“Strengthening the CTBT”: high-level speakers reaffirm Treaty’s key role

High-level figures from across the field of nuclear arms control have reaffirmed the key role of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in the global disarmament and non-proliferation architecture.

CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo, leading diplomats, prominent non-proliferation experts and representatives of the CTBTO Youth Group (CYG) and CTBTO Group of Eminent Persons (GEM) joined a virtual event organized by the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-proliferation (VCDNP) on 28 January. The event, entitled “Strengthening the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and its Verification Regime,” was held in cooperation with the CTBTO as well as Algeria and Germany, co-chairs of the CTBT Article XIV Process that promotes the Treaty’s entry into force.

Kicking off the high-level opening session, Zerbo warned against forgetting or underestimating the great danger of a resumption of nuclear testing, and reiterated the importance of a legally-binding ban on such tests. Ahead of the 10th Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, now tentatively rescheduled for August 2021, he called on NPT states parties to ensure that the conference “reconfirms and builds upon all previously adopted commitments, which will play a key role for global peace and security, including all those that support and promote the CTBT”.

“The CTBT and its achievements should not be taken for granted,” he said.  “We have to finish the unfinished business for the CTBT entry into force”.
The push for the entry into force of the CTBT … provides both an opportunity to lower the prospects of a new nuclear arms race and an opening to build deeper internal trust via scientific cooperation and verifiable data sharing. For citizens and communities, the CTBT represents a first concrete step towards nuclear disarmament.

Representatives of the Article XIV co-chairs stressed that the Treaty’s entry into force remains a key priority. A statement delivered on behalf of Algerian Ambassador Faouzia Mebarki stressed the importance of the CTBT for the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation framework. Ambassador Gerhard Küntzle of Germany’s Mission to International Organizations in Vienna highlighted the Treaty’s sophisticated global verification regime, noting that even for the DPRK’s first nuclear test in 2006 – when the International Monitoring System (IMS) was only about halfway established – the verification system proved its reliability. Küntzle said it is evident that no nuclear test can go undetected: “There is no escape from Dr Zerbo and his analysts.”

The opening session, moderated by the VCDNP’s Executive Director Elena Sokova, was followed by two lively panel discussions. The first, entitled “The CTBT: Cold War Relic or the Future of Disarmament and Non-Proliferation?” assessed the contribution and value of the CTBT to the nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime. Ambassador Gustavo Zlauvinen, President-Designate of the 10th NPT Review Conference, reaffirmed that the CTBT and NPT are interconnected and reiterated the cross-regional backing of NPT states parties for the CTBT, adding that he expected to see strong support for the CTBT in the final outcome of the next NPT Review Conference.

Thomas Countryman, former US Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation and Chair of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors, said that although CTBT ratification by the United States was unlikely to be a near-term priority for President Joe Biden, the Administration may reaffirm the importance of the nuclear testing moratorium. A feasible undertaking would include educating U.S. senators on the contribution of the CTBT and the reliability of the verification regime, Countryman added.

“Unprecedented global verification mechanism”

Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov of the Russian Federation stressed that the CTBT has become an integral element of the international security architecture and heralded the significant progress of the Treaty’s “unprecedented global verification mechanism”.

Angela Kane, CTBTO GEM member and VCDNP Senior Fellow, provided an overview of the GEM’s work to promote the CTBT, as well as the specific contribution of the CTBTO’s activities in helping to implement some of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Two representatives from the CTBTO Youth Group (CYG), which recently welcomed its 1000th member, stressed the potential of the dynamic youth movement to contribute to the nuclear non-proliferation regime. Yeseul Woo from the Republic of Korea and Sylvia Mishra from India highlighted the symbiotic relationship between the CYG and the CTBTO, and the opportunities that this brings for inter-generational dialogue and collaboration.

One of the first steps in making progress towards time-bound and verifiable disarmament is making sure of the CTBT’s early entry into force.

The second panel assessed the challenges and opportunities of establishing the verification regime. Mohammad Hassan Daryaei, Special Assistant to the CTBTO Executive Secretary, gave a broad overview of the political, legal, technical and financial opportunities and challenges of the verification regime, stressing that if we are serious about disarmament and non-proliferation, we must take the CTBT seriously. Representatives from the National Data Centres of Algeria and Germany – Dr Anissa Hammadi and Dr Lars Ceranna – provided national perspectives and spoke about CTBTO training and capacity-building activities.

Ambassador Gloria Navarette Pinto of Chile emphasized the value of civil and scientific applications of the data collected by the IMS, citing specific examples from data collected in Chile’s monitoring stations. Ambassador Stephan Klement of the European Union reiterated that the CTBT’s entry into force remains a priority for the EU, and noted that the sophisticated verification regime underpins the norm against nuclear testing. He provided an overview of the various CTBTO activities – including capacity-building and strengthening the CTBT’s verification and monitoring regime – that have benefited from the EU’s voluntary financial support of over €29 million.
We must not lose the sense of urgency in bringing the Treaty into force.

Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association, reflected on prospects for the CTBT, including the reaffirmation of the nuclear testing moratorium and the consolidation of the nuclear testing taboo. To foster further trust in the non-proliferation regime, Kimball also proposed possible confidence-building measures that states could voluntarily engage in, including increased voluntary test-site transparency activities. Kimball also called on NPT states parties to reaffirm the importance of the CTBT at the 10th NPT Review Conference.

To watch the event, click here.

CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo

First discussion panel on: The CTBT: Cold War Relic or the Future of Disarmament and Non-Proliferation?

Second discussion panel on: Challenges and Opportunities of the Establishment of the Verification Regime and its Relation to the Entry into Force

Dr Lars Ceranna, Head of the German National Data Centre

Angela Kane, CTBTO GEM member and VCDNP Senior Fellow