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U.N. Chief Leads International Call for Enacting Test Ban Treaty
UNITED NATIONS -- The head of the United Nations joined senior diplomats from dozens of countries on Friday in calling for the prompt entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (see GSN, Sept. 23).
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the day the accord was opened for signatures -- Sept. 24, 1996. In the intervening years, the treaty has been signed by 182 countries and ratified by 155 of those states.
However, it must still be ratified by the United States and eight other nations before becoming the global rule of law -- a prospect that appears distant given the political divide in Washington and tensions among longtime antagonists in the Middle East and elsewhere.
"We must face facts. Until we have universal adherence to a legally binding global norm against nuclear testing, there is no guarantee that nuclear tests will not happen again," Ban said. "We need no more reminders. We need political will. We need concrete action."
He called on the global community to pursue the goal of becoming ready to implement the test ban by next year.
Ban's rhetoric was matched by most of the more than 50 speakers at the seventh Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Diplomats from more than 160 states by consensus at U.N. headquarters in New York also endorsed a final declaration that reaffirms the importance of the pact and seeks to sustain momentum toward the goal of enactment.
"By standing together here today we demonstrate our collective determination that this treaty must enter into force. The world simply cannot wait any longer," said Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore.
Proponents argue that giving legal authority to the document is a key building block of the global nuclear nonproliferation regime. Producing new or more sophisticated nuclear weapons becomes significantly more difficult when those arms cannot be tested to ensure they function correctly, CTBT supporters say.
Member nations to the treaty agree not to conduct any nuclear explosive test, no matter how small the yield of the blast, according to the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization. That statement, like many assertions surrounding the matter, is debated by those who question the accord's nonproliferation and security benefits.
Speakers on Friday noted a number of positive developments for the nuclear test ban since the previous conference in 2009. The number of ratifying states has grown by five: Trinidad and Tobago, the Central African Republic, the Marshall Islands, Ghana and, just last week, Guinea.
Numerous rounds of diplomatic meetings, technical workshops and training events have been held in the last two years. The complex of detection facilities and laboratories intended to ensure compliance with the treaty has also grown, now encompassing 285 operational monitoring sites around the globe.
The monitoring web proved its efficacy in picking up signs of North Korea's underground nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, delegates said. They also noted that the CTBT verification system collected and disseminated data on the movement of radioactive contaminants following the March disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan.
The fate of the treaty rests with the 44 "Annex 2" states, those nations that participated in drafting the agreement while in possession of nuclear power or research facilities. Thirty-five of the countries have ratified the pact, leaving nine holdouts: China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the United States.
Speaking at the conference, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa reaffirmed his nation's intention to go beyond being a signatory to the test ban regime. Ratification legislation was submitted to the country's House of Representatives in October 2010 and the government continues to work with lawmakers on the matter, the diplomat said.
"In the past, Indonesia withheld its ratification, pending ratification by all the nuclear-weapon states and other states claiming possession of nuclear weapons," he told delegates. "This reflects our view that it is they, above all, who must first and foremost commit to the CTBT. That position of principle has served its purpose. ... The time for waiting is over, and it is time to act."
The Obama administration has also repeatedly stated it plans to deliver the pact to the U.S. Senate for approval. Officials are laying the groundwork for securing ratification with an information campaign addressing the capabilities of the CTBT verification system and the U.S. capacity to maintain its nuclear deterrent without testing (see GSN, July 15).
The United States signed the accord in 1996, but the Senate rejected ratification three years later. The pact's chances for success on Capitol Hill today remain in question amid the escalating partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans. Some observers and lawmakers say the treaty might not come up for Senate consideration until after the 2012 presidential vote -- and only then if President Obama wins re-election (see GSN, July 18).
"We know that this is a very technical agreement and we want people to absorb and understand the science behind it," Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher said during the conference. "There are no set time frames and we are going to be patient, but we will also have to be persistent."
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt also acknowledged the challenges facing the treaty in Washington. "The U.S. political agenda has moved in other directions, and has become somewhat divergent, or distracted, let's say that," said Bildt, who with his Mexican counterpart Patricia Espinosa Cantellano will lead the fight for CTBT ratification leading into the next conference two years from now.
An affirmative move by Washington is seen as key to pushing China and other nations toward ratifying the treaty. Both Tauscher and Bildt, though, noted the United States alone cannot make the test ban a reality. That potential result is wrapped up in regional tensions between Pakistan and India and between Israel and its neighbors, and in the proliferation activities of North Korea.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon emphasized his nation's "unequivocal support" for the CTBT regime. He told the conference that Jerusalem's participation in the accord would be linked to ensuring Israeli security and to the technical capabilities of the verification system.
Egypt's presentation to the conference focused on nonproliferation issues tangentially related to the test ban, including the lack of progress in organizing a planned 2012 conference on establishing the Middle East as a WMD-free zone (see GSN, May 20).
"This delay will have a negative impact on achieving the objective that we all share, which is realizing a world free of nuclear weapons, as well as having negative effects on the chances of the success of the CTBT," according to the statement.
The U.N. chief said he and CTBTO Executive Secretary Tibor Tóth are "ready and willing" to travel to any country for discussions on their remaining concerns about capacities for preventing violations of the treaty rules.
Unlike Ban, Bildt did not offer any specific timing objectives for achieving entry into force.
"I am hopeful and committed to making progress," he told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting. "I can't promise you all of them, but I'm fairly certain we will make progress on that particular list [of Annex 2 states that have not ratified the treaty] and movements toward the goal as soon as possible."
Until that happens, delegates called for nations to maintain the voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing that has lasted, with a handful of exceptions, for the better part of two decades.
The three-page final declaration was approved by all states that have ratified the treaty and a handful of signatory nations. It offers 10 "concrete steps" aimed at pushing entry into force and full membership in the treaty. These include:
-- "Spare no efforts and use all avenues open to us ... to encourage further signature and ratification of the treaty, and urge all states to sustain the momentum generated by this conference, and to remain seized of this issue at the highest political level";
-- "Agree that ratifying states will continue the practice of selecting coordinators to promote cooperation, through informal consultations with all interested countries, aimed at promoting further signatures and ratifications"; and
-- "Encourage cooperation with intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations and other elements of civil society to raise awareness of and support for the treaty and its objectives, as well as the need for its early entry into force."
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