The CTBT and the 2020 NPT Review Cycle

August 31, 2020
Sarah Bidgood

The following is an excerpt from the CTBTO Spectrum

When the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) was concluded in 1996, US President Bill Clinton called it the “longest sought, hardest fought prize in arms control history.” This characterization proved both more prescient—and more premature—than he could have imagined at the time. While 168 countries have ratified the CTBT as of February 2020, eight of the 44 states that must do so in order for it to enter into force have not. This situation has remained unchanged since 2012, when Indonesia became the 36th Annex 2 State to become a party to the Treaty.

In spite of these circumstances, the CTBT has played a crucial role in the development of a robust global norm against nuclear testing in the nearly 24 years since its conclusion. One unintended consequence of this outcome, however, is the current lack of urgency surrounding the Treaty’s entry into force. In part because a return to widespread nuclear testing has seemed so unlikely in recent years, efforts to persuade the eight remaining Annex 2 states to pursue ratification have been unsuccessful. As a result, the CTBT is neither legally binding or enforceable today, a situation that places the non-proliferation community at a significant disadvantage.

This is especially the case today, given that the international security situation is both more dangerous than it was a year ago and rapidly deteriorating. The traditional arms control architecture is eroding, and the norm against nuclear testing could potentially follow suit. Faced with the challenges posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, the unraveling of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and a return to arms racing, practitioners and experts should consider how the CTBT can help address the world’s most pressing nuclear threats. Reaffirming the Treaty’s contributions to the non-proliferation regime would be an important first step toward reinvigorating support for its entry into force today.

The upcoming 2020 Review Conference of Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) could constitute a target of opportunity for this endeavor. Here, States Parties will have the chance to underscore the CTBT’s relevance to new and longstanding challenges while highlighting its mutually reinforcing relationship with the NPT. They could do so in an especially compelling way when it comes to addressing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. If North Korea signed and ratified the CTBT, this would provide a legally binding assurance that Kim Jong Un planned to uphold the nuclear test moratorium he unilaterally declared in April 2018. Proposals to this effect were included in the 2018 NPT Chair’s Factual Summary and the 2019 Chair’s working paper, both of which urged the DPRK to sign and ratify the CTBT. Delegates should revisit this language as they look for practical recommendations that could attract widespread support when they meet in New York later this year.

Continue reading at the CTBTO Spectrum

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