Bringing the CTBT into force: looking back at the 2011 Article XIV Conference

Oct 20 2011
VERTIC Blog >> Arms Control and Disarmament

Sonya Pillay, London

On 23 September 2011, over 160 ministers and senior officials convened at the United Nations in New York for the seventh biennial Article XIV Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). Their two-fold purpose was deceptively simple. First, to “urge all States to remain seized of the issue at the highest political level.” Second, to encourage holdout Annex II States to commit themselves to signing and ratifying the CTBT “at the earliest possible date, thus ridding the world once and for all of nuclear test explosions.” Guinea was the latest to ratify the treaty mere days beforehand, rounding up a list of 155 ratifications and 182 States Signatories. However, this small victory is obscured by the lack of significant movement on other fronts. Despite the rhetoric of political urgency and confidence-building, key players remain unmoved. For the 15th anniversary of the CTBT Organization (CTBTO), founded in 1996, this was unfortunate.

Reflecting the purpose of Article XIV Conferences, appeals for progress on entry into force traditionally fall on the most significant holdout states – the so-called Annex II States. As Jeffrey Lewis describes in VERTIC Occasional Paper 4, “the CTBT languishes in a kind of legal limbo created by its unusually stringent procedures for entry into force”. Annex II of the CTBT identifies 44 countries which participated in the CTBT’s formative negotiations and were ‘nuclear capable’ at the time of its inception. All 44 must ratify the treaty before it can formally enter into force. Of these 44 states, China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the United States have yet to accede to the treaty. The world thus looks upon these nine key holdout states with bated breath.

Closing the Door on Nuclear Testing
Widely recognised as a building block of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime, the CTBT bans nuclear weapons test explosions in all environments and for all purposes. Proponents argue that it deprives countries of the opportunity to test new or more sophisticated nuclear weaponry, thus crystallising an international norm against nuclear explosions.

The practical reach of the Preparatory Commission for the CTBTO is extensive. The International Monitoring System (IMS), a global verification system of detection facilities and laboratories, includes 285 operational monitoring sites around the world (85% of the planned 337). With 260 staff and a budget of €100million, the Preparatory Commission undertakes technical activities to ensure that the verification regime will be fully operational when the Treaty is brought into force. This verification system has already proven its worth by detecting DPRK’s 2006 and 2009 underground tests, and by contributing to the assessment of radiation leaks from the Fukushima reactor.

The Preparatory Commission also undertakes activities to promote the signature and ratification of the CTBT to achieve entry into force. It is these activities that are discussed during Article XIV Conferences. “International cooperation activities” remain a noteworthy action point, and represent a cornerstone of the Commission’s work in this area. For instance, high-level “workshops, seminars and training programmes” promote understanding of the Treaty. Other activities include collating outreach activities; encouraging civil society to raise awareness of the Treaty’s objectives; and maintaining contact lists of coordinators who promote cooperation.

In promoting the entry into force of the CTBT, the functional nature of the Preparatory Commission becomes its biggest selling point. Its activities focus on the legal and technical field, to persuade States of “the benefits of the civil and scientific applications of the verification technologies”. At the same time, rather than driving initiatives themselves, the Preparatory Commission aims to inspire member states to “support and encourage” initiatives.

The list of 10 proposed measures in the 2011 Final Declaration was not in any significant way modified from the document produced at the last Article XIV Conference in 2009. If the atmosphere at this Conference was more urgent than before, the Final Declaration did not reflect this, recycling and resting on moderate, staid language (i.e. ‘continue’, ‘maintain’ and ‘reaffirm’). This signifies the Preparatory Commission’s restricted role as a ‘focal point’ – a secretary responsible for knowledge sharing and operational support rather than a general rallying the troops.

The Final Declaration of the 2011 Conference is the most recent document in a string of Final Declarations which emerge at Article XIV Conferences. As always, the 2011 Final Declaration was produced under international consensus, and as such should rightly be viewed as a powerful, sustained expression of international intent. This affirms Executive Secretary Tibor Toth’s belief that “the political drive of the entry into force of the Treaty… has gained a powerful momentum.”

Holding Out
Representatives from India, Iran, Pakistan and North Korea notably did not speak at September’s conference. Of the four, only Iran has signed the treaty. Their silences indicate some measure of stalemate in their CTBT posturing. India and Pakistan are bound in regional enmity and are reluctant to accede to CTBT ratification without the other’s cooperation. However, New Delhi rigidly espouses a moratorium on nuclear testing tied to a universal, time-bound disarmament plan. Neither Iran nor North Korea shows much interest in ratifying the CTBT. This bargaining chip may well be retained, to be played during multilateral negotiations set up to manage their nuclear ambitions. It is unlikely that these negotiations will conclude easily, or in the near future.

Of the remaining Annex II states, Indonesia and China are the most promising. During the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, Indonesia revealed that its Parliament is currently deliberating a CTBT ratification bill. Likewise, China affirmed that it would promote the ratification review process by its national legislature. Although it is likely that Indonesia will become the 156th ratifying state, like China, it cannot announce a precise timeframe for ratification.

Other holdout states presented mixed messages. In its statement, Egypt called attention to the establishment of a WMD Free Zone in the Middle East but made no explicit mention of its consideration of CTBT ratification. Communicating an interest in ratification, as an expression of goodwill and peaceable intent, could advance the cause of a non-proliferation zone in an already troubled region. Israel chose to focus on capacity-building, such as the completion of the IMS. It has consistently tied its approach to CTBT ratification to “compliance” by other Middle Eastern states.

Therein lies the dilemma. Because states tie their interests and actions to that of peers, and more significantly enemies, taking the first step on controversial issues is equivalent to biting the first bullet. Holdout states typically play the waiting game, flirting with political rhetoric as they wait for political realities to change. As Rose Gottemoeller, the United States Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance puts it, “We’re not rushing into this. We’re playing this as a long game.”

All roads lead to Washington
Without doubt, the US is the most scrutinised Annex II state. It is widely acknowledged that American leadership on the CTBT issue – moral and active leadership – would ignite a domino effect and encourage more than a handful of Annex II states to follow its lead.

The US is already the single largest contributor to the Preparatory Commission. In September, it generously announced two voluntary contributions. The first (US$8.9 million) underwrites cooperative US-CTBTO projects ranging from enhancing radionuclide and noble gas detection to refining seismic detection methods. The second (US$25.5million) will reconstruct a damaged hydroacoustic station in the French Southern territories and thus complete the IMS global hydroacoustic network. This type of support is invaluable, but it does stop short of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s appeal to “Take the initiative. Lead.”

The CTBT faces its biggest challenge in the US Senate. Senate history is not promising; it rejected ratification in 1999, three years after Clinton signed the treaty, and today’s escalating partisan divide casts a shadow on the CTBT’s chances for success. Obama’s administration must persuasively address the benefits of the CTBT verification regime, particularly to assuage the right wing’s fear that the Treaty compromises American nuclear deterrence and domestic security. One proposal is to present the CTBT as part of an arms control legislative package that could also include a modernisation scheme for nuclear stockpiles, or a new arms reduction treaty. It is unlikely that foreign opinion or pressure will sway the powerful internal dynamics of the Senate. And although the measures mentioned in the Final Declaration are intended to facilitate an information and awareness campaign, they are insufficient to spearhead independent advocacy efforts.

The waiting game
It is useful to remember that nations have maintained a voluntary, de facto moratorium on nuclear testing for almost two decades. In the interest of reinforcing this, the 2011 Final Declaration reaffirmed the determination of Member States to continue to pursue steps to promote the CTBT’s entry into force.

Two opportune moments present themselves as a litmus test of the international commitment to promote the CTBT into force. First, India has proposed launching a new global disarmament process, based on a reworking of its 1988 Action Plan. This would oblige New Delhi to decisively engage the CTBT issue. Pursuant to action points (a), (b) and (e) of the 2011 Final Declaration, the international community might find it timely to “use all avenues open to us”, to “encourage bilateral, regional and multilateral initiatives by interested countries”, and to “increase the awareness of the important role that the Treaty plays”.

Second, as the incoming chair of the Non Aligned Movement, Iran must answer to 118 nations. They may have rallied around Tehran in the past (most notably in a statement issued last September criticising an IAEA report as “unauthenticated”) but now grow weary of Ahmadinejad’s increasing unpredictability. They could choose to demand CTBT ratification as evidence that Iran is a responsible and accountable nuclear power. Action points (c) and (e) suggest “informal consultations with all interested countries” or “the organisation of regional seminars in conjunction with other regional meetings”. Tying this to the 2012 Middle East WMD Free Zone might also constitute an important outreach activity.

Of crucial importance is an international diplomatic strategy to accelerate internal cogs in domestic processes. For instance, ensuring smooth and successful ratification reviews in the national legislatures of Indonesia and China. The Final Declaration goes some way towards this, by pledging “to provide States with legal assistance with respect to the ratification process and implementation measures”. However it does not – and indeed, cannot – prescribe a way to sustain local pressure to pursue ratification; that remains in the hands of Member States. Until Member States break current diplomatic stalemates with holdout states, the CTBT looks set to face another waiting game.


Last changed: Oct 20 2011 at 3:33 PM




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