Moving forward on the CTBT

By Rizwan Asghar
CTBTO Youth Group member
Originally published on Daily Times PK, 22 June 2017 and The News Pakistan, 25 June 2017.

This year marks the 18th anniversary of the rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) by the US Senate in October 1999. During these eighteen years, repeated efforts have been made to outlaw testing of nuclear weapons, but the treaty still remains in a state of limbo. A deadlock exists because article XIV of the CTBT makes the ratification by 44 states with commercial or research nuclear reactors a necessary requirement for the treaty to become legally binding. Of those 44 specified states, the US, China, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, India, Iran and Egypt have not yet ratified the treaty.

Pakistan, India, and North Korea have not even signed the treaty. The global community remains unable to move forward on the CTBT because of a lack of awareness of the nuclear proliferation threat at the mass level. Public opinion polls indicate that many otherwise educated people remain indifferent to the potentially disastrous impacts generated by nuclear weapons testing. Even in a developed country like the United States, overwhelming majority of people exhibit complete ignorance and complacency about an ever-increasing threat posed by nuclear proliferation.

In order to make progress towards the ultimate goal of complete nuclear disarmament, we need to wipe out this ignorance. Disarmament activists and members of the CTBT Youth Group must step up their efforts to help raise awareness of the CTBT in their respective countries. In order to ensure entry-into-force of the CTBT possible, we need to make nuclear testing an issue of wider public concern, and persuade governments of eight hold out states to take necessary steps for the ratification the treaty.

This requires an understanding of the fact that the CTBT is actually a political issue, not a technical one. Even on the floor of the US Senate, partisan-cum-personal rivalries played an important role in the defeat of the treaty. It would not be wrong to argue that the rejection of the CTBT was a classic case of failure in the conduct of foreign policy by the executive branch. The voting on the CTBT was largely along the party lines.

The ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty will be a landmark step against spread of nuclear weapons

Many experts believe that the outcome of the CTBT negotiations would certainly have been different if the Clinton administration had put a lot more focus on building a bipartisan consensus in the Senate. As a student of Congressional politics, I believe that security concerns played a very little role in voting down the CTBT.

Since the advent of the nuclear age, nuclear weapons have been tested in all environments. The world witnessed 55 nuclear tests on average every year during the period from 1955 to 1989. In October 1961, the Soviet Union detonated the most powerful nuclear weapon ever with a blast yield of 57 megaton TNT. More than 175 nuclear tests were conducted in 1962 alone. In addition to their harmful effects on current functioning of ecosystems, nuclear tests help states in the qualitative advancement of weapons systems. And they also provide information on how much damage a nuclear strike will cause under various conditions.

Last month marked the nineteenth anniversary of the 1998 nuclear tests that ushered in the nuclear age in South Asia. The governments of Pakistan and India have articulated their support for nonproliferation objectives multiple times. Yet, there is little public debate in both countries on the need for a permanent ban on nuclear testing. In August 2016, Pakistan offered India a bilateral ban on nuclear testing, reflecting its support for the CTBT. But Pakistan’s proposal has not received much attention in Indian policy-making circles.

In fact, India is building new nuclear weapons systems including nuclear-powered and nuclear armed submarines. The Modi government has also been frequently accused of promoting violence at the subnational level in the region. Nuclear weapons are completely useless in these sub-conventional conflicts. Pakistan cannot use its nuclear weapons to stop New Delhi from providing support to terrorist organisations operating on its soil. However, if Pakistan ratifies the CTBT, the move will be beneficial diplomatically and it will enhance our stature as a responsible nuclear state. Any such decision will also make India look like a bad guy in the region, and strengthen Pakistan’s bid to become member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

The ratification of the CTBT would be a landmark step against the qualitative and quantitative spread of nuclear weapons. Efforts to put nuclear genie back in the bottle must continue unless global disarmament goals are achieved. There are 2000 nuclear warheads that are ready to be launched at a moment’s notice in the United States. We are living in a very dangerous world. Every nation has an interest in maintaining peaceful relations with other nations. Every country needs to play a role in creating a world free of nuclear threat. We should also put pressure on nuclear armed states because under the NPT they are obligated to reduce and ultimately eliminate nuclear weapons. All the nuclear powers need to agree that they must eliminate all choices of using nuclear weapons in the future. This can only happen by taking the first step which is the ratification of the CTBT.


The writer is a PhD scholar at University of California, Davis, and a CTBTO youth member. Email: