Ten years since India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests

International outrage over nuclear testing in India and Pakistan

Seismic waveforms and regional map, Indian Nuclear Test, 11 May 1998

Ten years ago, in May 1998, India and Pakistan carried out a total of five nuclear tests, thus breaking the de-facto moratorium that had been in place since the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) opened for signature in September 1996.

On 11 May 1998, the Indian Government carried out its first underground nuclear test since 1974 at its testing site at Pokhran, close to the border with Pakistan.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee promptly congratulated the scientists and engineers responsible for conducting the "successful tests", which were carried out without any warning to the international community and caused universal condemnation, including criticism by the UN Security Council. India carried out two more tests on 13 May 1998 and then announced that it had finished its testing programme. Pakistan retaliated by conducting two of its own nuclear tests on 28 May 1998 at the Ras Koh Range, leading to serious concerns of an arms race in the region.

Seismic waveforms and regional map, Pakistani Nuclear Test, 28 May 1998

When these events took place, 150 States had already signed the CTBT, demonstrating their commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. Six of the 44 Annex 2 States, whose ratification is necessary for the Treaty's entry into force, had also ratified by May 1998, including France and the United Kingdom, which are both nuclear weapon States. The Treaty prohibits all nuclear weapon test explosions and all other nuclear explosions (including peaceful nuclear explosions) on Earth. It constrains the development of new nuclear weapons, the qualitative improvement of existing weapons, and the development of advanced new types of weapons.

Although India was the first nation in the world to call for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and initially participated in negotiations for the Treaty at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, it expressed discontent with the final draft of the Treaty and announced its intention not to sign. Pakistan initially voted in favour of the Treaty in 1996 after it was brought before the United Nations to bypass the Indian veto. However, Pakistan subsequently declined to accede to the CTBT unless India did the same.

Importance of CTBT's global verification regime

Data analysis resulted in the identification of a potential inspection area of less than 1000 square kilometres as illustrated by the red ellipse.
Seismograms for the declared nuclear test and from an earlier earthquake, recorded at primary seismic station PS31 at Wonju, Republic of Korea.

A global verification regime, which is being established to monitor compliance with the CTBT, is now nearing completion. This regime consists of an International Monitoring System (IMS) with 337 monitoring facilities which use seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound, and radionuclide technologies to monitor the underground, the oceans and the atmosphere for any sign of a nuclear explosion. These facilities are located in 89 countries around the world. When an event occurs, such as a nuclear test or an earthquake, the IMS records its location, the time it occurred and its magnitude. This information is sent to the International Data Centre (IDC) in Vienna, which is based at the headquarters of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) in Vienna, via a global satellite communications network. The IDC provides relevant data electronically to the Member States. Once the Treaty enters into force, on-site inspections will take place where concerns about compliance arise.

The IDC was still installing its first release of applications software when the Indian Government informed the media that it had conducted a series of nuclear tests in May 1998. When the Government of Pakistan made a similar announcement just two weeks later, the IDC was already receiving data from a number of its primary seismic stations. The automatic processing of these data provided reasonable first estimates of the location of the events, which were passed on to Member States. Given the limited development of the network of monitoring stations at that time, the monitoring and analysis of events in Pakistan was impressive.

DPRK's declared nuclear test validates Treaty's verification capabilities

Hypothesized dispersion of radioactive noble gas Xenon 133 shown one (a), two (b) and (c) 10 days after the declared nuclear test.

Since 1998, the CTBTO's global monitoring system has expanded considerably. When the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) announced that it had conducted a nuclear test in October 2006, the event was well recorded around the world by the IMS. Over 20 IMS seismic stations detected signals originating from the test and within two hours, Member States received an automatic analysis of the data, providing them with preliminary information on the time, location and magnitude of the event. Although only two thirds of the 337 IMS facilities were operational at the time, the system was also able to measure valuable radioactive noble gases, which are the "smoking gun" of a nuclear explosion. As well as successfully detecting and analyzing the explosion, the monitoring system proved that its verification capabilities were significantly better than had been envisaged by the negotiators of the Treaty in 1996.

Global verification regime nears completion

Radionuclide Laboratory at Kirov, Russian Federation, which was certified on 16 May 2008.

17 new monitoring facilities have been installed and 52 have been certified since the DPRK's declared test and are now contributing data to the IDC operations. The total number of installed IMS facilities currently stands at 254, of which 230 have been certified. The number of noble gas systems has increased by 70 percent and the network of hydroacoustic stations is now virtually complete. Stations installed in the United States, France and the United Kingdom are also nearing completion.

A facility agreement with the Russian Federation entered into force in 2006, which grants the CTBTO the legal and administrative authority to work on a State's territory to establish, upgrade or provisionally operate and maintain monitoring stations. Seven facilities have been certified in the Russian Federation since then. It is further planned that almost 90% of the monitoring facilities provided by the Treaty will be installed by 2009. The establishment of this global network has involved considerable investment so the CTBTO ensures its sustainability through cost-effective and reliable long-term operations.

Since 2006 the volume of data transmitted to the IDC by monitoring facilities has tripled and the daily content of data products provided to Member States has doubled. Nearly 900 authorized institutions in over 90 countries now receive raw data and data analyses from the IDC. Software improvements have led to the delivery of more detailed and significantly higher quality data products.

The Treaty's on-site inspection capabilities are progressing towards operational readiness. The first large scale integrated field exercise for on-site inspections will take place at the former Soviet nuclear test site, Semipalatinsk, in Kazakhstan, in September 2008. This will be an important milestone in the CTBTO's history and one of the most ambitious on-site verification undertakings ever. 40 inspectors will participate and 40 tonnes of equipment will be shipped from Vienna to Semipalatinsk.

CTBT approaches universality

As well as a substantial increase in its verification capability in the decade since India and Pakistan carried out their nuclear tests, an increasing number of countries have also acknowledged the importance of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament by signing and ratifying the CTBT. 178 States have now signed the Treaty and 144 have ratified it, including 35 of the 44 Annex 2 States. All European countries and NATO members, with the exception of the United States, have ratified the Treaty. The vast majority of States in Latin America, Africa, and Asia and the Pacific have also ratified. Although India and Pakistan announced unilateral moratoriums on nuclear testing after the tests of May 1998 and have adhered to this declaration, both countries have yet to sign and ratify the Treaty.

International pressure increases on remaining States to ratify CTBT

Discussions on the CTBT have intensified over recent months. In a Wall Street Journal article published on 15 January 2008, US senior statesmen George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn renewed their call for a nuclear-free world by supporting, among other measures, the adoption of a process for bringing the CTBT into effect, "which would strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and aid international monitoring of nuclear activities." At the meeting of the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) that took place in Geneva from April 28 - May 9 2008, the EU called upon those States that have not yet done so to "sign and ratify the Treaty without delay and without conditions." On 12 May 2008, the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stephen Smith, announced that the Treaty's "entry into force is an immediate disarmament and non-proliferation priority" and urged ratification by the remaining Annex 2 States.

In the words of Tibor Tóth, CTBTO Executive Secretary: "It is clear that a CTBT in force is a logical and necessary element of the security architecture if today's and future non-proliferation challenges are to be addressed credibly."