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Eight States Blocking a Global Legal Ban on Nuclear Testing

Analysis by Jamshed Baruah

BERLIN | VIENNA (IDN) - When will the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) enter into force and become international law? This was the question on the minds of senior officials from around the world who had gathered in Vienna on June 13 to mark the 20th anniversary of the treaty, which is crucial to ushering in a world free of nuclear weapons.

The answer to the question is simple. CTBT has so far been signed by 183 States and ratified by 164. Its demanding entry-into-force provision requires 44 particular “nuclear technology holder” States to ratify the Treaty for it to enter into force.

Eight of them have yet to ratify: China, DPRK (North Korea), Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, and the United States (China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and the United States have already signed the Treaty).

A widespread view is that things would start moving as soon the United States ratifies. But this would appear to be a remote possibility – despite U.S. President Barack Obama’s repeated reminders of the importance of the Treaty.

“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,” wrote Obama in an opinion article for the Washington Post on March 30, 2016 on the eve of the fourth Nuclear Security Summit in Washington.

Responding to Obama’s call, Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), tweeted: “(We) need a #CTBT summit to cast test-ban into law & stop countries like #DPRK developing #nuclear weapons.”

There were no signs of a summit to cast test-ban into law as Federica Mogherini, European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Foreign Ministers from Kazakhstan and Romania as well as other senior officials from around the world joined him at the UN headquarters in Vienna on June 13.

Nevertheless, the significance of the ratification of the CTBT was stressed by all who joined the 20th anniversary. The reason: The CTBT bans all nuclear explosions, thus hampering both the initial development of nuclear weapons as well as significant enhancements (h-bomb). The Treaty also helps prevent harmful radioactive releases from nuclear testing.

Besides, a verification regime to monitor the globe for nuclear explosions is nearing completion with around 90 percent of the 337 planned International Monitoring System facilities already in operation. It is designed to detect any nuclear explosion conducted on Earth – underground, underwater or in the atmosphere.

The system has proved its capabilities to detect even small nuclear tests during the announced DPRK nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, 2013 and 2016.

The CTBT’s global alarm system is designed to detect any nuclear explosion conducted on Earth – in the underground, underwater or in the atmosphere.

The verification regime consists of the following elements: International Monitoring System (IMS), International Data Centre (IDC), Global Communications Infrastructure (GCI), Consultation and clarification; On-Site Inspection, and Confidence-building measures

The IMS uses four complementary verification methods, utilizing the most modern technology available. Seismic, hydroacoustic and infrasound stations monitor the underground, the large oceans and the atmosphere respectively.

Radionuclide stations detect radioactive debris from atmospheric explosions or vented by underground or underwater nuclear explosions. Radionuclide laboratories assist radionuclide stations in identifying these radioactive substances.

The Global Communications Infrastructure (GCI) transmits the data recorded at the IMS stations to the International Data Centre (IDC). It also transmits raw data and data bulletins from the IDC to the Member States.

The GCI ensures global coverage. Data are received and distributed through a network of six satellites. The satellites route the transmissions to three hubs on the ground, and the data are then sent to the IDC by terrestrial links.

If a Member State feels that certain data collected imply a nuclear explosion, a consultation and clarification process can be undertaken to resolve and clarify the matter.

This process, which will be available to Member States after the Treaty’s entry into force, allows a State to request clarification directly from another State or through the Executive Council. Member States can also request information from the Director-General of the CTBTO. A State that received such a request has 48 hours to clarify the event in question.

States have the right to request an on-site inspection, regardless of the results of the consultation and clarification process. Such inspections will be carried out to ascertain whether a nuclear explosion has occurred in violation of the Treaty. They will also be used to collect facts that might be of use in identifying possible violators. On-site inspections are regarded as the final verification measure under the Treaty and can only be invoked once the Treaty enters into force.

On a voluntary basis, Member States are to notify the CTBTO Technical Secretariat in case of any chemical explosion using 300 tonnes or more of TNT-equivalent blasting material detonated on their territories. These notifications serve two purposes.

First of all, they contribute to the resolution of any eventual misinterpretation of verification data so that for example a large mining explosion is not initially thought to be a nuclear explosion. Secondly, they assist in the testing and fine-tuning of the IMS network. [IDN-InDepthNews – 13 June 2016]

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

Image courtesy CTBTO