Op-Ed: Why prohibiting nuclear testing matters, and what we can do about it
16 September 2017
The nuclear test conducted by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) on 3 September 2017 sent shockwaves not only through the inner layers of the earth, but also throughout the international community – particularly as initial estimates of the magnitude of the blast were released.
The treaty prohibiting nuclear testing was signed 20 years ago, but is still not in force. While North Korea continues to develop its nuclear capacity by testing, it seems more urgent than ever to ratify it. The international community would do well to strengthen international law. Belgium, Iraq and the CTBTO will do their part.
By Didier Reynders, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belgium, Ibrahim Al-Jafari, Foreign Minister of Iraq and Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).
The Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) bans nuclear testing on the Earth's surface, in the atmosphere, underwater, and underground. It was adopted by the United Nations in 1996, has been signed by 183 countries, and ratified by 166. Yet after more than twenty years, the future of the test ban remains in jeopardy. This is because there are eight States must still ratify the Treaty before it becomes legally binding international law. These are China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, the United States, and the DPRK.
On 20 September, CTBT States Signatories will convene in New York to attend a conference (the so-called Article XIV Conference, the tenth of its kind) under the co-presidency of Belgium and Iraq. Its objective is to provide impetus to facilitating the Treaty’s long overdue entry into force.
In the face of the current political deadlock, the track record of the CTBT is clear: since the Treaty opened for signature only three countries have conducted nuclear test explosions, and only the DPRK has detonated a nuclear device this century. As a legal instrument, even before entering into force, the CTBT has reinforced an international norm against nuclear testing to the extent that any violation is now met with universal condemnation.
On the technical side, at about 90% complete, the Treaty’s verification regime is already so advanced that its detection capability is greater than negotiators had even thought possible. When nuclear tests take place, even in the most remote areas of the world, the CTBT is capable to disseminate timely, accurate, and trusted data to its Member States on the nature of the event.
The CTBT’s verification regime is an indispensable tool at the disposal of the international community. It is also a platform for international technical cooperation to address one of the most severe global security threats.
Although there are no easy solutions, meaningful steps can be taken to get us moving in the right direction. One of the most practical and effective ways is to bring the Treaty into force.
This is no small thing. By addressing the unfinished business of the CTBT, the international community would demonstrate beyond a doubt that effective, multilaterally verifiable nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament measures are indeed possible. As a confidence building measure it could unite countries in unwrapping other difficult security issues, including the crisis on the Korean peninsula. The CTBT is a critical step forward in this joint endeavour, and one which all of us should all consider to be within reach. We are ready to do our part.