CTBTO Executive Secretary Tibor Toth addressing an event marking the 15th anniversary of the establishment of the organization. | Credit: CTBTO - Photo: 2012

Toward a World of Diminished Reliance on Nukes

By Robert Wood*
IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint

VIENNA (IDN) – The CTBT (Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty) remains central to leading us toward a world of diminished reliance on nuclear weapons, reduced nuclear competition, and eventual nuclear disarmament. The legal ramifications of its entry into force, and the practical effects of its verification provisions, remain vital to achieving our ambition of a world without nuclear weapons.

With a global ban on nuclear explosive tests, states interested in pursuing nuclear weapons programs would have to either risk deploying weapons uncertain of their effectiveness, or face international condemnation for conducting nuclear tests.

And with the immense progress that the Preparatory Commission has made in the last decade toward establishing the CTBT’s verification regime, the International Monitoring System (IMS) is well on its way to providing States Signatories with an effective system for monitoring nuclear explosions anywhere in the world.

In addition to the primary value of the treaty, in the 15 years since the Provisional Technical Secretariat began its work in Vienna, we’ve learned of the related benefits that the treaty and the CTBTO bring to bear. The CTBT provides a ready mechanism to ensure the integrity of regional nuclear-weapons-free zones such as those in Africa, Central Asia, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific. It serves as an important confidence building measure, contributing to regional peace and security by limiting the extent to which nuclear testing can be used as a political lever in regional conflicts.

And with the recent Fukushima nuclear crisis, we saw dramatic proof of the capabilities of the CTBTO’s International Monitoring System for non-verification related purposes, such as providing early tsunami warnings and tracking the dispersal of radioactivity from reactor accidents.

Obama committed to seeking CTBT’s recognition

As a representative of the United States, I’m not oblivious to the obvious question: in the face of all the benefits I’ve just listed, why hasn’t the United States ratified the treaty?

You all know that, while the United States abides by the core prohibition of the CTBT through the nuclear testing moratorium we voluntarily undertook in 1992, the principal benefit of the treaty – that of legally constraining all states from testing – still eludes us since it has not yet entered into force. And the United States remains one of the Annex 2 states that have not yet ratified the treaty.

Here I can only reinforce: President Obama remains committed to seeking the treaty’s ratification. Our senior officials continue to engage with members of the United States Senate and their staff.

The Administration commissioned a number of classified and unclassified reports, including an updated National Intelligence Estimate and an independent National Academy of Sciences report, to assess the ability of the United States to monitor compliance with the treaty and the ability of the United States to maintain, in the absence of nuclear explosive testing, a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal so long as these weapons exist. Those reports and meetings with Senators and their expert staff will give the U.S. Senate a wealth of information to assist them in making a determination on the merits of ratification of the CTBT.

The key question the reports and briefings will attempt to answer is whether the CTBT can be effectively verified. As many of you are well aware, the U.S. Senate declined to provide its consent to ratification of the CTBT in 1999, in large part because of concerns about effective verification. With the advances in technology and the build out of the IMS that have taken place since then, we have a much stronger case today.

It is thanks to the hard work of the CTBTO Preparatory Commission, the CTBT’s States Signatories, and the staff of the PTS (Provisional Technical Secretariat) that the treaty’s verification regime has made such tremendous progress in the last decade. The expansion of the IMS network, together with significant advances in the technologies of the verification regime, mean that the CTBTO can reliably detect even relatively small nuclear explosions, a capability that was regrettably put to the test in 2006 and 2009 in the DPRK.

U.S. participation increased

Which doesn’t mean that U.S. ratification will be quick or easy. Getting advice and consent from the Senate for New START taught us to prepare for an equally robust debate over the CTBT. We have been careful to note that we have no specific date in mind for a ratification vote. There is a good reason for that: rushing to a vote before the important process of engagement and explanation has run its course increases the risk of an unfavorable outcome, which is the last thing those of us who support the CTBT want.

So we will continue working to engage members of the Senate on the national security rationale behind our support for the CTBT, and will keep a close eye on that dialogue to judge when the time is right to bring the CTBT to the floor of the U.S. Senate for a formal debate.

And even as we engage the Senate, we have increased our participation in all of the Preparatory Commission’s activities. We have increased our budget request over the past three years in order to reduce and eliminate our past arrears. We transferred $33 million to the PTS to pay our dues and retire an additional tranche of arrears.

As Secretary Clinton noted in her remarks to the Article 14 Conference in September 2009, the United States is prepared to pay our share of the Preparatory Commission’s budget. In fact, we’ve since demonstrated that we’re prepared to do a good deal more than that. In addition to our annual assessment, the United States provided a voluntary, in-kind contribution of $8.9 million in 2011. Those monies will underwrite a series of multi-year projects to accelerate the development of the verification system and to improve its capabilities.

We also concluded with the Provisional Technical Secretariat a Memorandum of Understanding for the United States to provide a contribution of up to $25.5 million to rebuild a hydroacoustic monitoring station in the southern Indian Ocean. That station, on Crozet Island, will complete the International Monitoring System’s important hydro acoustic network. Those contributions are all the more significant given how tough the budget climate is in Washington – they reflect the importance the United States attaches to the CTBT and to the completion of its verification system.

In addition to our financial support, U.S. technical experts are working closely with their counterparts from the Provisional Technical Secretariat and with other experts from many States Signatories in collaborative efforts to improve the capabilities of the global International Monitoring System and the International Data Centre.

After a long absence, U.S. experts have since 2009 again been fully engaged in further developing the On-Site Inspection element of the verification regime, both from policy and technical perspectives. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Disarmament, and Verification Rose Gottemoeller led the U.S. delegation at the CTBTO’s Preparatory Commission meeting last June. Her participation in that meeting—as the most senior U.S. representative to date—underscored the depth of our commitment to preparing a fully operational verification regime for the entry into force of this treaty.

And while the United States moves forward with the ratification process, we continue to call on all governments to declare or reaffirm their commitment not to conduct explosive nuclear tests, and encourage all States that have not done so to sign and ratify the treaty.

We enthusiastically welcomed Indonesia’s ratification of the treaty, which is particularly significant given that it is the first Annex 2 state to ratify the CTBT since Colombia did so in 2008. We were also very pleased that Guatemala ratified the treaty a bit earlier this year, bringing Central and South America closer still to region-wide ratification of the CTBT.

The United States is working to join Indonesia, Guatemala, and the many other states that have ratified the treaty, and in the meantime, we intend to continue to provide robust technical expertise and political and financial support to the CTBTO and to this important treaty.

*Robert Wood is Charge d’Affaires and the Acting Permanent Representative to the CTBTO, U.S. Mission in Vienna. This is an abridged version of his remarks at a conference organised by the Arms Control Association in partnership with the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation with financial support from the Government of the United Kingdom. The conference report was released on October 24, 2012. [IDN-InDepthNews – October 26, 2012]

2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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Photo: CTBTO Executive Secretary Tibor Toth addressing an event marking the 15th anniversary of the establishment of the organization. | Credit: CTBTO.

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