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Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Losing Its Relevance? World Without Nuclear Weapons Not Possible?


By- Ishu Ohlyan

Demystifier : ED Original where the content is written in such a way that it is knowledgeable and easy to comprehend at the same time.


Has The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Lost Its Relevance?

Twenty years ago on September 10, 1996 UN General Assembly adopted the CTBT. It was a major breakthrough for the supporters for nuclear non-proliferation and raised hopes for a world without nuclear weapons. Sadly those hopes were based on an idealistic view of the International Order and weren’t fulfilled. This column traces the events that led to its adoption and occasionally delve into its successes and limitations.

What is CTBT?

Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty is a multilateral treaty that prohibits nuclear testing through explosions, for both civilian and military purposes, in all environments. Each State Party to the treaty undertakes not to carry out any nuclear weapons test explosion and prohibit and prevent any such nuclear explosion at any place under its jurisdiction or control.

How It Came Into Being?

After the Trinity Nuclear Test by US on 6 July, 1945 a nuclear arms race began between the US and USSR leading to numerous atmospheric and underwater nuclear tests. Soon the international community realized the fatal fallouts of these tests and calls were made for a conference on this subject.

Indian PM Nehru issued the first appeal for a “Standstill Agreement” on testing soon to be echoed by other world leaders. Negotiations on a Comprehensive test ban began in 1955 but were marred by a host of issues ranging from disagreement over verification procedures to covert testing of weapons which were further intensified by the raging cold war between the two major powers.

These differences would lead to the abandoning of Comprehensive test ban and instead Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) was adopted on 25 July 1963. It banned nuclear explosions for civilian and military purposes underwater, in the atmosphere, and outer space.

PTBT was to become the precursor for CTBT. Progress on a Comprehensive test ban was halted in the following years although there were some positive movements on nuclear disarmament such as Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which was adopted in 1968 and the signing of Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT) and Peaceful Nuclear Explosion Treaty (PNET).

Negotiations for CTBT gained momentum after the end of Cold war in 1991 and an amendment conference was held that year with the proposal to convert the PTBT into CTBT. Following strenuous negotiations, CTBT was adopted on September 10, 1996 with a large majority in UN General Assembly.

Is It In Force? How Does It Work?

No, the treaty is not in force as eight ‘Annex 2’* states have not ratified the treaty yet. These are Iran, China, US, India, Israel, North Korea, Egypt and Pakistan. Although it doesn’t imply that the treaty is void. Under the treaty a CTBT Organization has been established which monitors for signs of nuclear explosions around the globe and round the clock. Headquartered in Vienna, Austria, CTBTO operates 337 monitoring facilities around the globe.

What Is India’s Position On CTBT?

Although India has maintained a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing since 1998 it refuse to sign and ratify the CTBT as it considers it to be discriminatory and India’s security calculations are conditioned by what China does and it is unlikely for India to ratify CTBT before China ratifies it.

What Are CTBT’s Limitations?

Great advances have been made in computing power since 1996 and that may have rendered actual nuclear testing unnecessary for improving existing weapons or building a workable nuclear arsenal. This makes detection virtually impossible. The refusal of nuclear powers like US, China, India to ratify the CTBT is also limiting the space for CTBTO to function efficiently.

What Is The Way Ahead?

For CTBT to work in a competent manner, remaining Annex 2 states must ratify the treaty so that it can enter into force. US and India, most vocal proponents of nuclear non-proliferation must lead the way and it is likely that rest of the states would follow suit.

There is also a need for enhancing the capabilities of CTBTO so that it can detect clandestine nuclear programs. CTBT is just a stepping stone in the quest for global nuclear disarmament and more drastic steps are required to eliminate the nuclear weapons and save humanity from a catastrophe.

*  ‘Annex 2 ‘ states are states that participated in the CTBT’s negotiations between 1994 and 1996 and possessed nuclear power reactors or research reactors at that time.

Author Bio:

Ishu Ohlyan is a blogger who is currently pursuing Economics Honours from Delhi University.

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