CTBT Public Policy Course: Prospects for the Future of the CTBT and Mutual Security

Thank you very much for the kind introduction. It is a pleasure to be back in Vienna, and in particular to participate in a workshop on an issue so important to the future of global security. I appreciate Lassina’s invitation very much. Dr. Zerbo and I have worked together on security issues for a number of years, and I can say from experience that he is a true visionary and creative thinker, and those of us pursuing the work we hope will lead one day to the CTBT’s entry into force are grateful to have him at the helm of the CTBTO.

A host of esteemed colleagues and experts are participating in the workshop panels today, and I look forward to joining them as well in this discussion. In addition, I look forward to hearing from today’s second keynote speaker, Dr. Paul Richards of Columbia University. I suppose we are the yin and yang of today’s workshop – with my remarks focused on policy and politics and his on the very important technical elements of a successful test ban treaty.

Finally, let me add how gratifying it is to see such a robust and engaged audience here in Vienna. I am very pleased that many more are watching and learning from afar. It’s fantastic that today’s technology makes it possible for you to join us as well, and I hope your connections are clear and that you will participate during the panel discussions.

CTBT Background

I know many of you are well-versed in the history and progress of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and its ban on all nuclear testing – but as a starting point, I do think it’s useful to remind ourselves why we agreed to the Treaty in the first place.

By the time the treaty was adopted and opened for signature in 1996, more than 2,000 nuclear tests had been conducted worldwide, leaving a ghastly humanitarian and environmental legacy amid growing concerns about the proliferation and security of nuclear weapons and the dangerous materials and the technology needed to build them.

The Treaty, then, was adopted to serve as a key piece of our global security architecture.  It could block the development of new technology in the race to build more – and more lethal – weapons. And it would put a ceiling on the technology already developed by nuclear weapon states. Nuclear weapons states would no longer test—preventing the development of more sophisticated warhead designs and meeting an essential commitment in the NPT bargain. Non-weapons states would never test, limiting nuclear proliferation and helping ease regional tensions by giving states confidence that geopolitical rivals wouldn’t and couldn’t outmaneuver them.

Since 1996, 183 states have signed the Treaty and 162 have ratified. That number includes all the countries that occupy the land mass of any definition of Europe, and it includes Russia.  Ironically, although the treaty is not yet in force, it is working. 

Since 1996, only India, Pakistan and North Korea have conducted nuclear tests. Support for the Treaty, in fact, is nearly universal, and today there is a de facto moratorium on testing.

That is, of course, a tremendously positive development. But for lasting security, that moratorium must be codified into law, and the Treaty will not be legally binding until it is brought into force.

We all know that progress has been painfully slow in recent years, despite the promise of rigorous new efforts by the United States and the very hard work of the CTBTO and others. Eight countries, all of which have complex inter-relationships, motivations and political reasons for balking at ratification, are still not on board. The United States, China, Israel, Egypt and Iran have signed but have not ratified the Treaty; India, Pakistan and North Korea have not yet signed.  The Treaty can’t enter into force until each of them acts.

I want to be clear that the reluctance of these outliers is not a reflection on the Treaty itself. In the United States, domestic politics has stalled progress. The George W. Bush administration and a number of key Republicans in the Senate opposed ratification of the Treaty, though the same administration pledged to uphold the moratorium on testing and helped fund the CTBTO; President Obama supports the Treaty and has vowed to press for ratification, but doing so will be a major endeavor in a very tough political environment– and the administration has not yet made ratification a top priority.

Without U.S. leadership, China has indicated that it is unlikely to move. At the same time, regional politics and conflict in the Middle East and deep tensions between India and Pakistan complicate prospects for progress there. And North Korea, of course, appears impervious to global pressure and determined to maintain its position as a rogue state.

Progress on Verification

So prospects for entry into force do appear limited, and I will discuss in a moment the dangers I see down the line if progress isn’t made. But first, let me reflect briefly on one very positive outcome related to the Treaty. While all countries but North Korea have refrained from testing since 1998, the CTBTO Preparatory Commission has been able to developed a world-class verification and monitoring system that can be used for purposes that extend far beyond determining whether a country has violated the global testing taboo.

The system has not yet reached its technical potential – and I know Dr. Richards will discuss it in much greater detail – but it already has proved to be a tremendously valuable resource.  It includes a comprehensive verification regime, an international monitoring system, an international data center and capability for on-site inspections. In the course of its constant monitoring for nuclear explosions, the system quickly and reliably detected the nuclear detonations in North Korea in 2006 and 2009.

The system’s technologies and data also can be used for important civilian purposes, including for scientific research and public safety. Since 2006, the system has been used to aid Tsunami warning stations in Asia.
So the world now has a valuable tool for international cooperation – the result of the development of technical capabilities that go well beyond what they were created for – and the system invites government information sharing in ways that would have been unthinkable before the Treaty was drafted and the CTBTO created.

Necessity for CTBT

There’s no question that the global taboo on nuclear tests is also a positive development. With no states but North Korea having tested now for 16 years, some might wonder whether final entry into force of the CTBT is really necessary. Aren’t we essentially where we want to be already? What’s the sense in expending huge political capital and effort to take the final step?

I believe that final step is crucial – and here’s why: Without it, all that we have worked so hard to accomplish – a system around the Treaty that is integral to the global nonproliferation and disarmament regime – remains at risk.

As I see it, the danger is that those who have made the tough decision to ratify will run out of patience as they watch the countries that have failed to act continue to drag their feet and make promises that go unfulfilled year after year. In Russia, in particular, I would think it would come as no surprise if some begin to ask: “Why are we in this treaty if other nuclear-armed states are not? Why should we be hemmed in?”

Adoption of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996 represented a high-water mark for multilateralism. It led to the creation of this world-class organization in Vienna and to the development of powerful and promising new technologies. It established a de facto global moratorium on testing. Do we want to risk losing the progress we’ve made? I know we don’t.

So how do we get the job done? We do it with a concerted, coordinated effort by governments, civil society and the international scientific community. And we do it with the delivery of a clear and compelling message that can convince those who are hesitant and those who oppose the Treaty outright that it is in the best security interests of the world – and of their own countries –if the Treaty is legally binding.

What’s Needed

I’ll begin with the work underway by the Group of Eminent Persons, a collection of senior statesmen, politicians and experts working to support Dr. Zerbo’s efforts to advance ratification by the remaining eight so-called Annex 2 states needed to achieve entry into force. The Group’s multi-layered plan includes engagement with leaders in the capitals of states that haven’t ratified; a working presence at high-level events; the use of members’ networks as force multipliers; and outreach to the public and the news media.

It will be a high-level effort by a group of highly motivated – and often very effective – advocates. All the same, it is with some degree of embarrassment that I stand here today and say that we may well not be able to finish the task. We may end up leaving the next generation with the unfinished business of what we started.

Of course that’s true with respect to so many global challenges where progress is made in small but significant steps and measured over longer periods of time than we would like. I do wish we could get the job done – and we are working hard toward that end – but I am delighted to see the young people engaged here today and to know there are more of you listening in from around the world, because odds are the responsibility will fall to you.

In the meantime, I hope you will work with us – both to prepare to face the perennial arguments against progress and also to engage with political leaders around the globe by making a convincing case that joining the test ban treaty doesn’t leave their countries more vulnerable – it enhances their security.

The United States should be a particular focus of all of our efforts as it can serve as a trigger for others to sign and ratify. In my new role as vice chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative in Washington, D.C., I am of late getting a closer view of U.S. politics – and the level and quality of the partisanship in the capital city is simply debilitating. It’s difficult to know how and when that situation will change – but I am confident it will. We can help facilitate that change – at least on this issue – with answers to the arguments made against the CTBT when the U.S. Senate rejected it in 1999.

Among them was that verification and monitoring wouldn’t work. Fifteen years later, we have a state-of-the-art system in place, with improvements still being made.

Another was that it would be impossible for the U.S. to properly maintain its arsenal under the strictures of the Treaty. But we now have the benefit of experience. France, the UK and Russia all have used technical advances to ensure that their weapons remain functional without having to explode warheads. And a 2012 report from the respected National Academy of Sciences in the United States reinforced that maintaining an effective stockpile would not require nuclear test explosions.

Even before that report came out, President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State, George Shultz, said Republican Senators “might have been right voting against [the CTBT] some years ago, but they would be right voting for it now.”

Europeans have a special obligation with respect to the effort to promote U.S. ratification. We must say to our allies: Look, we did this – now you need to as well.

A global ban on testing is also a debt we owe to the innocents irrevocably harmed by the tests of the past: the Downwinders in the western United States; the Kazakhs who suffered from the fallout from early Soviet tests; the Chinese relegated to closed cities – to name just a few groups. The atmospheric tests left a deadly legacy and we owe it to the victims to make sure it never happens again.

The legacy of underground tests must not be minimized either. There’s simply no question that we have done significant environmental damage all across the world by testing nuclear weapons beneath the surface of the earth.

Responding to Arguments and Changing the Narrative

We also must make the argument in areas with regional challenges, such as the Middle East, that a ban on nuclear tests can – and should – be dislocated from other security risks. It’s quite possible for a country to ratify the CTBT without undermining its security in other areas.

I want to address one more factor that tends to sap the will of those fighting for change: the notion that is simply too difficult to battle an entrenched bureaucracy. It is a challenge, no doubt, but my experience in government tells me it can be done. Bureaucracies can shift. Institutional barriers can be brought down.

When I served as UK Secretary of Defense, we were working to ban certain types of cluster bombs. These are bombs shot from ground systems or dropped from aircraft, and they were deemed necessary for use against enemy convoys because they disperse hundreds of small munitions known as bomblets that could take out tanks. The problem is that small unexploded munitions could lay dormant on the ground for long periods of time and then would go off when picked up by civilians, including children.

Those who opposed the ban argued that eliminating these cluster bombs would leave a gaping hole in our arsenal – but their arguments didn’t add up. My military advisers couldn’t come up with a scenario where we would need these kinds of bombs to stop a column of vehicles heading our way. We built the narrative to ban the cluster bombs, and we got the ban through. 

This is real-life proof that bureaucracies can shift.

We now must work to build and articulate the narrative for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty – that this treaty is a crucial element of our global security architecture, that its entry into force will create a legal framework that will at once reduce global risks and improve the security of individual states. A solid understanding of the Treaty and an ability to clearly communicate its benefits – as well as an ability to effectively knock down the arguments of its detractors – are fundamental to our ability to move forward. Governments, civil society and the international scientific community can work as force multipliers. I know the young leaders listening in today can help as well, and I look forward to working with you all in the months and years to come.

Thank you, again, for the kind invitation to join you here today.

September 1, 2014

NTI Vice Chairman Des Browne addressed a CTBT Public Policy Course in Vienna, Austria.

Des Browne
Des Browne

Vice Chair, NTI