CTBT in the limelight at the Carnegie International Nonproliferation Conference

“The Nonproliferation Regime - Build or Break” was the motto of this year’s Carnegie Conference on Nonproliferation from 6 to 7 April 2009 in Washington D.C., United States. The Carnegie conferences have been described as the “Mecca” for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation experts. Around 800 of the world’s most knowledgeable specialists travelled from every corner of the globe to this recent conference. While the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) was the subject of a well-attended panel discussion entitled “The Future of the CTBT”, the Treaty played a role in many of the other conference sessions, in particular  “International Expectations of the Obama Administration” and “It is five minutes to midnight”. Many participants considered the Treaty and progress towards its entry into force as  important elements in fortifying the weakening nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime, especially with regard to the 2010 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

The plenary meeting of the Carnegie conference.

“To achieve a global ban on nuclear testing, my Administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. After more than five decades of talks, it is time for the testing of nuclear weapons to finally be banned.”

Vice-President Biden to lead efforts aimed at U.S. ratification

The conference was marked by United States President Barack Obama’s groundbreaking speech on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation in Prague  on the eve of the conference. At the conference, the powerful signal of support for the CTBT was translated into concrete action. In his address to conference participants, Deputy Secretary of State, James B. Steinberg, announced that Vice-President Joseph Biden  had been designated to spearhead the efforts for achieving ratification of the Treaty by the United States Senate. President Obama’s Prague speech was in line with a joint statement of support issued by President Obama together with Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev a few days earlier at the G20 Summit in London, United Kingdom. The statement included strong advocacy for the CTBT: “As a key measure of nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, we underscored the importance of the entering into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.” The Obama-Medvedev joint statement was welcomed by many international leaders, including United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, IAEA Director-General, Mohamed ElBaradei, and Germany’s Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

U.S. Vice-President Joseph Biden is to spearhead efforts aimed at the CTBT's ratification by the U.S. Senate.

Special panel on the future of the CTBT

Panelists at the special session on “The Future of the CTBT” included the Executive Secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), Tibor Tóth, Dr. Sidney Drell of Stanford University and Ambassador James Goodby of the Hoover Institution. The well-attended panel was chaired by Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association. Drell outlined the progress in the U.S. Stockpile Stewardship Program over the past decade, which has led to an increased level of confidence in the safety, security and reliability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal in the absence of nuclear testing. He cited the successful conclusion of the so-called Life-Extension Programs for classes of U.S. warheads, technological advances in computer modelling that greatly reduce uncertainties, and recent findings that the warhead’s plutonium cores last much longer than previously known.

From left to right: Daryl Kimball, Dr. Sidney Drell, Ambassador Tibor Tóth, Ambassador James Goodby

“The need for testing, I believe, has been put to sleep.”

Referring to the conference’s motto “build or break”, Tóth explained how much progress has been accomplished in the build-up of the CTBT’s verification regime, which was put to a real-life test in 2006 when the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) declared that it had conducted a nuclear test. The system, which is  now around 75 percent complete (see interactive map), has reached a level at which even small underground nuclear tests can be detected anywhere on the planet. The primary seismic network alone can detect any events of a magnitude of four, which in the case of the DPRK test was equivalent to around 0.5 kilotons. Tóth also highlighted the role of the CTBT as a crucial element for strenghening the nuclear non-proliferation regime - as the last barrier on the way to nuclear weaponization. The CTBT is therefore relevant for assuring countries’ security also with regard to the growing threat of nuclear terrorism. Goodby outlined the role of the CTBT as an essential element of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, whose undermining could be reversed with the CTBT’s entry into force. He expressed optimism that the U.S. Senate would ratify the Treaty after a thorough and comprehensive  briefing, especially on technical matters.

CTBTO Executive Secretary Tibor Tóth: "No test of military significance can go undetected."

“It’s going to take a while to talk it through with each Senator, one by one, but in the end we will succeed.”

Kimball highlighted the “self-defeating” situation  in the United States: while it has assumed most of the CTBT’s responsibilities as a State Signatory and has observed a moratorium, the U.S. has also denied itself the security benefits of a global legal barrier against nuclear testing by other States. He also warned of accepting the Reliable Replacement Warhead Program in return for ratification by the Senate. According to Kimball, this would be perceived by many other countries as the development of a new nuclear warhead and as contravening the CTBT’s objective  of ending the qualitative arms race. In the lively discussion that followed, many participants affirmed that the prospects for U.S. ratification of the CTBT are now better than ever before. Many alluded to recent expressions of support by the U.S. President.

Special Briefing on "Contributions of the United Nations System in Advancing the Entry-Into-Force of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty"

Shortly before the Carnegie Conference, on 3 April 2009, the Permanent Mission of Austria and the Global Security Institute held a special briefing on ways to promote the CTBT's entry into force in New York. Over 40 ambassadors, experts and journalists participated in the meeting. Speakers included (image) Special Representative for the CTBT Ambassador Jaap Ramaker, High Representative Sergio Duarte, Austrian Ambassador Alexander Marschik, CTBTO Executive Secretary Tibor Tóth and GSI President Jonathan Granoff.

Image courtesy of the Global Security Institute.