Jeffrey LewisNielsen on Thailand, Tuvalu and the Test Ban

Thailand has ratified the CTBT, while Tuvalu has signed it.  It’s hardly front page news, but Jenny Nielsen, a VCDNP alum and now an information officer at the CTBTO, makes the case what we should care.

This won’t make headlines—but it should. Thailand ratifies and Tuvalu signs the CTBT!

Jenny Nielsen

As an Information Officer for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), I wake up and scan the news headlines and Twitter-feed for updates on any news related to the nuclear non-proliferation regime. As a former analyst on nuclear policy, I sigh with frustration when positive and significant events are overlooked. An old adage suggests that pessimism sells more papers, but in today’s world we need to highlight the achievements and success stories—however small they may seem —overshadowed by other events and developments.

This week world leaders will convene for the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). There will be side-events, bilateral meetings, and multilateral ministerial meetings on the margins of the spectacle that is the General Assembly. States often use this occasion to sign treaties or deposit ratification instruments at the United Nations.

On 25 September 2018 the Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand—Virasakdi Futrakul—deposited its instrument of ratification for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) with the United Nations Secretary-General, becoming the 167th State to ratify the Treaty. Later that day, the Prime Minister of Tuvalu—Enele Sosene Sopoaga—signed the CTBT, becoming the 184th state signatory. These are significant events which the community of states should be celebrating.

CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo, applauded the action and noted that “Thailand’s ratification means that all ten ASEAN countries have now ratified the CTBT. This is a significant achievement that ASEAN should be proud of.”

The non-proliferation community—regionally and globally—should celebrate and recognize positive success stories in the regime. This includes each signature and each ratification of multilateral treaties that serve to build confidence and trust between states and make the world more secure. Each signature and ratification shores up the norms associated with each treaty and signals commitment to multilateral arms control. Furthermore, this include celebrating the certification of CTBTO stations of the International Monitoring System (IMS)—including in Annex II states, such as China, which have yet to ratify the Treaty. These are tangible and positive success stories that the international community of states should herald as significant achievements.

Here’s my humble challenge to the nuclear non-proliferation regime and any nuclear policy wonks lamenting the state of the regime. Let’s not allow these achievements —and the broader message of CTBT entry into force—to get lost amongst all the huge headlines from the spectacle on the world’s stage this week. It behoves the international community of states—those that consistently declare commitment to the nuclear non-proliferation regime—to amplify the message of the urgency of bringing the CTBT into force. Commend these success stories; tweet about them and reference these achievements in your speaking points and deliberations on non-proliferation. Highlight the value and tangible contribution of the CTBT’s verification regime. Celebrate each certification of each IMS station.

Adherence to the Treaty is nearly universal, with 184 States having signed and 167 having ratified. However, despite near-universal adherence, the CTBT has not yet entered into force. To do so, it must be signed and ratified by all 44 States listed in the Treaty’s Annex 2. These so-called Annex 2 States participated in the negotiations of the Treaty in 1996 and possessed nuclear power or research reactors at the time. Thirty-six of these States have already ratified the CTBT. The remaining eight are: China, the DPRK, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the United States.

The CTBT bans all nuclear explosions everywhere, by everyone, and for all times. The CTBTO has established an International Monitoring System (IMS) to ensure that no nuclear explosion goes undetected. Currently, 296 certified facilities – of a total of 337 when complete – are operating around the world. The data registered by the IMS can also be used for disaster mitigation such as earthquake monitoring, tsunami warning, and the tracking of the levels and dispersal of radioactivity from nuclear accidents. In fact, Thailand is one of 15 countries that have concluded tsunami-warning agreements with the CTBTO. Its national tsunami centre thus receives relevant monitoring data directly from the 337 facilities of the IMS network in real-time, increasing their ability to issue more rapid warnings.

Later this week, on 27 September, foreign ministers and CTBTO Executive Secretary will gather for the ninth high-level “CTBT Friends” ministerial meeting at the United Nations, to jointly call for international commitment and action to bring the CTBT into force. As in the eight previous biennial meetings of this kind, foreign ministers—notably those of a group referred to as the Friends of the CTBT—will remind the international community that although the nuclear test moratorium has become a de facto international norm, without the legally-binding effect of the entry into force of the CTBT, such a s norm remains fragile and at risk.

We often hear the nuclear non-proliferation is fractured and under strain due to diverging views on pathways towards disarmament and past pledges, dating back to the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference—and even further back to the negotiation of the NPT. With other developments vis-à-vis the 2015 JCPOA agreement and on possible progress regarding the DPRK’s nuclear program, the regime requires trust-building and robust verification measures. Looking toward the 2020 NPT Review Conference, the international community should focus on rebuilding confidence and trust between states and improving the atmospherics within the NPT review process.