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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 29, August - September 1998

CTBT Update
by Sandra Glass

Editorial Introduction

24 September 1998 is the two-year anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which Disarmament Diplomacy marks with a detailed analysis by Sandra Glass of the technical, verification and organisational progress being made in setting up the CTBT Organisation (CTBTO) in Vienna.

As of 10 September, the Treaty has been signed by 150 States and ratified by 20. As explained by Glass, the Treaty will enter into force following its ratification by 44 States named in article XIV as possessing nuclear power or research reactors (1). Of these States, three have yet to sign the Treaty: North Korea, which has given no indication of its intentions, and India and Pakistan, whose nuclear tests in May this year have, in the opinion of many observers, endangered their regional security and thrown the stability of the global non-proliferation regime into serious doubt. In the aftermath of the May tests, however, one silver-lining seemed perceptible: the possibility that India and Pakistan might subsequently sign and ratify the test ban. Both States have expressed backing for a mutual moratorium on testing and indicated in talks with the United States and others that they may be willing to join the CTBT.

Since blocking the transmission of the treaty text from the Conference on Disarmament to the United Nations in 1996, India has maintained that its opposition to the accord was motivated not by a desire to test but to the Treaty's flawed and discriminatory nature. Pakistan, in contrast, made clear that it could not join a Treaty which its powerful neighbour continues to disavow, although it has recently sought to delink its decisions from those of India.

On 4 August, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee addressed the issue in a speech to the lower house of the Parliament in New Delhi, the Lok Sabha. His words seemed to suggest that his Government no longer objected to the Treaty in principle, and that India would not jeopardise its future nuclear options by becoming a State party: "India remains committed to this dialogue with a view to arriving at a decision regarding adherence to the CTBT... These dialogues have been undertaken after satisfying ourselves that India no longer requires to undertake nuclear explosions." Referring to India's self-declared moratorium, Vajpayee added: "Naturally India reserves the right to review this decision if in its judgment extraordinary events take place that jeopardise India's supreme national interests. The CTBT also gives the same right to every country."

This would suggest CTBT-membership by India and Pakistan may be only a matter of time, with political bargaining to be conducted, rather than an ideological gulf to be bridged: for example, both States may hope for a relaxation of sanctions to be agreed before any announcement is made. On 5 August, quotes from unnamed Indian officials clearly supported this interpretation of the Prime Minister's remarks: "[W]hat the Prime Minister meant is that if we did not sign the CTBT earlier, it was because of our national security concerns. The situation has altered after the nuclear tests. What now remains before our adhering to the CTBT is finding ways and means. That depends on what we get in return from the key interlocutors for our commitment to the dialogue on [the] CTBT." (The Times of India, 5 August)

President Clinton is due to visit South Asia in November, and there will be strong pressure for both countries to commit to joining the CTBT before he arrives. According to National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, speaking on 8 September, "we will take a decision on the trip by the end of September." So far, Berger added, "there's been some movement [but] not enough at this point to justify going." Speaking the same day, the principal secretary to Vajpayee, Brajesh Mishra, told Reuters that India would not be rushed into any decision: "We're not in a hurry in the sense that there is enough time, there is at least a year's time before we have to finally make up our mind whether we are going to join or not join."

On 14 September, Mishra, replying to a journalist's question, stated that "it is not correct to say that [the] CTBT is discriminatory." He did insist, however, that the "question of" the Treaty's "linkage to disarmament" had to be worked out before Indian accession - an assertion which would suggest that New Delhi still harbours political objections, if not now in principle, to the scope and ambition of the ban. Mishra was also adamant that these were general objections, motivated by a pro-disarmament agenda, and not an attempt to wring benefits for India out of States, particularly the United States, eager to secure Indian membership. Describing such a claim as "quite misleading," Mishra claimed: "We have not asked for any concessions, nor have we asked anybody to recognise us as a nuclear-weapon State."

On 16 September, Vajpayee, addressing a news conference in Madras, suggested that the "linkage to disarmament" was by no means the only remaining obstacle to membership. The Prime Minister stated: "I know the Treaty is not going to be amended, but certain other arrangements could be made which will facilitate our work...particularly regarding [the] transfer of high technology." His remark was interpreted as referring primarily to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which India officially objects to because of a perceived, general discrimination against States in the developing world seeking non-military nuclear technology. Because its nuclear facilities are not subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, current NSG rules bar the transfer of nuclear-related technology to India.

In addition to the accession of India and Pakistan, the Treaty's entry into force faces prolonged delays due to ratification problems in the US Senate and Russian Duma. Britain and France ratified early in April 1998, but China is giving every indication of not being in a hurry, preferring to leave it until after the bigger nuclear powers have ratified. The Treaty's difficulties in the US Congress, which currently enjoys a Republican majority in both Houses, were already considerable before May, with some Senators linking ratification with government commitment to ballistic missile defence, some wanting pork barrel contracts for their regions, and others seeking leverage and backing for their own legislative priorities. As the following quote from Jesse Helms, Chair of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, makes clear, the South Asian tests were seized on by opponents of the CTBT as justification for their reluctance to ratify. Speaking before Pakistan tested, Helms proclaimed: "India's actions demonstrate that the...Treaty...from a non-proliferation standpoint is scarcely more than a sham. I hope that the Clinton Administration has learned from its mistakes sufficiently to refuse to allow India to paper over its actions by signing the CTBT. I, for one, cannot and will not agree to any treaty which would legitimise de facto India's possession of these weapons, just so long as they are not caught testing them. ... What is needed at this time, is not a scramble for an arms control treaty that prohibits the United States from guaranteeing the safety of the American people and the reliability of its nuclear stockpile." (Statement from Senator Helms' office, 13 May.)

By contrast, senior figures from President Clinton himself to the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, have publicly demonstrated their support for the CTBT and called on Congress not to hold such an important arms control measure hostage to domestic political agendas. The government has also re-emphasised its support for the $4.2 billion stockpile stewardship programme, viewed as the price for support for the CTBT from the Pentagon, the influential nuclear weapons laboratories, and certain key senators.

There seems little probability that Congress will ratify the Treaty before the November mid-term elections. Ratification will require a two-thirds majority: 67 of 100 members. On 3 September, the Senate voted on whether to approve $29 million of funds for the Preparatory Commission for the CTBTO in Vienna. According to Majority Leader Trent Lott, speaking before the vote: "Anything less than 67 votes in support of this amendment will send a strong signal that the Senate is prepared to reject this treaty." (The Washington Post, 3 September.) The amendment passed by 49 votes to 44.

Article XIV Conference

Article XIV of the CTBT provided for a conference if the Treaty had not entered into force three years after being opened for signature. As Glass discusses, there is some disagreement about when this should take place, but the majority view is that the Conference should be held in September 1999. The Treaty also requires that this 'Article XIV conference' be held each year until entry into force is effected. The signatories have already begun to discuss the structure and function of the Article XIV Conference, which is open to all States which have ratified.

Various options are being explored. There are competing rationales for holding the Conference in Vienna or New York (with other venues, such as Geneva, a possibility, but less likely). In view of the necessity to hold this conference annually until entry into force, the current preference is for a short, very focused Conference of three days. Article XIV did not empower the conference to waive the entry-into-force requirements, but only to "consider and decide by consensus what measures consistent with international law may be undertaken to accelerate the ratification process in order to facilitate the early entry into force" of the Treaty. Since it cannot accomplish full entry into force without the 44 listed States, the Article XIV conference has essentially two options: to create conditions of political pressure to bring about the desired ratifications; and to set up mechanisms under which the CTBTO and its verification system could be provisionally applied. Since provisional application carries its own headaches in terms of decision-making and authority, payment sharing, and how to differentiate the role and responsibilities of ratified members and 'observers' who have signed but not ratified, this may be a last resort option. To begin with, therefore, it may be more useful to regard the Article XIV conference as a mechanism for raising awareness of the importance of a universal CTBT. It could, however, agree structures and procedures for ensuring that the verification regime is established and paid for and that the officials of the Provisional Technical Secretariat (PTS) have appropriate political oversight and authority for their work.

It is not at present clear what role or responsibilities would be extended to CTBT signatories who have signed but not ratified. No doubt they should be encouraged to attend the Conference, but perhaps as observers with no decision-making rights. Exclusion from decision-making may be one incentive the Article XIV Conference can employ to induce governments to speed up the legislative process of ratification. CTBT advocates have expressed the hope that there will be at least 40 ratifications by 24 September, 1999, the target date for requesting the UN Secretary General (as CTBT depositary) to convene the Article XIV conference. The debate about the role and function of this conference is just beginning to hot up, and will be covered in future issues of Disarmament Diplomacy.


1. The 44 States are: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Romania, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America, Viet Nam, Zaire.

The CTBT: Two Years On
By Sandra Glass

In the meantime, the Preparatory Commission, which had a shaky start in New York in November 1996 when States Signatories could not agree on how to apportion the high level posts of the Provisional Technical Secretariat (each regional group wanted to be assured of one), is now off and running, under the energetic leadership of Dr. Wolfgang Hoffmann, previously ambassador of Germany to the Conference on Disarmament during the negotiations. The Preparatory Commission, financed by the States Signatories to set up the complex global verification regime of the Treaty and to prepare for its entry into force, has just concluded its sixth session in Vienna, 17-19 August, with the participation of 76 States and three Observers. While the major issue of the session was the budget of the Preparatory Commission for 1999, which determines how much work can be accomplished next year towards the implementation of the verification regime, signatories adopted a number of substantial recommendations from the two Working Groups - one on budget and administration and one on verification--which meet between each of the three sessions of the Preparatory Commission every year.

The Preparatory Commission is composed of all States which have signed the Treaty. It established in Vienna a Provisional Technical Secretariat to assist the Commission in its activities. The Preparatory Commission and its Working Groups have assigned increasing numbers of responsibilities to the PTS since it started operating, and the Preparatory Commission then oversees the performance of these tasks by the PTS and makes recommendations for further work. In turn, the Executive Secretary, Dr. Hoffmann, reports on its activities to each session of the Preparatory Commission.

Working Group B, under the Chairmanship of Dr. Ola Dahlman of Sweden, previously chairman of the Conference on Disarmament's Group of Seismic Experts for 14 years, has taken large strides towards setting up the vast machinery involved in the International Monitoring System (IMS) to detect and identify nuclear explosions, an International Data Centre (IDC), and other measures called for under the Treaty's article IV on verification.

The IMS is to comprise a global network of 321 monitoring stations capable of detecting nuclear explosions around the world. The network includes 50 primary and 120 auxiliary seismic stations which are able to detect nuclear explosions down to a low yield. The system is designed in such a way as to distinguish between nuclear explosions and some 50,000 earthquakes likely to be picked up by the seismic system every year. It also includes 80 radionuclide stations to identify radioactive particles released during a nuclear explosion; 40 of these are to be capable of detecting noble gases. The radionuclide monitoring stations are to be supported by 16 laboratories for the analysis of samples. Further, 60 infrasound stations and 11 hydroacoustic stations are to be installed to detect acoustic signals in the atmosphere or under water that might be generated by a nuclear explosion.

All of these stations are to be connected directly on line to an International Data Centre in Vienna, and will start sending their data there for processing and analysis beginning next year. Currently data from a limited number of stations is transmitted to the prototype IDC in Arlington, Virginia for testing purposes, with a communications line sending the data in real time to Vienna. Pursuant to the Protocol to the Treaty, the IDC will produce standard event lists and bulletins (containing time and location of detected events) and screened event bulletins which filter out events that do not seem to be related to a nuclear event. States Parties may receive both raw and processed information. The International Data Centre represents a significant technological challenge, and requires state-of-the-art equipment, as gigabytes of data from four different technologies will be continuously streaming into the Centre from stations all over the world, to be consolidated into a single data analysis system at a very rapid pace.

The International Monitoring System is still in a build-up, testing phase. Many of the seismic stations have been running for years, but have yet to be upgraded and certified. Thanks to the third technical test of the Group of Seismic Experts (GSETT-3), the operational characteristics of many of the stations are well known, which facilitates the task of the Provisional Technical Secretariat. The PTS is concentrating on certification of the primary seismic stations, whereby the station performance is assessed. If they substantially meet the requirements, the stations are certified. The first station to acquire certification was Norway's Hamar array. However, although only one station has been certified, and 30 are due for certification in 1998, up to 50 seismic stations have been identified as operational, needing practically no upgrading, and installation work on another 6 seismic stations is underway this year.

While the seismic system had a solid basis from the GSE experience, no corresponding core system exists for the other technologies, which are therefore starting at a far less developed or experimental stage. This year the plan is to install 10 radionuclide stations, 7 infrasound stations, and two hydroacoustic stations.

The verification system is estimated to cost $l50 million for equipment and installation, and to have annual operating and maintenance costs of around $85 million when fully operational. Seismology represented the largest capital investment in the IMS for 1997 and 1998, i.e. $ 15.7 million.

Since it was created, Working Group B has been laboriously developing the technical specifications for the stations and instructions on how to conduct site surveys. The Group has also developed certification procedures, operational manuals, training programmes, data authentication procedures, etc. for the stations of the International Monitoring System. At the recently completed sixth session of the Preparatory Commission, Working Group B reported on its review and assessment of the progress of the PTS during the first part of 1998, the draft verification-related budget for 1999 developed by the PTS, and numerous technical issues.

Perhaps the most notable accomplishment the Working Group reported on was the development of a list of 40 radionuclide stations to have noble gas detection capability. Since the idea of including such capability in the Treaty proved very contentious during the negotiations, agreement in principle on this list is considered a landmark. In this connection, the Working Group is grappling with a clear definition of the role of radionuclide laboratories in order to work out the analytical capabilities that will be required at the laboratories. It will also need to further consider the logistical aspects of transferring samples from the monitoring stations to the radionuclide laboratories.

The Preparatory Commission reviewed the work of the International Data Centre, which has remodeled and prepared its facilities in Vienna, and which is to begin testing in the fall of 1999. The IDC has purchased its computer equipment, installed a high-capacity communications link between the prototype IDC and the IDC, initiated an IDC training programme, and recruited PTS staff. The first of four phases to establish the initial operations of the IDC has been completed. Data from stations at 63 IMS sites started to be transmitted from the prototype IDC to the Vienna IDC over a high-speed communications link in May. Efforts are now focusing on the establishment of operations at the IDC, with development and testing of the release 2 applications software, which should be installed in January 1999. This programme will provide for the computation of standard screened event bulletins, addition of auxiliary seismic data processing, possibly transmitting IMS data to signatories, and initial services such as data collection and system monitoring. The Working Group will continue to review the plans for the standard event screening and the initial draft of the IDC Operational Manual.

This touches on another area that was politically sensitive during the negotiations on the Treaty. The developing countries, which by and large do not possess the capability to analyze the data from the IDC, wanted to have the IDC screen it to the extent that it could render an expert opinion on ambiguous events. The more technologically advanced countries felt strongly that such interpretation was the responsibility of the States Parties.

The Commission has given the Working Group the task of developing a policy on public access to IMS data and IDC products. Simultaneously, it requested Working Group B to continue considering comprehensive policies on a policy on confidentiality for the overall operation of the verification system.

The Preparatory Commission also reviewed the plans for installation of the global communications infrastructure (GCI), to support data transfer from the stations to the IDC and from the IDC to States Signatories. The GCI will comprise communications links between the 337 IMS facilities spread around the world and the IDC in Vienna, Austria. Because many of the stations are located in harsh environments, the most reliable means of communication for data collection in most cases is via satellite links. The GCI will also include communications links between the IDC and the national data centre of each State Signatory, and it will distribute IDC products and IMS raw data to the States Signatories. In order to collect data from 337 sites and be able to send it to a potential 193 States Signatories, the plan is to have 530 independent globally distributed satellite links (VSAT sites) with a central communication node at the IDC. The GCI may be tested at up to 30 sites by March 1999, and a contract to lease the GCI equipment for 10 years is about to be signed.

Some States are requesting that data from their IMS stations be routed through a national centre before transmission to the IDC, and this additional expense will be paid for by those States Signatories. Financial implications and technical requirements for parts of the system were approved by this session of the Preparatory Commission, with facility agreements or arrangements to be elaborated with individual States Signatories.

Working Group B is considering a concept of operations for on-site inspections, which is an area of the Treaty deliberately left for the Preparatory Commission to develop. The Working Group has drawn up lists of equipment and technical specifications for testing and training, and work is proceeding on an OSI Operational Manual. Procedures, guidelines, standing arrangements and infrastructure are being developed to support an on-site inspection after entry into force of the Treaty.

The Working Group and the Provisional Technical Secretariat are developing a comprehensive approach to the evaluation of the CTBTO verification of compliance system, and a quality assurance program began in 1998.

In an effort to promote confidence-building measures, the Working Group has developed guidelines for voluntary reporting of information on single chemical explosions of greater than 300 tons, calibration explosions, and information on other chemical explosions. It also reported on its consideration of issues such as designated laboratories for on-site inspections, authentication, options for taking advantage of future scientific and technological developments in order to maintain state-of-the-art equipment, proposals for technical training courses by the PTS, and post-certification activities and costs. Further, it has approved the recommendations for improvements to the hydroacoustic network.

To the surprise of some States Signatories, in the course of investigating various station sites for surveys, the Preparatory Commission last year discovered that some of the coordinates of locations of monitoring stations listed in the Treaty are miles away from where they should be, and in some cases in the middle of a swamp or river. The Preparatory Commission decided that alternative sites be surveyed and recommended so that work on these stations can proceed, recognizing that the proposed changes will necessitate appropriate legal procedures.

The Executive Secretary reported to the sixth session of the Preparatory Commission that no legal facility agreements have been signed yet with countries which are to host IMS stations. Instead, the Preparatory Commission has authorized temporary legal agreements, in the form of an exchange of letters, whereby the host country consents to have work proceed on its territory. In this way work from the 1997 and 1998 work programmes can proceed, and 29 countries have provided authorisation to commence work on 79 stations. Efforts have focused on site surveys in order to be able to prepare sites and purchase equipment. However, some States have expressed concern that a solid legal framework should be established prior to installing expensive equipment in host countries in order to follow standard privileges and immunities of personnel, avoid taxes on the imported equipment, and safeguard the investments to be made. The imposition of taxes by some States Signatories may result in an addition of $5 to $15 million expenditure by the Provisional Technical Secretariat, which could have serious implications on the establishment of the verification system.

The Preparatory Commission's Working Group on budget and administration (Working Group A), chaired by Ambassador Tibor Toth of Hungary, considers items such as financial regulations and rules, the 1999 programme and budget for the PTS, staff regulations and rules, legal procedures and agreements, and the imposition of taxes by some States on the Preparatory Commission. In addition, an Advisory Group on financial, budgetary and associated administrative issues chaired by Mr. Andre Gue of France, considers matters such as the draft programme and budget for 1999, provisional financial rules, a capital investment fund, and a Joint Common Services Agreement with other Organizations sharing the Vienna International Centre.

Each year States Signatories to the CTBT have argued for many hours over the budget of the Preparatory Commission, with those wishing to see the verification regime established quickly promoting a higher figure, while those who would prefer a slower pace supporting a lower one. As mentioned previously, States' positions on the budget are influenced by their view of when they expect entry into force to occur. If a State perceives that the Treaty will enter into force at an early date, it may wish to spend more money to progress rapidly on the establishment of the verification regime. If, on the other hand, it appears that the Treaty will not enter force until a later time, countries are less likely to spend on this endeavor. In addition, some countries have problems supporting a greatly increased budget for 1999 because of their domestic financial problems. Japan in particular has been advocating restraint in the budget due to the economic crisis in the region and an increase in its CTBT assessments. Most other States were willing to see the budget increase in order to proceed apace with the establishment of the verification regime, with the United States and France pushing originally for $90 million or more, now modified to $81 million. The Preparatory Commission started with a budget of $30 million for 1997; it increased to $58 million in 1998, and appears to be headed for the realm of $75 million for 1999. About $17 million of this is devoted to non-verification activities, including administrative costs and the cost of the policy-making organs. Final decision on the 1999 budget will be made at the November 1998 meeting of the Preparatory Commission.

The Provisional Technical Secretariat now employs about 140 staff members - half of whom are in the professional category - from 52 States Signatories. Housed in the Vienna International Centre along with the UN Offices and the IAEA, the PTS is the precursor to the Technical Secretariat called for under the article on Organization in the Treaty upon entry into force. Following a request by the Preparatory Commission, the Provisional Technical Secretariat has established an Experts Communication System which is used to make documents available to some 350 experts registered so far around the world prior to and during the meetings taking place in Vienna via secure Internet communications.

Under the provisions of the article on entry into force, if the Treaty has not entered into force "three years after the date of the anniversary of its opening for signature" a conference of those States that have already ratified it shall be held to decide what measures may be taken to accelerate the ratification process in order to facilitate the Treaty's entry into force. Much discussion has taken place in the corridors and legal opinions have been sought regarding the interpretation of when this conference is meant to take place, but the generally held view is that it will be held in September of 1999 in New York or Vienna. The negotiating history of the Treaty reveals that the delegation which supplied the language intended the time span to mean three years, even if the language is a bit awkward. Some delegations held that the Treaty language should be interpreted as four years.

This puts pressure on States to ratify the Treaty before September 1999, as otherwise they will not be able to participate in the above-mentioned conference. Inasmuch as three of the five nuclear-weapon States have not ratified the Treaty, and they seem to be in no rush to do so, perhaps such a deadline is necessary to spur them on. The United States is unlikely to consider the Treaty this year for well know reasons, although it has been transmitted by the President to the Senate, and some hearings have been held. With the current crises in the Russian Federation, it is clearly not a priority of the Duma. China is considering ratification, although the time frame is not specified.

At the August session of the Preparatory Commission, States Signatories expressed deep regret at the decision by India and Pakistan to carry out their recent nuclear tests, which are contrary to the goal of non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament. They expressed concern that the tests would contribute to a nuclear arms race in South Asia, and called upon India and Pakistan to sign and ratify the CTBT without delay and without conditions. Many believe that the testing by India and Pakistan reinforced the need for a strong verification regime. It also demonstrates the importance of this year for the CTBT and its entry into force.

Sandra Glass is a freelance journalist who writes on arms control issues.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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