NPT PrepCom: CTBTO head urges DPRK to refrain from nuclear testing and affirms that no nuclear test will go undetected

UN noon briefing on 28 April 2014 with Zerbo (left) and Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General. Image: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine.

At a press briefing at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on 28 April, Lassina Zerbo, head of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), described how the CTBTO’s global monitoring system is ready to detect any nuclear test that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) might be planning.

Should the DPRK deliver on its threat to conduct another nuclear test, I am fully confident that our system will detect any type of event successfully. BUT, I wish to use this opportunity to call on the North Korean government to refrain from any future testing, and in the context of resume negotiations impose a test moratorium pending signature of the CTBT.CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo
Atmospheric Transport Modelling was used to backtrack radioactivity from the station at Takasaki, Japan, to the DPRK nuclear test site. Click for video.

Zerbo reminded the media that after the DPRK’s announced nuclear test in February 2013, the CTBTO had already informed Member States of its detection before the country had actually announced that it had conducted the test. He also pointed out that the CTBTO was the only organization worldwide to detect radioactivity some 50 days later that could be attributed to the event.

But while States continue to ‘say yes’ to the Treaty and a world without nuclear tests, expressing this sentiment is not enough. More States need to not just say “no” to nuclear tests, but “never”. Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo

As the build-up of the CTBTO’s International Monitoring System (IMS) nears 90% (interactive map), Zerbo informed the media that during his recent visit to Ecuador, he managed to reach an agreement to build two IMS stations in the Galapagos Islands after no progress for the last five years. This agreement and China’s decision to allow the data flow from the IMS stations on its territory illustrate how the international community recognizes the urgency of completing this global network. 

Eloquent expressions of support for the CTBT and its entry into force within the NPT review process and other multilateral fora will not suffice to ensure a future for the Treaty and the CTBTO. It is time to put words into action, and action into results. Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo

The press briefing took place during the third Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, where the possibility of North Korea conducting a fourth nuclear test was the subject of much debate. A number of statements highlighted the importance of securing the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), described as a central component of the disarmament and non-proliferation regime. Even before its entry into force, the number of nuclear tests conducted since the Treaty opened for signature in 1996 has declined drastically: from over 2,000 to a mere seven. 

The new Executive Secretary of the CTBT recently established a ‘Group of Eminent Persons’ to help Member States facilitate the Treaty’s entry into force. Italy is strongly involved in this exercise. The Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms Federica Mogherini, as a member of this Group since its establishment, attended the last meeting in Stockholm on 10 to 11 April 2014.Opening statement by Italy to the NPT PrepCom

The NPT PrepCom is taking place from 28 April to 9 May. It aims to prepare for the next Review Conference by assessing the implementation of each article of the NPT and facilitating discussion among States with a view to making recommendations to the Review Conference.


The NPT was designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to further the goal of nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament, and to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.


Zerbo addressed the NPT PrepCom on 29 April, highlighting the "clear linkages between the CTBT and the NPT" and their mutually reinforcing nature - full statement (PDF).

The 2015 NPT Review Conference will be a pivotal moment for self reflection among States Parties, international organizations and civil society alike. We must utilize all opportunities that arise to further our goals, and resist the temptation to make compromises on our core objectives. Let’s not look back at this Conference in years to come, and ask why more was not done to proactively advance one of the longest sought prizes in nuclear arms control: a global, verifiable and non-discriminatory nuclear test ban.NPT PrepCom address by CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa (right) discussing with CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo

On the margins of the conference, Zerbo met with Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who also addressed the NPT PrepCom. Natalegawa was instrumental in securing CTBT ratification by Indonesia, which was formalized in February 2012. This was of particular significance since Indonesia is one of the Annex 2 States that must ratify before the CTBT can enter into force. The eight remaining Annex 2 States are:  China, the DPRK, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the United States.


Zerbo also held bilateral talks with U.S. Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, Rose Gottemoeller. In her statement to the NPT PrepCom, Goettemoeller said "The entry into force of the CTBT remains a top priority for the United States. We are working to educate the American public on the security benefits of the Treaty, as well as the dangerous health effects of explosive testing."


The Executive Secretary further met with Angela Kane, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs and with Kevid Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia and member of the Group of Eminent Persons (GEM).

On 30 March, Zerbo gave the keynote speech at a seminar on The CTBTO and its Verification System: Current Challenges and Future Directions at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Boston, USA.