Green Cross International advocates for the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

The value to world peace and security of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was profiled by Green Cross International during a 10 January 2013 symposium in Vienna, Austria.

On 9 September 1996, Australia and 127 co-sponsors introduced the CTBT to the United Nations General Assembly.  A day later it was passed by 156 countries, and two weeks later, it was signed by the five permanent members (P-5) of the UN Security Council, all nuclear weapons powers, and 66 other countries.  This historic treaty bans all nuclear weapons testing and expands prior efforts embodied in the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT) and the 1974 Threshold Test Ban Treaty.

Dr. Paul F. Walker, director of the Green Cross Environmental Security and Sustainability Programme, spoke in support of the CTBT at the Vienna symposium organized by the Academic Council on the United Nations System. The meeting was also supported the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), the University of Vienna, the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Nonproliferation, and other supporting agencies. 

Walker explained that the CTBT’s signing in 1996 was a legalization of the de facto moratorium which had existed on nuclear testing since the early 1990s when Russia (last test was October 24, 1990), the British (last test was November 26, 1991), and the US (last test was September 23, 1992) all halted nuclear testing.   France and China both stopped testing in 1996, and only India, Pakistan, and North Korea have since conducted a total of five nuclear weapons tests.

He also emphasized that the current eight acknowledged nuclear weapons powers – the US, Russia, China, France, UK, India, Pakistan, and North Korea – have conducted a total of 2,054 nuclear tests since the first US test at Alamogordo, New Mexico in 1945.  The US conducted 1,032 and the Soviet Union/Russia 715 of this total.  Israel, the ninth nuclear power, is not known to have conducted any nuclear tests, although allegations exist about a possible Israel-South African atmospheric nuclear test in 1979 and an Israeli underground test in 1963.

Walker pointed to the current need for the US to ratify the CTBT and to the pledge by US President Barack Obama in his famous April 5, 2009 Prague speech to make this one of his top global security priorities.  In March 2012 Obama reiterated that he will “continue to pursue ratification…”, and Walker underlined the fact that these words need to be followed by concrete steps.  

The US Senate rejected ratification in 1999 by a vote of 51-48 (treaty ratification in the US requires a 2/3rds majority of the Senate – 67 votes).  The CTBT has been successful in expanding its signatory states to 183 today, with 157 ratifications.  However, it requires all 44 nuclear-weapon and nuclear-power-capable states to ratify before it can enter into force.  Eight of these 44 have still not ratified. These countries are China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the US.  If the US endorses the CTBT, it is expected that other nuclear-capable states would follow suit.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated on August 29, 2011, the annual UN Day Against Nuclear Testing, that “Over the course of the Cold War, hundreds of nuclear weapon tests left behind a devastating legacy for local citizens and theirnatural environment.  Current voluntary moratoriums on nuclear weapon tests are valuable, yet they are no substitute for a global ban.” Let us hope that 2013 sees more nuclear-weapon and nuclear-power-capable signatories to the CTBT.

The panel Walker spoke on was chaired by Professor Heinz Gaertner, Senior Fellow of the Austrian Institute for International Affairs, and included Jean du Preez, head of CTBTO External Relations and International Cooperation, Erik Lindfors, Minister Counsellor of the Swedish Mission, and others.

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