Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Nuclear Issues: Considerable Progress Towards a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

Sergio Duarte, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, with CTBTO, UN, and Central African Republic representatives | Credit: CTBTO

By Jaya Ramachandran

Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

VIENNA (IDN) - An international pact outlawing all atomic explosions for military or civilian purposes is not yet around the corner but there is reason to rejoice at considerable advances made towards entry into force of a comprehensive nuclear test-ban treaty, according to a senior United Nations official.

The first decade of the 21st century has witnessed some "remarkable achievements" driven by "a vision to bring an end to the era of nuclear weapons," says Tibor Tóth, Executive Secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).

This is underscored by the fact that the monitoring system of the treaty -- adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1996 -- has expanded to 263 certified facilities from zero in 2000. Ten years ago there were 51 ratifications. In 2010 with the ratifications by Trinidad and Tobago and by the Central African Republic the number has tripled to 153 ratifications and the Treaty has been signed by 182 States.

Taking stock of the advances achieved in the previous decade, Tóth said that new ratifications entered into law two days before the successful outcome of the 2010 NPT Review Conference -- on May 26, 2010 -- when they were presented at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

On the eve of the conference to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Indonesia had announced its intention to ratify the treaty. During the conference, four more CTBT signatories -- Iraq, Papua-New Guinea, Thailand, and the United States -- also declared their intention to move forward with ratifications.

As the NPT Review Conference gathered momentum, an exhibition illustrating the history of nuclear testing and the path to adopting the CTBT opened in the UN headquarters on May 4, 2010. "Putting an end to nuclear explosions is more than the name of this exhibition -- it is one of the longest-standing goals of the United Nations," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared.

Actor/producer and UN Messenger of Peace Michael Douglas said there was no reason "our children" should live in the shadow of "these terrible weapons." His appeal that "the necessary steps can be taken now," were echoed by Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who said that his country believed it could enhance its contribution to nuclear disarmament by acting now to begin the process of ratifying the CTBT.

April 2010, when Natalegawa first announced his country’s decision, "underscores the leadership role of Indonesia in regional and global non-proliferation and disarmament efforts," said Tóth reviewing progress made.

The NPT Review Conference as well as breaking a decade of political deadlock adopted an action plan giving strong support for the CTBT, an outcome warmly received by Tóth.

"Support for the Treaty in 2010 also came from the UN General Assembly, which gave strong endorsement of the CTBT. The Russian Federation and the United States introduced for the first time a resolution on bilateral strategic arms reductions including recognition for early entry into force of the CTBT. Earlier in the year the new Nuclear Posture Review released by the U.S. clearly underlined the importance of the CTBT," said Tóth in annual highlights web posted at the turn of the year.

He adds: "The September 23 Joint Ministerial Statement launched by Foreign Ministers at the Fifth Ministerial Meeting to promote early entry-into-force of the CTBT was another strong political message in favour of the Treaty. The CTBTO also deepened cooperation with its pool of partners. In February UNESCO and the CTBTO signed an agreement to enhance disaster mitigation efforts and capacity-building in developing countries."

In November support for the Treaty was voiced by Nobel Peace Prize laureates, at their meeting in Hiroshima. They urged the remaining nine countries, whose ratification will bring the CTBT into force, to act now.


Tóth notes with satisfaction that the architects of the CTBT made no concessions to the standards it sets for verification. "Very high system capabilities and performance, as well as a rigorous certification process are required for each station."

At the end of 2010 there were 264 stations in the International Monitoring System (IMS), representing more than 80 per cent completion of its system of 337 stations. Six new facilities were certified in the Russian Federation alone in 2010. In August the first noble gas monitoring station was officially integrated into the system in the United States.

"The International Data Centre (IDC) in January 2010 completed a five-year project to renew its computer system with a migration to Linux systems," explains the CTBTO executive secretary. "New global communications infrastructure is also in place and fully operational providing higher availability and reliability of data."

A highlight was when in November 2010 the CTBTO staged a simulated on-site-inspection beside the Dead Sea, in Jordan. A team of 35 experts from 20 countries participated in the exercise, preparation for conducting on-Site Inspections, which will form a major component of the verification regime, available to member states, when the Treaty enters into force.

Besides, the CTBTO is giving priority to training experts from member states. A series of national and regional workshops and seminars were held, as well as training at the Vienna Headquarters and on-line.

"Many courses offer Member States the technical capabilities to better access and use data collected by the CTBTO’s global monitoring system. Every day 10 gigabytes of data flows into the Vienna headquarters of the CTBTO and is made available to all Member States on an equal basis," said Tóth.

He adds: The CTBTO’s verification network also provides significant civil benefits. In November France became the eighth country to sign an agreement with the CTBTO on receiving tsunami warning data.

The continuous expansion, upgrading and maintenance of a vast, state-of-the-art global monitoring network and communications infrastructure, represents an unprecedented joint investment. Since the treaty opened for signature in 1996 almost $1 billion has been invested by member states in the verification regime.

Tóth informs that the CTBTO's annual budget, of $115,579,600 (€80,601,500) in 2010, remains below zero real growth, and its level of staff remains unchanged since 2003. "Managing the onerous increase in the workload with a constant level of resources has been a serious challenge," Tóth told representatives of CTBTO member States at a regular meeting of the CTBTO's executive body in November.

In December the rate by which Member States pay their assessed dues stood at 85% compared to the previous year's rate of 79%. It is crucial for all Member States to fulfill their financial obligations in full, on time and without condition. Frank Becker, Permanent Representative of Belgium, speaking on behalf of the European Union, told the CTBTO executive body meeting in November.

In 2010 an extra-budgetary contribution of €5.3 million was made by the European Union to strengthen CTBTO monitoring and verification capabilities, including its cooperation with the scientific community.

Addressing the 2010 World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Hiroshima on November 13, Tóth said: "in 2010, the international community clearly reaffirmed its resolve to move forward. Several high level events and pronouncements by world leaders provided a new sense of optimism. They were also a reminder that multilateralism has not withered away; that multilateral action to face common challenges is indeed still possible. It is perhaps the only way forward in a world of increasing complexity."

On December 13 he told the United Nations General Assembly that "the CTBT is clearly of great significance for the global disarmament and non-proliferation regime. It has a key role to play in today’s security environment. More than two thousand tests were conducted prior to the treaty’s conclusion in 1996.

"Every test eroded global security, and widened the gap in political trust. In the last decade, there have only been two nuclear test explosions. The difference is clear. But it is high time for concrete action. The entry into force of the Treaty may be the single defining factor for the nuclear nonproliferation regime in the next 30 years," Tóth said.

Please note: An updated version of this article has been released and can be found on