The Signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

Arms Control Today, September 1996 | Go to article overview

The Signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty


On September 24, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was formally opened for signature at the United Nations in New York. In the following days, 94 countries signed the treaty including the five nuclear-weapon states (the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain) and Israel, one of the three so-called "threshold" states. Although prospects for the CTBT's formal entry into force remain uncertain because of India's refusal to sign, the signing of the treaty may nevertheless effectively preclude any future nuclear tests.

On September 20, the Arms Control Association (ACA) held a press briefing on the status of the CTBT, its impact on weapons programs, the treaty's verification regime and pros

pects for U.S. ratification and entry into force. The panelists included Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr., ACA president and executive director; Joseph Cirincione, chairman of the Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers and senior associate at the Henry L. Stimson Center; Richard L. Garwin, IBM Fellow Emeritus at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center and a consultant to the U.S. government on nuclear weapons, defense technology and arms control issues; Gregory E. van der Vink, director of planning at the IRIS Consortium, a university seismic research group; and John Isaacs, president and executive director of the Council for a Livable World. The following are excerpts from the press briefing.

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.: Last week, the UN General Assembly by a truly overwhelming vote of 158 to 3, endorsed the text of a comprehensive test ban treaty that had been prepared by the Conference on Disarmament [CD], and called for its opening for signature. The only votes against the draft were India, Libya and Bhutan. I think this illustrates the extent of the international support for this treaty.

Next week, on Tuesday morning, September 24, the treaty will be opened for signature at a ceremony in New York. Over the following days, it's expected that over a hundred countries will probably formally sign the treaty This ceremony, which caps over four decades of efforts to establish a comprehensive test ban, will, in effect, probably constitute the end of all nuclear weapon test explosions and all nuclear explosions more broadly defined. So even though this step does not constitute the final entry into force of the treaty, it will establish a norm that will most likely preclude any further testing.

As someone who participated in the three previous major efforts to achieve a comprehensive test ban under Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Carter, all of which were unsuccessful, I think I am well positioned to say this is an excellent treaty that deserves the overwhelming support it is receiving. This is particularly true when you consider that the treaty was negotiated in the Conference on Disarmament, which consisted of 38 countries at the beginning of the negotiations and 61 states at the time the talks ended. Many of these countries came to the negotiation with radically different positions on key issues. So it was a remarkably successful negotiation.

Frankly, as recently as last May I was very dubious about the ability of the CD to complete the treaty in time for its consideration at the 50th session of the UN General Assembly. At that time, there were still 1,200 brackets containing disputed language in the socalled rolling text. To move from that position to a final text that had the overwhelming support of CD members was a remarkable achievement, and it indicated considerable flexibility on the part of all the participating countries because they all moved from original positions. This was particularly significant in the case of the nuclear-weapon states where there was considerable opposition to a true zero-yield test ban.

There was a moment of great concern when India, which was one of the countries that opposed the text of the treaty, took procedural actions that barred the transmittal of the text directly from the CD to the General Assembly. …

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