U.S. Undermining the Global Nuclear Testing Taboo

By Ramesh Jaura

Photo: Early September 2017 the U.S. government conducted flight tests of the B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb over Nevada. More are required before it enters service in 2020. Credit: TomoNews YouTube video

BERLIN | GENEVA (IDN) – A new document that outlines U.S. nuclear policy, strategy, capabilities and force posture for the next five to ten years proclaims that the Trump Administration does not intend to ratify a global treaty banning nuclear weapons tests. Nor does it rule out resuming such tests.

The document, titled 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), proclaims that "the United States does not support the ratification of the CTBT." But the U.S. will continue to support the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). [P 41] ARABICBAHASA | CHINESE TEXT VERSON PDF | GERMAN | HINDI | JAPANESE TEXT VERSON PDF

The Vienna-based organization set up in 1996 when the Treaty was opened for signature has over 260 staff from over 70 countries and an annual budget of around US$130,000,000 or €120,000,000.

According to the CTBTO, since 2005 the Commission’s Budget has been prepared using a split currency system aimed at mitigating the adverse effects of currency fluctuations. States Signatories' assessed contributions are split between U.S. dollars and Euros in accordance with the projected expenses of the Commission in each of these currencies.

The main tasks of the CTBTO, headed by Executive Secretary Dr. Lassina Zerbo since August 2013, are the promotion of the Treaty and the build-up of the verification regime so that it is operational when the Treaty enters into force.

The 2018 NPR, released by the U.S. Defense Department on February 2, 2018 stated that the United States would also continue to support "the related International Monitoring System and the International Data Center."

The CTBTO website notes that the United States pledged two major voluntary contributions in September 2011. The first contribution valued at $8.9 million underwrites in-kind projects implemented by U.S. agencies in coordination with the CTBTO that support the further development of the full range of CTBTO verification and monitoring activities to detect nuclear tests.

These include enhancing radionuclide and noble gas detection technologies, refining seismic detection techniques, and supporting auxiliary seismic stations.

Highlighting the CTBTO's monitoring activities, Zerbo told the High-level segment of the Conference on Disarmament on February 26 that the International Monitoring System (IMS) has been hailed as "one of the greatest accomplishments of the modern world."

Ending explosive nuclear testing globally is vital to halting the proliferation of nuclear weapons – both vertically and horizontally, Zerbo told the 65-nation Conference, the multilateral disarmament negotiating forum in Geneva where the CTBT was negotiated in the 1990s.

In the CTBT's preamble, he said, the States Signatories have recognized that the cessation of all nuclear weapon test explosions and more generally all nuclear explosions by anyone constitutes an effective measure of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation in all its aspects.

The IMS, which plays a crucial role in such measures, will when complete consist of 337 facilities worldwide to monitor the planet for signs of nuclear explosions. CTBTO sources say that around 90 percent of the facilities are already up and running.

The second U.S. contribution amounting to $25.5 million was intended to reconstruct hydroacoustic station HA04 in the French Southern Territories, thereby completing the hydroacoustic network.

Though the CTBT banning nuclear explosions by everyone, everywhere – on the Earth's surface, in the atmosphere, underwater and underground – is almost universal it has been in limbo for nearly 22 years and has yet to become law.

The U.S. and 182 other nations have signed the Treaty, of which 166 have also ratified it. These include three of the nuclear weapon States: France, Russian and the United Kingdom. But 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. Three of these countries, India, North Korea and Pakistan, have yet to sign the CTBT.

The 2018 NPR calls upon non-signatory countries not to conduct nuclear testing and states that the United States "will not resume nuclear explosive testing unless necessary to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the U.S. arsenal." But adds that the U.S. will remain ready to "resume nuclear testing if necessary to meet severe technological or geopolitical challenges."

The NPR also seeks "to reduce the time required to design, develop, and initially produce a warhead, from a decision to enter full-scale development." The Arms Control Association (ACA), based in Washington D.C. points out that an annual National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) report released in November 2017 shortens the previous readiness timeline to conduct a “simple [nuclear] test” explosion from 24 to 36 months down to six to 10 months, undermining the global nuclear testing taboo."

The ACA's Issue Brief by Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, and Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, says: "This shortened timeline means that should the United States decide to conduct a 'simple test' explosion, it should be prepared to do so within six to 10 months."

The Issue Brief adds: "While the NNSA report and the NPR both reaffirm that 'there is no current requirement to conduct an underground nuclear test,' the administration's hasty rejection of CTBT ratification, combined with the NNSA's revised testing readiness timeline suggests the Trump administration only wants to reap the benefits of the treaty, including the data from the monitoring system, while leaving the door open to resuming nuclear testing."

In spite of the U.S. Administration's decision not to ratify the CTBT, efforts toward its entry into force continue with the support of the majority of the UN member states. "We must bring the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty into force without delay," UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the 65-nation Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament, emphasizing that disarmament and arms control are central to the system for international security agreed in the United Nations Charter.

Six months earlier, on the International Day against Nuclear Tests, which is observed every year on August 29, he urged all countries to sign and ratify the Treaty.

"More than 2,000 nuclear tests have been conducted over the past seven decades – from the South Pacific to North America, from Central Asia to North Africa. They have harmed some of the world's most vulnerable peoples and pristine ecosystems," Guterres said.

CTBTO Executive Secretary Zerbo told the Conference on Disarmament that the CTBT is a "low hanging fruit" and that "the success of any further actions taken to advance work on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament will depend on the international community's resolve and political will to 'finish what it starts'."

He added: "This means to use dedicated and concerted efforts to get the CTBT into legal force; making sure that the billion dollar investment is preserved for the future generations to come; and providing a platform for progress by establishing a firm basis for the other disarmament treaties needed to close the circle."

Looking ahead to the 2020 NPT Review Conference, Zerbo said, it is clear that trust and confidence are the key elements necessary to achieve a successful outcome. "We must take great care to preserve the integrity of the institutions and instruments we have and to build trust in them and around them. This means maintain and securing the NPT and its entire chain of responsibilities-of which the CTBT entry into force is an integral part."

Referring to the situation in the Korean Peninsula, Zerbo said: "The spirit of the Olympics may give a boost to Pyongyang-Seoul relations. This could open up real avenues of opportunity for dialogue. The CTBT could serve as a tool for such dialogue: a unilaterally declared test moratorium moving towards eventual signature of the CTBT would be a start."

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) honoured Zerbo's indefatigable efforts aimed at eliminating nuclear testing by presenting him, on February 16, the 2018 Science Diplomacy award at its annual meeting in Austin, Texas.

The CTBTO Executive Secretary was chosen for "using his scientific expertise and leadership ability to tackle difficult challenges and promote world peace," the AAAS said in announcing the award.

"Dr. Zerbo has repeatedly demonstrated his profound skill at promoting dialogue and interaction among scientists, policymakers, academics and civil society, and encouraging diverse groups to work collaboratively," the AAAS declared. [IDN-InDepthNews – 12 March 2018]

Related articles > Action Needed to Ratify the 1996 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
Trump Breaks Nuclear Taboos, Strives For Supremacy

Photo: Early September 2017 the U.S. government conducted flight tests of the B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb over Nevada. More are required before it enters service in 2020. Credit: TomoNews YouTube video

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