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Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) is the Treaty banning all nuclear explosions  – everywhere, by everyone. The Treaty was negotiated at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. It opened for signature on 24 September 1996. Since then, the Treaty has reached near-universality. 182 countries have signed the Treaty – the last country to do so was Trinidad and Tobago on 8 October 2009 which also ratified the Treaty on 26 May 2010. 154 countries have ratified the Treaty – most recently Ghana on 14 June 2011.

Why is the CTBT so important? 

The CTBT is the last barrier on the way to develop nuclear weapons. It curbs the development of new nuclear weapons and the improvement of existing nuclear weapon designs. When the  Treaty enters into force it provides a legally binding norm against nuclear testing. The Treaty also helps prevent human suffering and environmental damages caused by nuclear testing.

How many nuclear tests were conducted and by whom? 

Between 1945 and 1996 when the CTBT was adopted, over 2000 nuclear tests were conducted by the United States (1000+), the Soviet Union (700+), France (200+), the United Kingdom and  China (45 each). Three countries have carried out nuclear explosions after 1996: India and Pakistan in 1998, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in 2006 and 2009.

Why has the Treaty not entered into force yet? 

The Treaty’s entry into force depends on 44 specific States that must have signed and ratified the Treaty. These States had nuclear facilities at the time the Treaty was negotiated and adopted. As of August 2011, 35 of these States have ratified the Treaty. Nine states still need to do so: China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel,  Pakistan and the United States. India, North Korea and Pakistan have not yet signed the Treaty.  All 44 States are listed in the Treaty’s Annex 2.

What is the difference between signature and ratification?  

The signature to a treaty indicates that the country accepts the treaty. It commits not to take any actions that would undermine the treaty’s purposes. A treaty is signed by a senior representative of a country such as the president or the foreign minister.

The ratification symbolizes the official sanction of a treaty to make it legally binding for the government of a country. This process involves the treaty’s adoption by the legislature of a  country such as a parliament. It also includes the submission of the so-called instrument of ratification to the treaty’s depository, which for the CTBT is the UN Secretary-General. Only

then the process of ratification is officially concluded. The ratification of a treaty may require the adjustment of a country’s legislation, reflecting its commitments under the treaty.

What is the CTBTO and what does it do? 

The abbreviation stands for the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization. The organization promotes the Treaty so that it can enter into force. It also establishes a verification regime to monitor adherence to the Treaty. The organization was founded in 1996 and employs a staff of roughly 260 from the CTBT’s Member  States.

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: Objectives 

The CTBTO (the organization of the CTBT and the Secretariat of the Conferences) is already making great strides to establish a wide-ranging monitoring and verification system, including an International Monitoring System and International Data Centre, which together with national technical means and ten of thousands of civilian monitoring stations, will detect and deter would-be testers, and therefore, will build confidence between all nations that nuclear testing has stopped.

Given below are the objectives of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: 

1. The CTBT has been seen as an essential step toward nuclear disarmament for over four decades.

2. The Treaty is intended to stop the qualitative nuclear arms race.

3. The CTBT aims to prevent further horrendous health and environmental damage caused by nuclear test explosions once and for all.

4. It curbs the development of new nuclear weapons and the improvement of existing nuclear weapon designs.

What is the CTBT verification regime? 

The CTBT verification regime is a unique, comprehensive system, consisting of the International  Monitoring System (IMS), International Data Centre (IDC) and on-site inspections (OSI). It constantly monitors the planet for nuclear explosions and shares its findings with the Member  States (= the 182 States that have signed the Treaty).

How does the CTBT verification regime work? 

  • Monitoring stations 
  • The 337 IMS facilities are located all over the globe and use four distinct  technologies to look for signs of nuclear explosions:

Seismic: to detect shockwaves in the Earth. The seismic network is comprised of  170 stations. 50 primary stations provide data continuously and 120 auxiliary

stations provide data on demand. They register thousands of earthquakes and mine explosions every year.

Hydro-acoustic: to detect acoustic signals in the oceans. Eleven stations are sufficient to monitor the big oceans as sound travels very efficiently in water. Infrasound: to detect low-frequency sound waves in the air with a network of 60  stations.

Radionuclide: to detect radionuclide particles and a noble gas. 80 stations provide the “smoking gun” evidence that an explosion was nuclear. Half of these stations are equipped with radionuclide noble gas detection technology. The

radionuclide network is complemented by 16 laboratories for detailed analysis.

  • Data analysis 
  •  About 85% of these facilities are already established and send data to the IDC for analysis. All raw data and the analysis reports are made available to the Member  States.
  • On-site inspections 
  • After the Treaty’s entry into force, an OSI can be requested if monitoring data suggest that a nuclear explosion was carried out in violation of the test ban. This involves a team of 40 inspectors who search the area where data suggest that a  nuclear explosion may have taken place. In September 2008, the CTBTO tested a  complete OSI in a simulation exercise in Kazakhstan.

Did the CTBTO detect the nuclear explosions conducted by the DPRK? 

Yes, it did. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea detonated nuclear devices on two occasions, in October 2006 and in May 2009. On both occasions, the CTBT verification regime was capable of detecting the explosions in a fast and reliable manner.

Can monitoring data be used for other purposes? 

CTBT monitoring data and technologies are also used for civilian purposes and scientific research. The CTBTO has been providing monitoring data directly from some of its stations to Tsunami warning institutions in Asia and the Pacific since November 2006. After the triple disaster in  Japan in March 2011, the CTBTO provided information on the levels and dispersion of radioactive material across the globe.

CTBT and India 

India’s commitment to a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing dates back to 1954 when  Jawaharlal Nehru called for a “standstill agreement” whereby testing of all nuclear weapons was to be immediately suspended, pending an agreement on their complete prohibition. It was again at India’s initiative that the item “Suspension of Nuclear and Thermo-Nuclear Tests” was included in the agenda of the UN in 1959.

During the course of the negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) Geneva on the  CTBT, India put forward a number of proposals consistent with the mandate adopted by the CD  in 1994. These proposals were aimed at ensuring that the CTBT would be truly comprehensive and would be part of the step-by-step process of eliminating all nuclear weapons.

However, these proposals were regrettably ignored and instead, Article XIV on Entry. Into Force requiring India to join the treaty before it became operational was adopted in violation of basic treaty law. India was thus forced to declare its opposition to the CTBT as it emerged.

India is not a member of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. India is neither a  signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) nor to the CTBT because it believes its present format to be discriminatory. A part of the scientific sector in India believes that singing  CTBT would obstruct India’s nuclear development.

Benefits of being an observer:  

  • Informed decision: It will allow India to attend CTBTO meetings, observe how the organization works, and accordingly take the time needed to make the decision.
  • Access to information: The CTBTO runs the International Monitoring System (IMS),  which can detect nuclear tests anywhere across the world. Being an observer, India would get access to data from the IMS. When complete, IMS will consist of 337 facilities (321 monitoring stations and 16 radionuclide labs)located in 89 countries.
  • It can detect even small nuclear explosions using seismology, hydroacoustics, infrasound and radionuclide technology.
  • The IMS also helps in warning of earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic ash, and identifies plane crash sites.
  • Symbolism: Being an observer will not change India‘s status with respect to the CTBT. It only gives the advantage of following what’s happening, learning what China is doing in the organization, and where the US comes in. Among the non-signatory, Pakistan too is an observer.

Entry Into Force of the CTBT 

The Entry Into Force (EIF) Conference is expected to be an opportunity for:

1. Announcing ratification and signatures;

2. Calling on those states that have not yet signed or ratified the CTBT to join the  international consensus to end nuclear testing;

3. Urging states with active nuclear weapon research programmes and test sites to take  actions that would reinforce the CTBT and support its goals, such as refraining from  activities at test sites that might be construed as CTBT violations, halting research,  development and production of nuclear warheads based on modifications of existing  designs, that give them new military capabilities;

4. Examining ways and means of removing obstacles which delay Entry Into Force;

5. Discussing and agreeing on specific measures to convince the last holdout states to  support the test ban;

6. Support for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation in Vienna that has made  significant progress in setting up the International Monitoring System and International  Data Center, so that the CTBT’s verification system is ready by the time the treaty enters  into force;

7. Condemning any future testing; and,

8. Calling upon governments, businesses and people to take decisive action in reaction to any future testing.

The Treaty’s entry into force depends on 44 specific States that must have signed and ratified the Treaty.


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