20 Years Later, the CTBT Is Still in Limbo

 
 

It’s been 20 years since the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1996, but it has yet to enter into force because eight states have been unable to ratify it. Each of these states has had reservations over the CTBT and the global non-proliferation regime, where the treaty has either been viewed as discriminatory or untenable given the security environment that countries find themselves in.

In addition, the presence of palpable trust deficits, where preserving national security trumps banning nuclear testing, hints at the manifold challenges to the treaty’s entry into force. Both nuclear weapon states and non-signatories to the NPT in South Asia, for example, view CTBT from a security prism. Pakistan considers its CTBT ratification conditional on India following suit. Similarly, impediments have also been rife in the Middle East throughout the treaty’s history, where states such as Israel and Egypt have cited security concerns linked with one another and a lack of reciprocity as major roadblocks. This security reasoning, as well as the domino effect of nuclear testing, highlights how even after 20 years, the CTBT’s prospects continue to face significant challenges.

These challenges were discussed at a Ministerial Meeting last week at the United Nations Office in Vienna. This included the 46th session of the Preparatory Commission, which acts as a platform for policymakers and leaders from across the world to deliberate and reinvigorate discussions on the impediments toward a worldwide ban on nuclear explosions. Moreover, under the guidance of Executive Secretary of the CTBTO Dr. Lassina Zerbo, the CTBTO Youth Initiative, for the very first time, contributed to the ensuing discussions. Young professionals from across the world developed and presented research on a new generation’s understanding of the implications of nuclear testing. With greater regional connectivity and globalization characterizing the global landscape since 1996, the role of the civil society in raising awareness of the implications of nuclear testing is equally critical. Hans Blix, the former Swedish foreign minister and former director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, graced the audience with his views on civil society advocacy at the ministerial meeting.

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Given that security concerns and the need to maintain credible deterrence by member states continue to act as a roadblock toward ratification, solutions centering on understanding the humanitarian aspects of nuclear testing are required. Such solutions were proposed by the CTBTO Youth Initiative, where the initiation of five-party talks between India, China, the United States, Pakistan, and Russia on narratives regarding nuclear testing, including the humanitarian dimensions involved, were recommended. Stanford University’s Ken Martinez, one of the main organizers of the initiative, aptly summed up the efforts of the Youth Initiative as follows: “The youth can talk about things that are politically toxic to those entrenched in old mindsets. These young people have come together as a collective body in a way their leaders have not been able to.”

The efforts of the Youth Initiative in shaking up the treaty notwithstanding, the universal entry into force of the CTBT is still far from reality. However, given that regional and global dynamics have changed since 1996, deliberations and discussions are required for moving forward on the treaty’s eventual enforcement. For future generations at least, banning nuclear testing is the ideal scenario in times when relationships between states are defined by economic cooperation and smart power.

Hamzah Rifaat is a research associate at the Global Think Tank Network at the National University of Sciences and Technology and a 2016 Visiting Fellow at the Stimson Center.

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