge to seek U.S. ratification. For instance, this past June Foreign Minister Wirajuda of Indonesia promised that Indonesia would immediately ratify after the United States does. Secondly, it is largely speculated that China would ratify either right before or right after the United States does. So, in a very tight time period, if the United States seriously moves towards ratification, out of the nine hold-out states one-third of them will have ratified. That’s progress.
Will the United States ratify the treaty?
There is renewed support for the CTBT in the United States. President Obama, in a landmark speech delivered in Prague on April 5 of this year, called immediately and aggressively for seeking U.S ratification. He will put it before the Senate, but that does not mean it will be easy. In fact, a lot of hard work will have to go into securing the Senate’s advice and consent before the United States can ratify.
Some of the challenges have to do with our political system, in that a lot of the Senators who have to weigh in on this issue were not in the Senate ten years ago when it was previously considered. Also, a lot of education needs to happen to bring them up to speed on a lot of the scientific and technical progress that has been made in the last decade.
What are the prospects for the treaty entering into force?
Entry into force of the treaty is very important. Once the treaty is in force there are additional measures that can be applied by countries to ensure that there is no cheating happening. For instance, there are on-site inspections that can be requested if there are suspicious activities.
As states have become more aware of the proliferation threats of our current international security environment, the global demand for this ban on nuclear testing has only grown. This is not to say that it will be easy to get the nine hold-out states to ratify. However, with U.S. leadership and some of the initial effects that we hope to see both in Chinese and Indonesian ratification, there can be a secondary effects on the other states.
For instance, if China ratifies one would hope that India would take greater steps toward ratification. With Indian ratification it might be easier to also persuade Pakistan. Also, with a renewed emphasis on the Middle East and efforts to resolve regional conflict there, and a very specific effort at the May 2010 review conference to make progress on the 1995 resolution calling for a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, it might be possible to start laying the conditions where Israel, Egypt, and Iran could also be brought into the fold.
North Korea, of course, is also a challenge, but if they are brought back to the six-party talks, and also once China ratifies, perhaps there is some leverage to be exerted there to have the North Koreans join in this global demand or they would risk further isolation.
How does the treaty relate to President Obama’s goal of a world free of nuclear weapons?
When President Obama spoke in Prague, he declared his vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is key to that vision and that’s because it is seen as one of the most important steps for states to show their commitment to disarmament.
Ratifying the CTBT for the United States will be an important part of the U.S. effort to reclaim its leadership in efforts to prevent the further spread and use of nuclear weapons.
If the United States is able to credibly reclaim its leadership position in preventing the further spread and use of nuclear weapons, taking steps like ratifying the CTBT will start to create the conditions by which other non–nuclear-weapons states, particularly more skeptical members of the non-aligned movement, would be willing to consider additional nonproliferation obligations. That is in the interest of the United States. And in that way disarmament is not altruism—disarmament by the United States is very key for our own security interests.
Does the CTBT influence U.S. national security?
President Obama’s vision of a world free of nuclear weapons calls for specific steps. They are steps like the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, like further reductions in the stockpiles between the United States and Russia, and also a fissile material cut-off treaty. What some of President Obama’s critics seem not to understand is that these steps are actually reinforcing. In that way, they will enhance international peace and security and not detract from it.
One of the other differences in the last ten years is that the linkage between the CTBT and proliferation threats has grown only stronger. For instance, after the United States ratifies the CTBT, it and its partners will have additional leverage for managing some of the challenges that we’re struggling to address today.
Once the United States ratifies the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty it will have another tool to address proliferation threats of today. For instance, in the case of Iran, if we are concerned that they are further developing a nuclear weapons capability, getting them to ratify the CTBT would be a real obstacle in their ability to do so. Specifically, without being able to test they would have no assurance that any device that they had created would reliably work. They would also be unable to fit any nuclear device onto the tips of missiles or whatever their delivery systems might be.
This is a tool worth having and because of that the United States should ratify the CTBT.
The Carnegie Nuclear Policy Program is an internationally acclaimed source of expertise and policy thinking on nuclear industry, nonproliferation, security, and disarmament. Its multinational staff stays at the forefront of nuclear policy issues in the United States, Russia, China, Northeast Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East.
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