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Conference Calls for Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Becoming International Law

By Jamshed Baruah

Photo: Tenth Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) on 20 September 2017 in New York. Credit: CTBTO

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) – "A CTBT that is in force would be a milestone on the road to a world free of nuclear weapons. It has the potential to prevent a nuclear arms race and an escalation of regional and bilateral tensions," said UN Secretary-General António Guterres. He was referring to the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) that bans nuclear testing on the Earth's surface, in the atmosphere, underwater, and underground.

"Make no mistake: we need this Treaty," said Miroslav Lajcák, President of the UN General Assembly. "I applaud the CTBT Preparatory Commission for raising awareness about the dangers associated with testing and for its partnership with the United Nations," added Guterres.

European Union's High Representative Federica Mogherini said, the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) had responded immediately and effectively to the nuclear tests conducted by the DPRK (North Korea) in 2016 and 2017: It demonstrated the verification regime's ability to provide independent and reliable data.

"These data play an important role in deterring non-compliance with the Treaty and developing appropriate responses. This is an important contribution to regional and international stability: it helps strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime and is essential for verifiable nuclear disarmament," stressed Mogherini.

She added: "The CTBTO has provided the world with a truly global, hi-tech monitoring system for nuclear explosions – something that no single country alone would be able to do. Nonetheless, the absence of the CTBT’s entry into force prevents the use of on-site inspections, an important verification tool.”

"Since its conclusion twenty-one years ago, the CTBT has become one of the pillars of the international nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation architecture, and has made indelible contribution to forestalling nuclear arms race, reducing the risks of nuclear war and safeguarding international peace and security," said Ambassador Wang Qun, head of the Chinese delegation.

Given the present situation, it would diffuse tensions in ‘nuclear hotspots’ such as the Korean Peninsula. "The world needs to calmly and resolutely find a means of de-escalating that crisis. A testing moratorium – at the very least – should be part of that solution," said CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo.

Guterres, Lajcák, Mogherini, Ambassador Wang Qun and Zerbo were addressing the tenth Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) on the margins of the opening of the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. The conference took place less than three weeks after the sixth nuclear test conducted on September 3, 2017 by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)

Significant progress has been made towards the goal of entry into force and universalization of the CTBT. But twenty-one years after it was adopted in 1996, the Treaty has yet to become legally binding international law. The reason: while China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, and the United States have signed but not yet ratified the Treaty, India, Pakistan, and DPRK (North Korea) have yet to sign and ratify it.

The CTBT contains a special mechanism to promote its entry into force – a conference designed to facilitate this objective, which takes place every other year. While its official designation is the Conference on Facilitating Entry into Force of the CTBT, it is commonly known as the “Article XIV conference” in accordance with the relevant Treaty article.

Under Article XIV, if the Treaty has not entered into force three years after the date of the anniversary of its opening for signature, a conference of those States that have already ratified it may be held to decide by consensus what measures consistent with international law may be taken to accelerate the ratification process and to facilitate entry into force. States Signatories will also be invited to attend the conference.

The ninth Article XIV conference was held on September 29, 2015 in New York with more than 90 States participating. In addition, several international and regional organizations as well as non-governmental organizations attended. The conference adopted a Final Declaration calling upon all States, which had not yet done so to sign and/or ratify the Treaty. The declaration includes a number of measures to promote the entry into force of the CTBT.

In the course of the follow-up to the 2015 Article XIV conference, and in accordance with paragraph 9(c) of the Final Declaration, Japan and Kazakhstan, which served as the Presidency of the conference, were selected as coordinators of the process “to promote cooperation aimed at promoting further signatures and ratifications”. On March 13, 2017, at informal consultations within the framework of this ‘Article XIV process’, Belgium and Iraq were appointed to serve as Presidents-designate in preparing for the 2017 Article XIV conference in New York.

Addressing the conference on September 20, Co-chairs Foreign Minister of Belgium Didier Reynders and Foreign Minister of Iraq Ibrahim Al-Jafari thanked the outgoing co-coordinators of the process, Japan and Kazakhstan, for their efforts and initiatives to advance the CTBT's entry into force. The status quo is not acceptable, said Reynders. Given the current security context and North Korea’s nuclear tests, the CTBT has acquired greater importance.

Ahead of the conference, Didier Reynders, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belgium, Ibrahim Al-Jafari, Foreign Minister of Iraq and Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the CTBTO, co-authored a joint op-ed stressing the need and urgency of prohibiting nuclear testing. In it they stressed that “by addressing the unfinished business of the CTBT, the international community would demonstrate beyond a doubt that effective, multilaterally verifiable nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament measures are indeed possible.”

Furthermore, they noted that “as a confidence building measure it could unite countries in unwrapping other difficult security issues, including the crisis on the Korean peninsula.”

The foreign ministers of Japan and Kazakhstan – Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov – who were the co-coordinators of the 2015-2017 Article XIV process, addressed the conference before passing the Presidency to the new co-coordinators of the 2017-2019 Article XIV process, Belgium and Iraq.

In a progress report to the conference, Japan and Kazakhstan, the co-presidency of the Article XIV process from September 2015 to September 2017, reaffirmed “their commitment and readiness to work closely with the incoming co-presidents, as well as with other countries to further advocate the noble cause of a comprehensive and global test ban on a nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion.”

In remarks to the conference, Foreign Minister Abdrakhmanov of Kazakhstan stressed that his country and Japan had worked consistently to facilitate the entry into force of the Treaty over the previous two years. He pointed out that for the first time in the history of the CTBT a joint document in support of the Treaty was signed at the highest political level – by the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev and the Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe in October 2015.

"Kazakhstan strongly condemns the irresponsible behavior of the DPRK’s leadership, which not only seriously damage the international striving on nuclear disarmament, but also undermine efforts to ensure the CTBT is entered into force. We call upon Pyongyang to stop this practice, renounce its nuclear ambitions, and sign and ratify the CTBT as soon as possible," Abdrakhmanov added.

He recalled that the UN General Assembly by its Resolution 64/35 on December 2, 2009 designated August 29 as the International Day Against Nuclear Tests. This day has been widely commemorated in Kazakhstan and in the UN from 2010 on and this year was also marked by several important events of international significance, he added.

The Article XIV conference reaffirmed its determination to take concrete and actionable steps towards early entry into force and universalization of the Treaty and to this end adopt, among others, the following measures:

Spare no effort and use all avenues open to us to encourage further signature and ratification of the Treaty, and urge all States to sustain the momentum generated by the Conference and remain seized of the issue at the highest political level;

Support and encourage mutually supportive outreach initiatives and activities at the bilateral, regional and multilateral levels to promote the entry into force and universalization of the Treaty;

Encourage ratifying States to continue the practice of designating coordinators to promote cooperation aimed at promoting further signatures and ratifications, taking note of a coordinators’ action plan to implement the measures adopted in this declaration;

Establish a contact list of countries among ratifying States, which volunteer to assist the coordinators in various regions in promoting activities to achieve early entry into force of the Treaty;

Recognize the role of GEM (Group of Eminent Persons) in assisting activities of ratifying States to promote the objectives of the Treaty and to facilitate its early entry into force;

Encourage all States to actively participate in the annual International Day against Nuclear Tests as established by the United Nations General Assembly resolution A/RES/64/35, which has been instrumental in increasing awareness and education about the effects of nuclear weapon test explosions and all other nuclear explosions;

Encourage the organization of regional seminars in conjunction with various regional meetings in order to increase awareness of the important role the Treaty plays and encourage the sharing of experience within regions;

Call upon the Preparatory Commission to continue its international cooperation activities and the organizing of workshops, seminars and training programmes in the legal and technical fields for the purpose of ratification outreach;

Call upon the Preparatory Commission to continue promoting understanding of the Treaty, including through education and training initiatives, and demonstrating the benefits of the civil and scientific applications of the verification technologies to wider audiences, bearing in mind the purpose and specific mandates as foreseen in the Treaty;

Encourage cooperation with intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations and other elements of civil society to raise awareness of and support for the Treaty and its objectives, as well as the need for its early entry into force;

Reaffirm the need to fully support the work of the Preparatory Commission to complete the verification regime through international cooperation and the need to continue capacity building and the sharing of expertise; and

Encourage all States to participate and contribute to the completion of the verification regime and support the Preparatory Commission in its endeavours to enhance the effectiveness of the CTBTO through technical and political support. [IDN-InDepthNews – 24 September 2017]

Photo: Tenth Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) on 20 September 2017 in New York. Credit: CTBTO

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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