2008 in retrospect: an eventful year for the CTBT

A jubilant start

With Colombia's ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) on 29 January 2008, the remaining number of the so-called Annex 2 States was reduced to single digits. This leaves only nine countries that have to sign and ratify for the Treaty to enter into force: China, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the United States of America. Throughout the year, the Treaty's international standing was amplified by a number of important signatures and ratifications, each one in itself a powerful political signal of support: Barbados, Malaysia, Burundi, Mozambique, Malawi and Lebanon all ratified, while Iraq and Timor-Leste both signed. By the end of 2008, the CTBT had reached the symbolic number of 180 signatures and is fast approaching 150 ratifications.

After Colombia's ratification, only nine countries remain for the CTBT to enter into force.

Spring: Two-thirds of all IMS facilities certified

Equally important for the cessation of nuclear testing is the next threshold that the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) had crossed by springtime. Two-thirds of all 337 monitoring facilities of the International Monitoring System (IMS) foreseen by the Treaty's negotiators had already been certified and were sending data to the International Data Centre (IDC) at CTBTO headquarters in Vienna. As the network of monitoring stations spanning the globe becomes more extensive, the chances of a nuclear test going unnoticed have decreased even further. By the end of the year, over 70% of the global alarm system had already been estabished.

By the end of 2008, 245 of all 337 planned monitoring facilities were certified.

The system's performance has been greatly enhanced by the progress made in all four monitoring technologies since the network was designed in the mid-nineties. By the middle of 2008, also the network's communications system, the Global Communications Infrastructure (GCI), had been modernized and transferred to a new provider, enabling it to process up to 26 gigabytes of data daily. Also the number of CTBT Member States users accessing this system, and the number of National Data Centres (NDCs) established to do so, have crossed the symbolic barriers of 1000 and 100 respectively, as Executive Secretary Tibor Tóth highlighted in his oral report ( PDF ) to the November session of the Preparatory Commission.

Radionuclide Station RN23, Rarotonga, Cook Islands, one of over 200 stations where the communications system was modernized.

Summer: Launch of the CTBTO's new website

Following months of intense work, summer saw the launch of the CTBTO's new website. Its new features range from greatly expanded written and visual content, powered by state-of-the-art technology, to a more comprehensive search engine and a number of engaging multimedia applications. These include the DPRK announced nuclear test, a CTBT movie, how the verification regime works and different interactive maps to display the Treaty's status, IMS build-up and former nuclear test sites. The website aspires to provide a comprehensive overview of the CTBT and its verification regime, the history of nuclear tests and the arms contol efforts undertaken to contain them, including the story of the CTBT’s long march to its final adoption.

One of the animations on the CTBTO's new website.

Fall: Flexing the on-site inspection verification muscle

Yet another milestone for the Treaty's verification regime was reached with the conclusion of the Integrated Field Exercise (IFE08) in September, the most elaborate on-site inspection exercise ever conducted by the CTBTO. 200 participants including 40 inspectors and 50 tonnes of equipment were transported to the remote former Soviet nuclear test site of Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan. The IFE08 tested all elements of an on-site inspection under conditions that were as realistic as possible. The exercise provided yet further proof of the CTBT's verifiability. It has demonstrated that the final element of the CTBT's verification regime, on-site inspections, will also serve as a strong and reliable deterrent to potential violators of the ban on nuclear explosions once the Treaty enters into force.

Preparing for a magnetic field measurement, one of many inspection techniques of an on-site inspection.

An auspicious end to the year

Perhaps most important of all, 2008 was a year of increasing political support for the Treaty. Around 40 Foreign Ministers gathered in New York on 24 September for the Fourth Joint Ministerial Meeting to issue a joint statement calling for the CTBT's entry into force. The statement was subsequently endorsed by a total of 91 countries, more than after any previous meeting. Shortly thereafter, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution on the CTBT with the same aim by 175 votes, with only one vote against and three abstentions. Bipartisan support for the Treaty seemed to increase in the United States through the Reykjavik Revisited initiative led by US senior statesmen George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn and supported by over 40 others. And finally, presidential elections in the United States resulted in a government that clearly supports ratification of the CTBT. Happy New Year!

President-elect Barack Obama supports ratification of the CTBT.