1994-96: Debating the basic issues

Page 1:1994-96: Debating the basic issues

Negotiating the Treaty

Successfully negotiating a CTBT required addressing issues on several levels: political, procedural and technical. Nuclear weapons testing was considered by many non-nuclear weapon States as a threat to their national security, but the non-aligned movement also considered the continued existence and development of nuclear weapons by nuclear weapon States (NWS) unacceptable.

There remained tension over whether the NWS would live up to their disarmament obligations in the “grand bargain” between NWS and NNWS as outlined in the NPT. After having agreed to the indefinite extension of the NPT, NNWS looked for opportunities to insert language into the Treaty that would ensure substantial progress towards disarmament. India wanted to include language in the text to establish a time-bound framework for achieving nuclear disarmament.

Other countries, such as China, Mexico and Pakistan, wanted to see the CTBT include references to the broader issues of non-proliferation and disarmament. The United States, France, the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation opposed these measures and expressed their desire to limit the scope of the Treaty to simply a ban on nuclear weapon explosions. China aspired to an exception for so-called "Peaceful Nuclear Explosions", but later agreed to them being covered by the ban as well.

"We're not banning the bomb, just the bang." One delegate to the CTBT negotiations

Basic obligations

Delegations negotiating the CTBT at the Ad Hoc Committee held varied opinions on what the substance and scope of the Treaty should be. At the most basic level, defining exactly what constituted a nuclear explosion was not as easy as one might imagine.

At issue was the possibility that NWS would attempt to improve their arsenals by conducting low-yield nuclear tests. Furthermore, most NWS insisted that the Treaty must not diminish their ability to maintain the safety, security, credibility or reliability of their nuclear weapons. In particular, France was adamant about maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent to protect its own national security. One delegate noted, “We’re not banning the bomb, just the bang.”

Many States were opposed to this logic, claiming the idea of maintaining nuclear arsenals was against the spirit of the NPT, as well as the CTBT. India objected to a Treaty that would allow testing for safety purposes, which would perpetuate an imbalanced and discriminatory system. Pakistan also expressed its concern that safety and reliability tests would preserve the existence of nuclear weapons indefinitely, and therefore supported a ban on all tests with no threshold, along with the closing of test sites.