Report on the Eleventh Conference on the Entry Into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty

Danielle Samler, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy
2 October 2019

The Eleventh conference on the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) took place on 25 September 2019 at the United Nations headquarters in New York. A recurring theme was the importance of reinforcing the nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation, and international security architecture given the “severe strain” it is under, as Austria stated. The existence and modernisation of nuclear weapons and the continued refusal of the Annex II states to sign and ratify the CTBT have moved the international community further away from nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Eight states listed in Annex II of the Treaty have yet to join the Treaty: China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, and the United States (US). Their ratifications are necessary for the Treaty to enter into force. Delegates from the European Union, Ireland, Bulgaria, Belarus, Chile, Liechtenstein, Argentina, Mexico, Morocco, Malaysia, Austria, Georgia, and Spain expressed concern with this situation and urged them to join.

Egypt expressed its support for the Non-Proliferation Treaty and urged states to take into account that all Annex II states are not equal and therefore should not all be treated the same way. Egypt stated that Annex II states must be differentiated between those that have made good efforts towards signing and ratifying the NPT and those that have not. 

Ratifying states of the CTBT expressed the importance and timeliness of this conference as tensions between states are at an all time high. They indicated urgency and renewed commitment to amplify the importance of this Treaty entering into force. All of the 48 states that spoke regretted that despite the Treaty having opened for signature in 1996, it still has not yet entered into force. All speakers also applauded the recent ratifications of the CTBT by Zimbabwe and Thailand, and commended Tuvalu for becoming a signatory. This brings the number of signatory states to 184 and the number of ratifying states to 168. All delegates commended the CTBT International Monitoring System (IMS) for its effectiveness as a mechanism for the detection of nuclear tests as well as its ability to predict the occurrence of natural disasters such as tsunamis and earthquakes. The IMS is a part of the verification regime meant to ensure states’ compliance with the CTBT. It uses four verification methods: seismic hydroacoustic stations, infrasound stations, radionuclide stations, and radionuclide laboratories. There are 321 stations around the world that are able to record and report timely and necessary data to ensure immediate international response to nuclear tests. 

Conference participants expressed concerns about the DPRK’s nuclear weapons. All states called upon the DPRK to commit itself to the CTBT and to irreversibly and verifiably dismantle its nuclear test sites. Japan expressed its hope that discussions between the US and the DPRK will bring to fruition the denuclearisation of the DPRK. Russia called out the US for its unwillingness to ratify the Treaty and highlighted that instead of reviewing its own negative decisions, the US is attempting to say that the responsibility lies with other states. Russia, Kyrgyz Republic, and South Africa said that until the US is willing to sign the Treaty it has no moral grounds to discuss countries who have already ratified the Treaty.

Slovenia and Ireland were the only states to mention the gender dimensions of this issue. Slovenia pointed out that there is unequal representation of women in the field of disarmament and stressed the importance of building gender equality, noting that women and girls can be a driving force in the entry into force of the CTBT. Ireland highlighted the particularly adverse impacts that nuclear weapons can have on women.

There was wide applause for the implementation of national testing moratoria as an avenue of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. But while these moratoria were commended, the UN Secretary-General, Russia, Italy, Kazakhstan, Finland, Norway, and Austria emphasised that voluntary moratoria cannot be a substitute for the CTBT’s entry into force.  

Peru, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Chile, Ecuador, and South Africa, among others referenced the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). These states reinforced the TPNW’s importance and pointed to the fact that it, and the CTBT, are complementary and must be implemented simultaneously to achieve the ultimate goal of a world free from nuclear weapons. Peru noted that “of all existing weapons, nuclear weapons are the most destructive, inhumane, and indiscriminate.”