The CTBT must come into force as soon as humanly possible, Gareth Evans says in Vienna
“It’s sheer dumb luck that we haven’t had a nuclear catastrophe in the last 60 years,” said Gareth Evans, one of the two chairpersons of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND), when presenting the final report in Vienna on 5 March 2010. “We are riding on a wave of commitment towards solving a number of issues,” Professor Evans, a former Australian Foreign Minister and former president of the International Crisis Group told a gathering of Vienna diplomats. “The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) must come into force as soon as humanly possible.”
Nuclear status quo not an option
After a year of deliberation and consultations, the independent global panel of 15 commissioners, supported by a high-level international advisory board and a worldwide network of research centres, issued a unanimous 230-page report. The commission clearly articulated that the nuclear status quo is not an option, as nuclear weapons remain the only weapons invented that have the capacity to totally destroy life on Earth. “It defies credibility that, so long as any such weapons exist, they will not one day be used, by accident, miscalculation or design,” the report notes.
2010 to determine whether we move forward
The report addresses the whole range of issues relating to nuclear non-proliferation, disarmament and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, looking forward to the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference and beyond. “The year 2010 has really now emerged as a watershed year, a make-or-break year,” said Evans. “It will determine whether we move forward on these fronts or whether we go back to the sleep-walking mode in which the international community has been for at least the past decade.”
Successful NPT Review Conference will require a lot of effort
The NPT, which is a treaty designed to limit spread of nuclear weapons, will be reviewed by its member states in May 2010. Last year, a number of encouraging events generated very positive expectations towards the outcome of this Review Conference. “There is now less optimism that this will have a smooth passage,” said Evans. Questioning whether States possessing nuclear weapons will agree upon a common statement on disarmament, whether consensus will be achieved on safeguards related issues, and whether progress could be made on mitigating concerns in the Middle East, Evans noted that “there is a real concern that we might be ebbing away from the potential for consensus.”
“My short message is that consensus will require an awful lot of buy in, an awful lot of commitment, and leadership to ensure that we go forwards rather than backwards on the majority of these issues,” he said. On a more positive note, Evans concluded that “a consensus outcome is possible. There is still a strong will on behalf of very influential countries in the Non-Aligned Movement to make this Conference a success.”
Evans forecast: U.S. CTBT step not coming this year
“It is difficult to overstate the importance of the CTBT as a crucial building block for both non-proliferation and disarmament,” the ICNND report noted, and Professor Evans emphasized repeatedly the importance of the early entry into force of the Treaty. “Those countries which haven’t ratified should do so,” Evans said.
Before his election, U.S. President Obama promised to “reach out to the Senate to secure the ratification of the CTBT at the earliest practical date.” In his April 2009 Prague speech, Obama pledged that his administration “will immediately and aggressively” pursue U.S. ratification of the treaty. Evans said that while the U.S. government’s commitment was unquestionable, “the CTBT has become a prisoner of domestic U.S. politics.” Looking forward, “what was always going to be tough, but had a reasonable chance to be delivered this year, now looks out of reach. It is just not likely that the numbers will be there to come across and make up the 67 votes that are needed.”
U.S. CTBT Ratification “not the only game in town”
While on the one hand emphasizing the importance of the U.S. ratification, Evans suggested that many other countries could also take the lead. “[The U.S. ratification] will be a circuit breaker because so many countries have said they are waiting on the signal that the biggest and most powerful beast in the nuclear world is willing move beyond the voluntary moratorium,” he said. “It is hugely important if the U.S. does do it, but that should not be the only game in town,” he added. “One of things I was suggesting to Chinese colleagues just a few days ago was that, if the U.S. does not move forward on the CTBT, why not demonstrate some leadership and really give an impetus.”
Recalling that the CTBT has been ratified by 151 States and signed by 182, Evans said that the one thing that can definitely be done is not to underestimate but to accelerate the pace of ratification of those countries whose ratifications are not crucial to the Treaty’s entry into force. “If you can get up to 160 during the next months, this generates a sense of momentum,” he said.
START treaty passage crucial
The United States and Russia are reportedly in the final stage of negotiations to finalize an accord to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), an agreement that regulated strategic nuclear relations between the two nuclear superpowers from 1994 and expired in December 2009. “It is absolutely crucial that the START follow-on treaty comes to fruition, is ratified by the U.S. Senate, and is followed by a new round of serious negotiations,” Evans said. Nevertheless, he cautioned that in the new political environment, ratification in the U.S. has suddenly become an issue. “We cannot any longer be totally confident that START will have an easy passage. If it doesn’t, that would be very bad news indeed,” Evans said.
Nuclear Posture Review – an important indicator of where the world is going
Initially anticipated for release at the beginning of 2010, the U.S. Defense Department-led Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) is a major assessment of nuclear forces, strategy and readiness. “The Nuclear Posture Review will determine whether the U.S. does move forward in a major way on the question of what nuclear weapons are for,” said Evans. Questioning whether the new document will give nuclear weapons only the deterrent role against their use by other powers or will be just a variation of the current doctrine, in which they can be used against any contingency, Evans said “the NPR will be a very important indicator of where the world is going.”
Japan’s significant doctrinal shift
Talking about international leadership, Evans noted that many countries can play significant roles. “Japan has recently played an interesting but under noticed role,” he said. “It’s been a leitmotiv of Japanese policy for years that they like the idea of a nuclear umbrella available to protect the country from a variety of threat contingency.” But Japan has actually changed its position, Evans explained, basically saying that it can live with a U.S. nuclear doctrine that states that the only purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack. “This is hugely significant shift,” Evans said. “I hope the U.S. will be confident enough to make this judgment call on the Posture Review with that kind of input from Japan.”
Intellectual change on the way
“I think here is a genuine rethink going on right across the spectrum on these issues and I am confident that there is an intellectual change on the way to view nuclear weapons,” Evans concluded.