CTBT and the role of youth

CTBTO Youth Group • 7 July 2017

By Rizwan Asghar
CTBTO Youth Group member
Originally published on Daily Times, 7 July 2017.


“Universal ratification of the test ban treaty would be a step toward creating a truly global community of nations, in which all share the responsibility for humankind’s future." — Mikhail Gorbachev

While writing these lines, I am attending the CTBT Science and Technology 2017 conference at the Hofburg Imperial Palace in Vienna. If there is one thing I have learned here from my interactions with scientists and scholars from all over the world, it is that nuclear weapons belong to the past. And with gradual but consistent efforts, we can not only achieve the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty but also make sure that we do not ever have testing of nuclear weapons anywhere on the planet.

On the broader non-proliferation agenda, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is the most logical next step to prevent the further spread of nuclear arms in both nuclear and non-nuclear states.

In the famous words of the 42nd US President Bill Clinton, the CTBT is "the longest sought, hardest fought prize in arms control history." As of June 2017, 166 countries have ratified and 183 have signed the treaty. Since the treaty was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1996, the rate of nuclear testing has greatly diminished. Although eight states have yet to ratify the treaty, North Korea is the only country that continues to conduct nuclear tests.

Most of the technical and scientific concerns raised two decades ago related to the verification of the CTBT have been resolved. The CTBT has a very effective and intrusive International Monitoring System (IMS), which is above 90% complete now. In addition to the ability to conduct on-site inspections, the CTBT’s International Data Centre (IDC) receives data from monitoring stations in real time and processes it to provide very reliable information regarding whether a nuclear explosion has occurred. It is high time we focused our efforts on gathering political will and power to make the dream of prohibiting the testing of nuclear weapons in all spheres a reality.

I do not want to sound pessimistic but we, CTBTO youth members, will not be able to persuade the decision makers in the remaining eight hold out states only through emotional appeals. What we really need is a great deal of concentrated thinking and the actual ability to take concrete steps towards ratification of the CTBT.

We should rise above the lower levels of narrow nationalism and realise how the continued existence of nuclear weapons anywhere is a threat to human security everywhere

I would suggest that Dr Zerbo or CTBTO team of experts should form a plan to communicate with youth members, from eight hold out states, from time to time, and guide their efforts to influence public opinion on a regular basis. Taking this step will not only make this whole process more constructive but also help ensure that strong words are being followed by strong actions. The CTBTO has spent enormous resources on its youth initiative, and youth members must go beyond voicing their verbal support for the vision of the CTBT. A desirable next step would be to identify stakeholders in all hold out states and device different country-specific strategies to influence official narratives about nuclear testing.

In September 2016, UN Security Council adopted a historical resolution, which called for the early entry into force of the CTBT and reaffirmed the global moratorium on nuclear weapons testing. In addition, two new states, Swaziland and Myanmar, ratified the treaty. These are remarkable achievements but efforts must continue until all 44 CTBT Annex 2 countries ratify the treaty. This is not going to be an easy task but we have a leader, Dr. Zerbo, to guide and keep us focused in this march against nuclear testing. It took the world more than five decades to secure ratification of the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which prohibits the use of chemical and biological weapons in war, by the United States. Disarmament advocates and CTBTO youth members must be ready to sustain a resolute approach towards achieving our ultimate goal.

More importantly, we should rise above the lower levels of narrow nationalism and realise how the continued existence of nuclear weapons anywhere is a threat to human security everywhere.

Nuclear weapons are a necessary evil, and we must make all possible efforts in the pursuit of a world free of nuclear weapons. As a CTBTO youth member, I intend to look at all possible mechanisms to promote CTBT’s entry into force, and highlight the potential value of the treaty for each of the eight hold out states. Dr Zerbo, also known as ‘godfather’ of the CTBTO youth group, is a great source of inspiration and strength for young disarmament activists around the globe. His dream of a global ban on nuclear testing will be fulfilled in our lifetime. We need to let the world know that young people have a very critical role to play in the ongoing struggle toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.


Rizwan Asghar is a PhD scholar at University of California, Davis, and a CTBTO Youth Group member