Nuclear weapons can be eliminated: Chapter 8, Part 3

Chapter 8: Now in the United States
Part 3: The CTBT

by Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writer

U.S. return to the CTBT may lead to a breakthrough

In late September, the international community welcomed the return of the United States to the Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which took place at UN Headquarters in New York. It was the first appearance by the U.S. at the conference in ten years, since its attendance at the conference in 1999.

"The efforts made by the U.S. definitely affect the attitude of the other eight countries," said Tibor Toth, executive secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), located in Vienna. Besides the United States, the ratification of the eight countries is a precondition for the CTBT to enter into force. Of the eight countries, China, Indonesia, Iran, Israel and Egpyt have signed but not ratified the CTBT, while India, Pakistan and North Korea have not yet signed it.

"The treaty has endured politically difficulties during the last decade," Mr. Toth remarked. His comment evokes the impediments that have deterred the CTBT. Though 180 nations have signed the pact, its entry into force appears unlikely in the near future.

The symbol of these impediments is the United States. Under the Clinton administration, the U.S. signed the treaty in 1996. But on October 13, 1999, exactly ten years ago, a Republican-controlled Senate voted against it. The U.S. thus failed to ratify the treaty.

The newly-elected Bush administration conducted a subcritical nuclear test and boycotted the Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the CTBT. The payment of U.S. contributions to the Preparatory Commission was delayed. Under the Bush administration, the CTBT became relegated to a back burner.

Ironically, the United States, which has developed a variety of nuclear arms, also has technology and experience important for international monitoring systems. This is why Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, aware of the international community's keen anticipation, said at the Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the CTBT: "We are glad to be back." Continuing with pride, she added, "After a ten year absence from this conference, America stands ready to renew its leadership role in the non-proliferation regime."

Signs of these changes came quickly after the inauguration of Barack Obama. "Under the Bush administration, we were prohibited from contacting individuals involved in the CTBT and attending some CTBT-related meetings," one official source admitted.

Sukeyuki Ichimasa, a research fellow at the Center for the Promotion of Disarmament and Non-Proliferation of the Japan Institute of International Affairs, said U.S. nuclear experts returned to the "On-Site Inspection" (OSI) Working Group last February, one month after Mr. Obama's inauguration.

The Preparatory Commission is extending a monitoring system around the world with the ability to detect seismic waves and nuclear materials in the atmosphere. The OSI is already in a training phase.

President Obama pledged to make every effort to ratify the CTBT in his speech in Prague last April. Whether Mr. Obama will be able to win the support of two-thirds of the Senate, the margin needed for ratifying the CTBT, and make up for the nation's "lost decade," is now a focus of the international community.

(Originally published on October 16, 2009)

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