OPINION: Backbone Needed to Curb Nuclear Testing

OPINION: Backbone Needed to Curb Nuclear Testing
Photo Credit: Ben Salter @ Flickr CC By 2.0

What you need to know

More efforts are needed to get all nations on board the UN's Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

The United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution in late September urging all states to refrain from conducting any nuclear weapons tests and called for prompt global implementation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The resolution passed with a vote of 14 in favor, none against and one abstention (Egypt). That the United States took the initiative for the resolution apparently reflects President Barack Obama’s desire to establish his nuclear disarmament legacy in the face of domestic opposition.

No punishment is provided for countries that ignore the resolution. Still it was significant that all five permanent members of the Security Council — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France — supported it, especially in view of the provocative acts by North Korea, which continues to defy earlier resolutions while maintaining its nuclear weapons development program, conducting two atomic tests this year.

All U.N. members, especially the nuclear weapons powers, must make strenuous efforts to turn this resolution into a meaningful first step toward creating a world free of nuclear arms.

The Sept. 23 resolution was adopted the day before the 20th anniversary of the opening for signatures of the CTBT. So far, 183 states have signed the treaty and 166 have ratified it, but the treaty has yet to come into force. It will take effect only after it has been ratified by the 44 “nuclear capable” states listed in its Annex 2, and eight of the 44 — the U.S., China, Israel, Iran, Egypt, India, Pakistan and North Korea — have yet to ratify it. India, Pakistan and North Korea have not even signed the treaty. The resolution urges the countries that have either not signed or ratified the treaty to promptly do so.

Although the treaty is not in force, the Comprehensive Test Ban Organization (CTBO) maintains a watch for any sign of nuclear blasts, using a global network of monitoring stations and laboratories that pick up and analyze seismic signals and gases such tests produce.

In his famed speech in Prague in 2009, Obama declared “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” In May, he became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, which suffered the first nuclear attack in human history in 1945 when a U.S. B-29 bomber dropped an atomic bomb on the city.

To realize his ideal, Obama has called for downgrading the role nuclear weapons play in U.S. military strategy, beefing up the 1968 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, adopting a treaty to globally ban the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons and ratification of the CTBT. Still, there is no prospect that the U.S. Congress will ratify the test ban treaty due to opposition from Republicans who cite fears the treaty will make U.S. nuclear weapons obsolete and that its signatories might secretly carry out tests.

To break the impasse in the global efforts toward nuclear disarmament and to check North Korea’s moves, the U.S. originally proposed that the Security Council resolution refer to possible actions under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which would have paved the way for sanctions against states that ignore the resolution. But the reference was dropped in the face of opposition from Russia and China. A phrase requiring CTBT member states to make regular reports on their efforts to monitor nuclear tests was also removed. Even so, endorsement of the final resolution by China and Russia should serve as pressure on North Korea.

In the absence of effective means to force North Korea to give up its nuclear program, the permanent Security Council members — all nuclear weapons powers — should seriously consider stopping Pyongyang’s drive through their moral strength, that is, making visible efforts toward cuts to their own nuclear arsenals and disarmament. Such efforts should also have a desirable effect on nations that have not signed the CTBT, such as India and Pakistan. The U.S. and Russia, which are capable of running subcritical experiments to collect necessary data and upgrade their nuclear weapons without having to test a bomb, have all the more responsibility to make such efforts.

The next U.S. administration that emerges from the November election should do its utmost to change the mind of Congress members opposed to ratification of the CTBT. China should also ratify the treaty. The U.S. and Russia, which together possess about 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, should accelerate their bilateral efforts to significantly cut their arsenals — an effort that has been stalled for years.

Japan, which joined the 13 other Security Council members to support the resolution, should mobilize its diplomatic resources to get the eight “nuclear capable” countries that have yet to sign or ratify the CTBT to do so. The Abe administration seeks to conclude a civilian nuclear accord with India as early as this year to pave the way for selling nuclear power plants to the country. It should consider making India joining the CTBT a condition for signing the accord. Both India and its rival Pakistan have not signed.

Japan also should call on India to accept the establishment of a monitoring station under the CTBO within its territory as well as to call on China to start the operation of a similar facility. And Japan should likewise try to influence the public opinion in the U.S. so that Americans, including members of the Congress, will favor ratification of the CTBT.

The News Lens has been authorized to republish this editorial. The original can be found here.

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole