By Jamshed Baruah
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon vowed to revitalize “the global disarmament and non-proliferation agenda in the field of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction” when he spelt out beginning of the year his vision for the second term at the world body’s helm. He is now doing his utmost to turn the vision into reality.
One significant building block in that vision is the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) negotiated in Geneva between 1994 and 1996. Pushing hard for its ratification, Ban declared on February 17: “There is no good reason to avoid signing or ratifying this Treaty. Any country opposed to signing or ratifying it is simply failing to meet its responsibilities as a member of the international community.”
He added: “It is irresponsible to see this Treaty still waiting to come into effect 15 years after it was opened for signature. I stand ready to visit those capitals suspicious about the reliability of the Treaty’s monitoring and inspection systems.”
Ban was referring to eight of the 44 specific nuclear technology holder countries – China, North Korea, Egypt, India, Israel, Iran, Pakistan and the United States – that must sign and ratify before the CTBT can enter into force. As of February 2012, 182 countries have signed the Treaty, of which 157 have also ratified it, including three of the nuclear weapon States: Britain, France and Russia. The last Annex 2 State to ratify the Treaty was Indonesia on February 6, 2012.
The CTBT bans nuclear explosions by everyone, everywhere: on the Earth’s surface, in the atmosphere, underwater and underground. An unprecedented global verification regime with over 300 sensors monitors the globe around the clock for nuclear explosions to detect any violations of the Treaty.
Its significance lies in the fact that it makes it very difficult for countries to develop nuclear bombs for the first time, or for countries that already have them, to make more powerful bombs. It also prevents the huge damage caused by radioactivity from nuclear explosions to humans, animals and plants.
Speaking at the festivities marking the 15th anniversary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) headquarters in Vienna on February 17, Ban said.
“As a diplomat, I devoted a great deal of energy to disarmament and non-proliferation, including through the . . . CTBT. As Secretary-General, I am even more committed to this cause – and to realizing our vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. Ending nuclear testing is essential to eradicating nuclear arms. That is why I am pushing hard for the CTBT to enter into force.”
The festivities were attended by the diplomatic community, NGOs, international media and staff of other Vienna-based organizations – over 500 participants in total. The event also marked the opening of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs’ Vienna-base.
The CTBTO headed by Tibor Tóth has launched an online campaign “Close the Door on Nuclear Testing – Raise your voice for a safer, more secure world. Join the campaign to Close the Door on Nuclear Testing!
“Today it’s hard to imagine that nuclear bombs exploded all the time in the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s. Yet more than 2,000 nuclear bombs were tested all over the world, contaminating the land and air and affecting people everywhere,” explains the CTBTO.
Its message is: “In 1996, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty put the brakes on this madness. But until all the countries of the world support the Treaty, the threat of further testing and a renewed nuclear arms race looms over us all.
“It’s time to take a stand against this nuclear recklessness. Let’s call on all politicians, governments and States to honour the Treaty. Let’s look to a future of hope, where we don’t have nuclear weapons. Let’s close the door on nuclear testing, now and forever.”
Ban also paid tribute to the victims of the over 2,000 nuclear tests conducted worldwide: “Nuclear tests poison the environment – and they also poison the political climate. They breed mistrust, isolation and fear. So today I issue a challenge to all leaders of all countries that have not endorsed the CTBT: Visit the site of a nuclear test. Speak to the population exposed to the fallout. Then take action to prevent this from ever happening again.”
According to Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, co-chair of the so-called Article XIV-process to advance the CTBT’s entry into force, the Treaty “has succeeded in creating a strong norm against nuclear testing, and a major barrier for nuclear weapons development. All 182 States Signatories have refrained from nuclear explosive testing. The international community has been firm and unanimous in its response to the three countries [India, Pakistan and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] that have remained outside and tested.”
Mexican Ambassador Juan José Gómez Camacho, delivering a statement by Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa Cantellano, the other co-chair of the Article-XIV process, said: “Even if the CTBT has yet to enter into force, it is paramount that we all understand that its regime already constitutes a legal corpus to be observed by the international community.”
CTBTO Executive Secretary Tóth said: “At age 15, we are proud of our achievements. The family of CTBT Member States has grown to 182, 157 of which have ratified. The network has grown, station by station. 285 facilities, more than 80% of the International Monitoring System (IMS), are up and running. That is a $1 billion investment. Today, I can assure you that no nuclear test will ever escape detection.”
The IMS uses the following four state-of-the-art technologies:
– Seismic: 50 primary and 120 auxiliary seismic stations monitor shockwaves in the Earth. The vast majority of these shockwaves – many thousands every year – are caused by earthquakes. But man-made explosions such as mine explosions or the North Korean nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, are also detected.
– Hydroacoustic: 11 hydroacoustic stations “listen” for sound waves in the oceans. Sound waves from explosions can travel extremely far underwater.
– Infrasound: 60 stations on the surface can detect ultra-low frequency sound waves (inaudible to the human ear) that are emitted by large explosions.
– Radionuclide: 80 stations measure the atmosphere for radioactive particles; 40 of them also pick up noble gas. Only these measurements can give a clear indication as to whether an explosion detected by the other methods was actually nuclear or not. They are supported by 16 radionuclide laboratories.
Besides, the International Data Centre at the CTBTO’s headquarters in Vienna receives gigabytes of data from the global monitoring stations. The data are processed and distributed to the CTBTO’s Member States in both raw and analysed form. According to CTBTO, when North Korea tested in 2006 and 2009, the Member States received information about the location, magnitude, time and depth of the tests within two hours, and before the actual test had been announced by North Korea.
The CTBTO is also in a position to dispatch on-site inspections to the area of a suspicious nuclear explosion if the data from the IMS indicate that a nuclear test has taken place there. Inspectors will collect evidence on the ground at the suspected site. Such an inspection can only be requested and approved by Member States once the CTBT has entered into force. A large on-site inspection exercise was carried out in September 2008 in Kazakhstan.
The huge amount of data collected by the stations can also be used for other purposes than detecting nuclear explosions. They can provide tsunami warning centres with almost real-time information about an underwater earthquake, thus helping to warn people earlier and possibly saving lives. During the March 2011 Fukushima power plant accident, the network’s radionuclide stations tracked the dispersion of radioactivity on a global scale. “The data could also help us better understand the oceans, volcanoes, climate change, the movement of whales, and many other issues,” says a CTBTO note.