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Fresh Impetus for Banning the Bomb and Nuke Tests

Analysis by Ramesh Jaura

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) - Concerted efforts for entry into force of the treaty banning all nuclear tests and ushering in a world free of nuclear weapons are gathering momentum at the United Nations and other international fora.

Within days of Japan and Kazakhstan issuing a joint statement on “achieving the early entry into force” of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban-Treaty (CTBT), the Las Vergas Review-Journal reported that the U.S. is “inching closer to the day when full-scale nuclear weapons tests are banned forever”.

Earlier U.S. President Barack Obama wrote in his opinion article for the Washington Post: “The security of the world demands that nations — including the United States – ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and conclude a new treaty to end the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons once and for all.”

“We are aiming toward ratification,” U.S. Ambassador to the UN and other international organisations in Vienna, Henry S. Ensher, said in an interview to the Las Vergas Review-Journal at the National Atomic Testing Museum.

He discussed the issue in Las Vegas of possible Senate ratification of the 20-year-old Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty after he saw the twisted steel and massive Sedan Crater left by atomic bomb blasts at the Nevada National Security Site.

“My visit here means that we’re working with international partners to create the environment in which the treaty might be ratified,” he said. “So we’re looking forward to the day when we might get some of my foreign colleagues, who work with me in Vienna, out to the site so they can better understand the necessity, the importance of ratifying the treaty.”

Ensher’s visit to the security site, 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas, followed a historic one in November 2015 by CTBTO Chief Zerbo, who was the first foreign national to get such a first-hand look at how the treaty can be verified with United States relying on science-based technology to ensure U.S. nuclear weapons are safe and reliable.

The former Nevada Test Site was the Cold War battleground for demonstrating the effectiveness of nuclear weapons to deter their use by adversaries. One-hundred full-scale atomic tests were conducted in the atmosphere after the test site became the continental proving ground in 1951.

A treaty in 1963, restricted nuclear testing to below ground, a practice that continued with hundreds more detonations until such large ones that erupt into nuclear chain-reactions were put on hold indefinitely in 1992.

Against the backdrop of the U.S. Ambassador’s remarks, Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) tweeted: “Why not hold a leadership forum w/#China #Russia & #US for dialogue on #DPRK in #Vienna during #CTBT20 year?”

Twenty years after the treaty opened for signature, 44 specific nuclear technology holder countries must sign and ratify before the CTBT can enter into force. Of these, eight are still missing: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the U.S. India, North Korea and Pakistan have yet to sign the CTBT.

In the joint statement issued on March 31 on the occasion of the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in Washington D.C., Japan and Kazakhstan reaffirmed their commitment to “realizing a world free of nuclear weapons and consider it a main goal of humanity in the 21st century”.

As 2016 marks the 20th anniversary since the opening for signature of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the 25th anniversary of the closure of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in Kazakhstan, Japan and Kazakh renewed their “resolve to extend the non-use record of nuclear weapons until they are eliminated, and renew our strong commitment to achieving the early entry into force of the CTBT”.

The statement said: “We welcome the fact that the CTBT has achieved near universal adherence with signature by 183 states and ratification by 164 states as of today, and urge all states that have not yet done so to sign and ratify the Treaty as early as possible.”

Pending the entry into force of the CTBT, they called upon all states to continue the moratorium on nuclear weapon test explosions, the process on which the closure of the Semipalatinsk test site in August 1991 had positive impact.

Noting that the International Monitoring System (IMS) of the CTBTO has detected unusual seismic waveforms immediately after the nuclear test by North Korea on January 6, 2016, Japan and Kazakh commend that “the CTBT verification regime has proven to be functioning successfully and reaffirm our commitment to supporting this important regime”.

Another landmark joint statement issued on the occasion of the Nuclear Security Summit on April 1 was on the importance of development of an international Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) Bank in Kazakhstan. It was signed by the leaders of Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Norway, People's Republic of China, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden, UAE, UK and USA.

Noting that Kazakhstan has an exemplary record of contributing to nuclear non-proliferation and international peace, the joint statement highlighted that the the IAEA LEU Bank is “part of a global effort to create an assured supply of nuclear fuel to countries in case of disruptions to the open market or other existing supply arrangements for low enriched uranium”.

A nuclear weapons free world has also been engaging the attention of the UN Disarmament Commission (UNDC) at its annual substantive session from April 4 to 22 in New York. The Commission was established as a subsidiary organ of the UN General Assembly, composed of all Member States of the United Nations.

“Despite talk of polarization, the international community shared the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons,” the Disarmament Commission heard April 4 as it opened its 2016 session.

The Commission had considerable potential to demonstrate that the existing disarmament machinery could produce results against deepening paralysis and divisions within multilateral disarmament bodies, said Kim Won-Soo, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, addressing the 193-member subsidiary body.

Indeed, the Commission had made important progress towards consensus on its conventional weapons item. That had included the first-ever legally binding regulations governing the international arms trade, combatting the illicit trade in small arms and dealing with the problems posed by excessive and poorly maintained ammunition stocks.

Given the emergence of new trends and technologies that were complicating strategic relationships and stability, more remained to be done with regard to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, he stressed. As the Commission played a unique role, he hoped Member States would make use of it to engage in constructive dialogue geared towards realizing a nuclear-weapon-free world.

At the start of its general debate, delegates shared concerns as the Commission began the second year of its three-year cycle.  Some called for an end to the 16-year impasse so the body could address the main items on its work programme covering nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and confidence-building measures in the field of conventional weapons.

Overcoming that deadlock would work towards progress on a range of concerns raised by delegates, from the development of new types of strategic weapons to a growing nexus between terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and cyberattacks, some speakers said.

Concluding the general debate on April 5, speakers said the international community must work together to prevent the catastrophic effects of nuclear weapons use, including in the hands of terrorist groups.

Nigeria’s Abioudun Richards Adejola, associating himself with the African Group, said the continued existence of nuclear weapons was an existential threat to all mankind and the maintenance costs of those weapons was inexcusable in the context of development.

“Mankind has lived on the edge for too long,” he said, noting that nuclear weapons – the only weapons of mass destruction which had yet to be prohibited – were by definition aimed solely at mass destruction. The International Court of Justice had affirmed that the use of such weapons constituted a crime against humanity, he said, calling for a halt to the “spiralled descent into chaos” that would be caused by the use of nuclear weapons.

In that context, he called on nuclear-weapon States to consider the catastrophic consequences of their use, including the implications on human health, climate and the environment.

While many speakers shared the view that time-bound commitments towards global nuclear disarmament were needed, some expressed concern at the actions of several nuclear-weapon-possessing States, which they said were reluctant to budge from their entrenched positions.

In that regard, Cuba’s Ana Silvia Rodriguez Abascal blamed the stalemate at the 2015 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on a lack of political will on the part of nuclear-weapons States. Warning against the use of double standards when addressing non-proliferation issues, she said the “privileged club” had continued to possess atomic bombs while criticizing developing countries for using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. [IDN-InDepthNews – 9 April 2016]

IDN is the flagship of International Press Syndicate.

Photo: A view of the conference room as Kim Won-soo (shown on screens), Acting UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, addresses the opening meeting of the 2016 substantive session of the Disarmament Commission. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe