September 24 marked the 15th anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). Since then, little progress has been made on the treaty’s entry into force. In a creative attempt to ensure the permanence of some of the CTBT’s essential functions, some observers are calling on states to remove the provisional status of the treaty’s key institutions.
The CTBT has been signed by 182 nations and ratified by 155. However, it will not enter into force until the remaining nine states from the list of 44 so-called Annex 2 states have ratified the treaty, including the U.S. and China. Despite the CTBT not having entered into force, the treaty’s Preparatory Commission and Provisional Secretariat provide invaluable services to many countries through an extensive monitoring network which not only detects nuclear testing but also provides early warning for tsunamis and tracks the fallout from nuclear accidents.
In other words, the CTBT offers much more than a ban on nuclear testing.
So long as the treaty remains in limbo, the benefits highlighted above are in danger. The biggest concern is that some countries will not want to keep funding treaty related activities unless they believe that the treaty will one day enter into force.
At a Stimson Center event on September 22, 2011, a panel of experts discussed options for securing the benefits of the CTBT. Out of the four ‘legal’ options presented by David Koplow, an international legal scholar at the Georgetown University Law Center, simply changing how we refer to the Preparatory Commission and Provisional Secretariat appeared to be the favoured option. This solution would entail eliminating the Preparatory in front of Commission and the Provisional in front of Secretariat when referring to these organs.
An objection to this proposal is that it would be merely symbolic and akin to accepting that entry into force may not be possible. Michael Krepon, Co-Founder and Senior Associate at the Stimson Center, addressed this concern over at Armscontrolwonk:
“Some treaty supporters will argue that these steps are insufficient and poor substitutes for the treaty’s entry into force. They are correct. But they are also unable to persuade enough Republican Senators in the United States to vote for the Treaty, or to convince states like Egypt, Iran, India, Pakistan and North Korea to come on board.”
While the entry into force of the treaty currently feels quite far away, changes to the way we think and talk about some of the CTBT’s key institutions could further entrench the key activities of treaty institutions as part of the taken-for-granted of international politics, thereby strengthening the case for the agreement’s entry into force.
Securing the benefits of the CTBT should be an imminent goal, not in conflict with other CTBT objectives.