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Indonesia’s CTBT Step

Indonesia’s decision to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty should be seen as a small but welcome step.

On December 6, Indonesia’s House of Representatives ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Yet this has come during a period in which nuclear disarmament has generally taken a backseat in global politics, leaving many questioning the significance of Indonesia’s actions.

The optimism with which disarmament activists approached the issue of “Global Zero” a few years back appears to have faded, as has the enthusiasm with which the world embraced the New START signed between the United States and Russia. Except for a few piecemeal measures and the promise of a continued commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons made by global leaders at the NPT Review Conference and Nuclear Security Summits, little genuine progress has been made toward the Global Zero vision.

Indonesia’s actions on nuclear disarmament are seemingly swimming against the tide, and many argue that Indonesia’s inclusion in the treaty is by no means a defining moment for nuclear disarmament, especially as a number of states remain outside the CTBT’s purview.

Still, to view Indonesia’s ratification of the treaty as completely inconsequential would be short-sighted. Indonesia’s ratification of the test ban treaty intensifies a norm on nuclear test protocol, a norm which, except for the 1998 tests conducted by India and Pakistan, has been universally accepted since 1996.

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Suggesting that Indonesian action is peripheral to the issue assumes that only the big steps taken by the nuclear giants should be viewed as progress on disarmament. However, the history of disarmament initiatives shows that small steps that can maintain momentum are just as important.

Moreover, Indonesia’s ratification of the CTBT underlines the growing confidence in the treaty’s technical expertise in effectively monitoring the test ban. The CTBT provides states with two verification elements in the form of the International Monitoring System (IMS) and an On-Site Inspection (OSI) regime, and the North Korean nuclear tests of 2006 and 2009 were detected successfully by multiple IMS stations, making it safe to assume that IMS is a sensitive verification system.

Though OSI can only become operational once the treaty enters into force, all background modalities required for a successful OSI regime have already been fulfilled by the CTBTO.

The foreign minister of Indonesia, on the eve of his country’s ratification of the treaty, wrote in an op-ed that the “treaty represents the marriage of robust science to an inclusive and democratic international legal instrument.”

Indonesia’s actions have thus demonstrated that leadership in global affairs isn’t a preserve of the powerful. Instead, it comes from a collective commitment to global peace and security. Given that the CTBT may still sit in limbo for years to come, Indonesia’s decision to ratify the treaty conveys the message that leadership means standing up for a just cause, even in the face of uncertainty.

Yogesh Joshi is an M.Phil candidate at the Center for International Politics, Organisation and Disarmament, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.