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The CTBT: 23 September

8 Sep

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty enjoys a level of irony. Despite the treaty not yet being in force, its premise to ban physical nuclear tests has to a great extent been realized.

The number of atmospheric explosion tests peaked in 1962, with the USSR and USA going head-to-head. China conducted the last in 1980. Similarly, after a high-level number of underground explosions in the 1960’s and 1970’s, test numbers have decreased drastically: with four explosions on the sub-continent in 1998; two more recently on the Korean Peninsula. To date, the list of countries having tested is just eight (CTBTO interactive map). So despite this significant progress, what’s the hold-up on getting the comprehensive ban into force?

The key obstacle to the treaty’s implementation is that it requires all 44 ‘Annex 2’ states to ratify it. These Annex 2 states participated in the CTBT’s 1994-1996 negotiations and possessed nuclear power or research reactors at that time. Nine out of the 44 – China, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, the United States, India, DPR Korea and Pakistan – are yet to ratify the CTBT; the latter three are yet to even sign it. Reluctance to ratify varies ranging from:

  • Classical concerns over state sovereignty, the nuclear security guarantee, rival states’ capabilities and suspicion over other states’ insincerity (eg, key states are accused of having double standards).
  • The CTBT being incomplete: concerns about loopholes, clarification and verification.
  • Some states want to uphold the right to modernize their technology, which may require testing
  • Domestic and political issues. (See for example: Kubiak, ‘CTBT Hold-out States’)

So nine is all takes. US President Obama had promised to ratify the treaty but has now come under opposition from the Senate. China want’s the US to ratify first; Pakistan, despite not being opposed to the CTBT, dares India to go first.

Watch this space for further updates.

– Kees Keizer