CTBTO Preparatory Commission Verification Regime at Risk

Earlier this year, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) introduced companion bills in the House and Senate that, if enacted into law, would restrict funding for the Preparatory Commission of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). This is the second time that Rep. Wilson and Sen. Cotton have introduced bills attempting to cut funding for the CTBTO Preparatory Commission, the first one following the UN Resolution in September 2016.

The Wilson bill was turned into an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Bill when considered by the House of Representatives and adopted by voice vote. Senator Cotton may also offer his bill as an amendment when the same bill reaches the Senate floor.

The new bills would restrict all U.S. funding for the CTBTO Preparatory Commission (22 percent of the CTBTO budget in 2016), except for the organization’s International Monitoring System (IMS), which is composed of monitoring stations and laboratories worldwide that can detect illicit nuclear explosions. But the IMS does not act alone; the International Data Center processes and analyzes the data from the IMS and both parts are required for the verification regime of the CTBTO Preparatory Commission to function.

If these bills were signed into law, the global monitoring apparatus would be severely threatened. Raw IMS data would be collected, but the Preparatory Commission would be unable to properly process and analyze the information. Consequently, these bills would weaken U.S. and global security and should not become law.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson joined with his G7 foreign ministerial counterparts to extoll the value of the CTBTO in their April joint communique on nonproliferation and disarmament: “The verification regime being established by the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, in particular the International Monitoring System and International Data Centre, has proven its effectiveness by providing substantive and reliable data on the nuclear tests conducted by North Korea.

The CTBTO Preparatory Commission was established with two objectives: to create a global verification regime for nuclear weapons tests and to promote the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty’s entry into force, which has not yet occurred. The Provisional Technical Secretariat (PTS), the main body of the Preparatory Commission in charge of verification, consists of three technical divisions: the International Monitoring System, the International Data Center (IDC), and on-site inspections (which will not occur until the treaty enters into force). The IMS collects data from 321 monitoring stations and 16 laboratories and sends this data to the IDC, which processes and analyzes the data and sends it to the member states. Data from the IMS is transferred to the IDC every single day and, “without processing, this bulk of information would be of little use to most States.”

The introduced bills fail to mention the IDC, which seems to demonstrate a lack of understanding that the IMS and IDC function together. The IMS cannot function without the work of the IDC, so the cuts proposed in the bills would severely harm the entire work of the PTS under the CTBTO Preparatory Commission.

The work of the PTS in detecting and analyzing illicit nuclear explosions is critical for U.S. national security and international security. Even though the U.S. has its own monitoring capabilities, it is important to have an independent organization that can help confirm any illegal explosive testing.

The CTBTO also shares this information with all member states, so everyone has access to the information. Countries can review the evidence and come to their own conclusions without anyone accusing the United States of trying to influence the process. North Korea is continuing to move forward with its nuclear testing program, so the United States needs all tools available to document and understand their capabilities. We need a fully functioning PTS that is able to execute its activities in entirety to help in these efforts.

Furthermore, the CTBTO needs to be able to hire scientists and analysts, convey technical information to member states, and educate the media on the threats posed by nuclear testing. When it comes down to it, funding only a part of an organization will inevitably affect the strength of the whole organization. Even people who don’t support U.S. ratification of the CTBT should recognize the value and importance of an independent organization monitoring nuclear tests.

The International Monitoring System and International Data Center cannot be separated from the CTBTO Preparatory Commission itself without severely hampering the entire verification regime, and putting U.S. and international security at risk. To ensure the continuation of the CTBTO Preparatory Commission verification regime, which benefits and informs the entire international community, the proposed bills should not be passed.