Monday June 17, 2024

Moving forward on the CTBT

By Rizwan Asghar
June 25, 2017

This year marks the 18th anniversary of the rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) by the US Senate in October 1999. During these 18 years, repeated efforts have been made to outlaw the testing of nuclear weapons. But the treaty still remains in a state of limbo.

A deadlock exists because Article XIV of the CTBT makes the ratification by 44 states with commercial or research nuclear reactors a necessary requirement for the treaty to become legally binding. Of those 44 specified states, China, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, India, Iran and Egypt and the US have yet to ratify the treaty.

Pakistan, India, and North Korea have not even signed the treaty. The global community remains unable to move forward on the CTBT because of a lack of awareness about the nuclear proliferation threat at the mass level. Public opinion polls indicate that many otherwise educated people remain indifferent to the potentially disastrous impacts generated by nuclear weapons testing. Even in a developed country like the US, the overwhelming majority of people exhibit complete ignorance and complacency towards the broader issues of nonproliferation and disarmament.

In order to make progress, we need to wipe out this ignorance. Disarmament activists and members of the CTBT Youth Group can do a lot more to help raise awareness about the CTBT in their respective countries. We need to make nuclear testing an issue of wider public concern, and persuade governments of eight hold-out states to take necessary steps for the ratification the treaty. The enforcement of the CTBT can become a real possibility if we succeed in garnering sufficient public support for it.

This requires an understanding of the fact that the CTBT is a political issue and not a technical one. Even on the floor of the US Senate, partisan-cum-personal rivalries played an important role in undermining the treaty. It would not be wrong to argue that the rejection of the CTBT was a classic case of the failure of the executive branch in conducting its foreign policy. In 1999, the Clinton administration was bogged down in a number of domestic political issues and the CTBT was left to the mercy of the chaotic politics of the Congress.

The voting on the CTBT was largely along the party lines. A majority of the Republican senators voted against the treaty. Following the party line, Senator Richard Lugar – a strong advocate for arms control and disarmament – also voted against the treaty. Many experts of congressional politics believe that the outcome of the CTBT negotiations would certainly have been different if the Clinton administration had put a lot more focus on building a bipartisan consensus in the Senate.

Security concerns played a limited role in voting down the CTBT. The Republican leadership’s principal motivation in not even allowing a detailed debate on the treaty in October 1999, was to deny President Clinton a major foreign policy accomplishment.

Since the advent of the nuclear age, nuclear weapons have been tested in all environments. The world witnessed 55 nuclear tests on average every year during the period between 1955 and 1989. In October 1961, the Soviet Union detonated the most powerful nuclear weapon ever with a blast yield of 57 megaton TNT. More than 175 nuclear tests were conducted in 1962 alone.

In addition to their effects on current functioning of ecosystems, nuclear tests help states in the qualitative advancement of weapons systems. And they also provide information on how much damage a nuclear strike will cause under various conditions.

May 2017 marked the nineteenth anniversary of the 1998 nuclear tests that ushered in the nuclear age in South Asia. The governments of Pakistan and India have articulated their support for the nonproliferation objectives multiple times.

Yet, there is little public debate in both countries on the need for a permanent ban on nuclear testing. In August 2016, Pakistan offered India a bilateral ban on nuclear testing that reflected its support for the CTBT. But Pakistan’s proposal has not received much attention in Indian policymaking circles.

In fact, India is building new nuclear weapons systems, including nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed submarines. The Modi government has also been frequently accused of promoting violence at the subnational level in the region. Nuclear weapons are completely useless in these conflicts. Pakistan cannot use its nuclear weapons to stop New Delhi from providing support to terrorist organisations operating on its soil. However, if Pakistan ratifies the CTBT, the move will be diplomatically beneficial and will enhance our stature as a responsible nuclear state. Any such decision will also make India look like the bad guy and strengthen Pakistan’s bid to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

The ratification of the CTBT would be a landmark step against the qualitative and quantitative spread of nuclear weapons. Efforts to put the nuclear genie back in the bottle must continue unless global disarmament goals are achieved. There are 2,000 nuclear warheads that are ready to be launched at a moment’s notice in the US.

We are living in a very dangerous world. Every nation has an interest in maintaining peaceful relations with other nations. Every country needs to play a role in creating a world devoid of nuclear threats.

We should also put pressure on nuclear-armed states because, under the NPT, they are obligated to reduce – and ultimately eliminate – nuclear weapons. All the nuclear powers need to agree that they must eliminate all options of using nuclear weapons in the future. This can only happen by taking the first step: the ratification of the CTBT.