Yesterday UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a statement on the urgency of the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty:
The conclusion of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) more than a decade ago was an important milestone in norm-setting and marked a significant achievement in the field of disarmament and non-proliferation. But for too long, it has not been brought into force. The price is high. There is no doubt that the longer the Treaty is delayed, the greater the risks and consequences that nuclear weapons will again be tested. By outlawing all nuclear tests, the CTBT in force would greatly contribute to global efforts to curb the proliferation of nuclear weapons while advancing nuclear disarmament.
The recent nuclear test by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has reminded the international community of the urgency of bringing the Treaty into force without further delay. In this regard, I welcome the fact that Security Council resolution 1874, adopted on 12 June 2009, has called upon the DPRK to join the Treaty as soon as possible.
Let me reiterate my strong appeal that all States that have not yet done so sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty as promptly as possible. I have publicly advocated the importance of the entry into force of the Treaty whenever possible, including in multilateral and bilateral settings. The international community should seize the current moment. I particularly commend the new administration for its pledges to work toward U.S. ratification of the Treaty, which I believe would add greater impetus in this endeavour.
As the Depository of the Treaty, I reaffirm the commitment of the United Nations to continue working together with the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) in facilitating the entry into force of the Treaty, including through the 2009 Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the CTBT.
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The Secretary General’s reference to North Korea’s recent nuclear test as evidence of the “urgency of bringing the Treaty into force without further delay,” reminded me of a recent Op-Ed on the same subject by former assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation Paula DeSutter. In contrast to the Secretary General, DeSutter maintained that “the North Korean nuclear tests…argues against U.S. ratification, not for it.”
According to De Sutter:
the treaty would give us no more leverage over North Korea than we have now. Pyongyang violated agreements in the past and would be likely to test. But the U.S. would still be prohibited from ever testing its nuclear weapons to ensure their safety and reliability and to strengthen deterrence. Our nuclear umbrella, already thin, will become increasingly tattered as the North hones its weapons and delivery systems.
This has got to be one of the least compelling arguments against the CTBT that I’ve ever encountered. Let’s take her two arguments in turn.
1. …the treaty would give us no more leverage over North Korea than we have now. Pyongyang violated agreements in the past and would be likely to test.
How does DeSutter know for sure that ratification of the CTBT by the U.S. and other holdouts would not raise the perceived cost to North Korea of conducting further nuclear tests? As Sam Berger, Sam Nunn, and Bill Perry noted in an Op-Ed published around the same time as DeSutter’s:
Let’s be clear: we are not saying that if we set a shining example by ratifying the CTBT that Iran and North Korea will suddenly see the light and immediately abandon their nuclear programs. That is not our point. We do believe, however, that if the U.S. can move forward on CTBT it would help build and sustain the international cooperation required to apply pressure on nations like North Korea and Iran still seeking the nuclear option, enhance America’s standing to argue that all nations should abide by global nonproliferation norms and rally the world to take other essential steps in preventing nuclear dangers. [emphasis mine]
2. But the U.S. would still be prohibited from ever testing its nuclear weapons to ensure their safety and reliability and to strengthen deterrence. Our nuclear umbrella, already thin, will become increasingly tattered as the North hones its weapons and delivery systems.
First, nuclear testing has never been central to maintaining the safety and reliability of our nuclear stockpile. As the 2002 National Academy of Sciences Report on the CTBT, which included three former lab directors, concluded, “Nuclear testing would not add substantially to…maintaining confidence in the assessment of the existing stockpile.” Second, does DeSutter really want to imply, as she does here, that North Korea could develop a nuclear arsenal that may one day rival our own?