» Subsections: CTBT Timeline
On September 24, 1996, the bells at the Washington National Cathedral and churches throughout the world tolled in celebration as delegates from five world powers signed a treaty completely banning the testing of nuclear weapons. Using the pen John F. Kennedy used to sign the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963, President Bill Clinton affixed his name to the Treaty at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Representatives of China, France, Russia, and Great Britain added their signatures to the agreement.
The treaty prohibits the testing of nuclear weapons anywhere on the planet. The Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963 already prohibits nuclear testing underwater, in the air, and in outer space, but leaves underground testing as legal, a fault which was exploited by India and Pakistan in their 1998 underground tests. The CTBT is designed to fill in the gaps and close the loopholes of the various nuclear test ban treaties to date. The language of the treaty does not specify any of the environments associated with the Limited Test Ban Treaty, the Outer Space Treaty, and the Seabed Arms Control Treaty, but includes a universal ban on nuclear testing.
The treaty also prohibits "peaceful nuclear explosions" (PNE), which China initially pursued. "All other nuclear explosions" are included under the treaty.
The CTBT includes a long an extensive verification system which is much more extensive than IAEA protocols set under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The CTBT calls for the creation of a Comprehsive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) to succeed the IAEA as the world's nuclear watchdog. The CTBTO would be responsible for installing and maintaining an International Monitoring System (IMS) to verify compliance with the treaty. The IMS verification regime will report data to an International Data Centre (IDC) based in Vienna, Austria supervised by the CTBTO Technical Secretariat. It will take advantage of modern-day technology to the detect any nuclear tests.
The IMS will consist of:
The IMS will monitor the Earth for evidence of nuclear explosions in all environments and report violations to the CTBTO for punitive action. Unlike the IAEA's practice of negotiating individual inspection schedules with individual nations, the CTBTO has the authority to access any nations' declared nuclear site. With a vote of 30 out of 51 elected technical secretaries, the CTBTO is obligated to send an inspection team to the site in question within 6 days.
To view the full text of the treaty, click here.
Since the 1950's, arms control advocates have campaigned for the implementation of a treaty banning all nuclear explosions. Over 50 nuclear explosions had occured after the first explosives test conducted at Alamogordo, New Mexico, USA and before 1953. In 1954, Prime Minister Nehru of India proposed the elimination of all nuclear test explosions worldwide, reflecting a growing international concern about the nuclear threat. Unfortunately, arms race of the cold war did not provide a healthy environment for trust and verification of any nuclear test ban.
A significant obstacle occured when India requested a provision demanding the elimination of all nuclear arms within a specific timeframe. The nuclear states refused to include such a provision, and subsequently India refused to support the treaty and blocked the treaty for consideration by the United Nations General Assembly.
On August 22, 1996, the Australian delegation circumvented India's blockade by individually submitting a draft of the CTBT to the General Assembly. On September 10, 1996, the General Assembly adopted the CTBT by a vote of 158 to 3 with 6 abstentions.
It was opened for signature later that month. On September 10, 1996, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). As of 2006, 176 nations have signed the CTBT and 129 nations have ratified it. The unwillingness of the United States, India, Pakistan, and China (all nuclear powers) to ratify the treaty poses a serious roadblock at present to its effectiveness.
Article XIV of the treaty
On an operational basis, the Permanent 5 (P5) nuclear powers--China, France, Great Britain, Russia, and the United States--of the United Nations Security Council have all instituted voluntary moratoriums on nuclear testing. France and China were criticized when they conducted nuclear tests in 1996 shortly before the signing of the treaty, but since then have honored the ban.
France and the United Kingdom have ratified the CTBT, but the others retain the capability to reassume nuclear testing if attacked or needed for national defense.
The CTBT in the United States
Although President Bill Clinton ardently supported the CTBT, the US Senate voted to block it in October 1999 by a vote of 51-48. The vote demonstrated a strong partisan split - all 51 senators opposed were Republican.
I am very disappointed that the United States Senate voted not to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. This agreement is critical to protecting the American people from the dangers of nuclear war. It is, therefore, well worth fighting for. And I assure you, the fight is far from over.
Bill Clinton, President of the United States, 13 Oct 1999
Republicans in the U.S. Congress argued that the CTBT would fail to properly monitor other nations. Despite support of Nobel laureates and others, they prevailed in the vote.
"I think the idealogues that are in power right now are basically against treaties period...there's a big sales job that would need to be done...I think it's still a very good treaty..." - listen
Reverend Robert Moore, Executive Director, Coalition for Peace Action