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U.S. Official Calls for Other Nations to Move Forward With Test Ban Treaty

By Chris Schneidmiller and Douglas P. Guarino

Global Security Newswire

An aerial view of Fangatuafa Atoll in the South Pacific during a 1996 French nuclear test. Countries around the world should move to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty even though the United States has yet to finalize its approval of the pact, the U.S. State Department's top arms control official said on Wednesday. An aerial view of Fangatuafa Atoll in the South Pacific during a 1996 French nuclear test. Countries around the world should move to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty even though the United States has yet to finalize its approval of the pact, the U.S. State Department's top arms control official said on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. State Department's top arms control official on Wednesday urged other nations to press ahead with ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty without waiting for corresponding action by the United States.

"Don't sit on your hands and wait for the United States," said Rose Gottemoeller, acting undersecretary of State for arms control and international security. "When the United States ratifies that Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, it will drive progress forward. The United States lends special momentum, but we're not the only ones. All states, as they participate in ratification efforts, drive this process forward."

Gottemoeller spoke at an American Security Project event here observing the 20th anniversary of the most recent U.S. nuclear test detonation, on Sept. 23, 1992, in Nevada. The first Bush administration subsequently imposed a voluntary suspension on testing that remains in place.

Almost four years to the day after the "Divider" explosion, the test ban accord was opened for signature at the United Nations. It has seen been signed by 183 nations, 157 of which have secured full legislative approval for the pact.

Proponents argue the treaty would deter proliferation by prohibiting all nuclear testing, a key step in developing a functional or improved atomic arsenal.

However, the accord cannot enter into force without ratification by 44 "Annex 2" states that operated nuclear power or research facilities during the CTBT negotiation process. Eight holdouts remain within that group -- China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the United States.

One issue expert said on Thursday it is unlikely that other countries would ratify the treaty if the United States does not do so first. China, for example, would likely argue that it has conducted far fewer nuclear weapons tests than the United States and question why it should accept a permanent ban if Washington has not yet been willing to do so, said James Acton, a senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

There is also considerable opposition to ratifying the treaty within India, Acton said. U.S. action could change the thinking of leaders in New Delhi, though, in his view.

“India wants to be inside the club; it wants to be perceived as a responsible nuclear power,” Acton told Global Security Newswire. “If all of the other great nuclear powers have [ratified the treaty], and you want to be perceived in that light, you ought to do so yourself.”

Without Indian ratification, it is unlikely that Pakistan would join the treaty, he added.

“I find it hard to see which states might ratify the CTBT before the U.S. does,” Acton said. “I think everyone should ratify the CTBT. I think it’s a good treaty. But unfortunately I don’t see that what Rose Gottemoeller would like is likely.”

The United States was among the first treaty signatories in 1996, but the Senate rejected ratification three years later. The Obama administration has pledged to submit the pact for consideration again, but has not said when that would occur. For more than a year, conventional wisdom has been that nothing would happen ahead of the November presidential election.

"This administration has been reviewing the lessons learned and it is clear the lack of support stemmed from concerns regarding the verifiability of the treaty and our ability to ensure the continuing safety and reliability of America’s nuclear deterrent without nuclear explosive testing," Gottemoeller said.

Those concerns should be addressed through a clear understanding of advances in the U.S. Stockpile Stewardship Program, the scientific effort to ensure a safe, secure and reliable nuclear arsenal, according to the veteran nonproliferation specialist. In addition, confidence has grown in the CTBT International Monitoring System that has readied 85 percent of the worldwide detection web intended to ensure any illicit nuclear test is caught, she said.

The technological debate is by no means settled, though. Skeptics continue to raise questions about whether the United States might someday face a threat that requires a new nuclear weapon and testing. They worry that other nations could find ways to skirt detection by the monitoring system or put together some sort of weapon without testing.

"We are working to get the facts out to [Senate] members and staff, many of whom have never dealt with this treaty," Gottemoeller said. "We know that the key underlying issues are very technical in nature and we want people to absorb and understand the rationale behind it, that the treaty is in the U.S. national security interest. There are no set timeframes to bring the treaty to a vote, and we are going to be patient, but we will also be persistent."

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday said he had in June written to the governments of all eight treaty ratification holdout states.

"I appealed to them to follow Indonesia’s example and accelerate their ratification process. I urged them to consider how adherence to this treaty could enhance security, promote stability and build confidence throughout the world,” Ban told a ministerial meeting on the treaty at the United Nations.

Foreign ministers and other senior officials participating in the event on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting endorsed a joint statement calling for the "utmost effort" by all nations to achieve the treaty's entry into force.

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