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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 37, May 1999

The Test Ban Treaty on the Eve of the Article XIV Conference on Entry Into Force
By Darryl Kimball

Nearly three years ago, on 24 September, 1996, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was opened for signature with great fanfare and high expectations that it would soon lead to further post-Cold War nuclear risk reduction achievements. While 152 States have signed the CTBT and global support for the treaty is strong, progress toward securing the ratifications necessary for entry into force has been painstakingly slow. The very challenging entry into force mechanism spelled out in Article XIV of the treaty requires that 44 specific States, named in Annex 2 of the treaty, must ratify. As of this time (1 June), 26 of the 44 named States must still ratify. Chief among the remaining CTBT holdouts are three of the former nuclear testing offenders - United States, China, and Russia - as well as the latest nuclear testers, India and Pakistan, which have not yet signed, despite their respective Prime Ministers' September 1998 pledges to do so.

The failure of these and other States to ratify the Test Ban Treaty threatens to further undermine global disarmament and non-proliferation efforts, even as the value of the test ban becomes more apparent: India and Pakistan have done little to pull back from their nuclear arms competition a year after their nuclear blasts; the United States and China at odds over the controversial charges from a Select Congressional Committee of espionage at the US nuclear laboratories; and both Russia and China are threatening nuclear buildups as a response to the United States' active consideration of deployment of national missile defenses and renegotiation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), among other factors.

The CTBT, which prohibits "all nuclear weapon test explosions and all other nuclear explosions," will help curb the development of new and more deadly nuclear bomb types. At the very least, prompt entry into force of the CTBT will help prevent a new round of nuclear testing, a renewed US-Russian arms competition, and the possible emergence of new nuclear arms races in other regions of the globe. The long term prospects for CTBT entry into force will be determined by the course of events over the next few months, primarily the outcome of an upcoming conference of treaty ratifiers and leadership - or absence thereof - from the Clinton Administration in securing Senate approval of US ratification.

The Article XIV Special Conference on Entry Into Force

Because they knew that a very strict entry into force provision would make it difficult to bring the CTBT into force promptly, Canadian negotiators at the CTBT talks at the Conference on Disarmament suggested and others agreed to Article XIV, paragraph 2, which allows for annual conferences to accelerate ratifications of the CTBT. Under Article XIV, the UN Secretary General "shall convene a Conference of the States that have already deposited their instruments of ratification on the request of a majority of those States." It provides that the purpose of the conference is 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 CTBT.

Like students cramming for their final exam, the urgency of accelerating ratifications toward entry into force - and the importance of the Conference itself - is becoming more apparent to a greater number of governments as the date for the first Special Article XIV Conference approaches. Last month at the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee Meeting, many delegations cited the importance of securing the necessary signatures and ratifications to facilitate prompt CTBT entry into force. The United States' representative Norm Wulf reiterated that: "Obtaining ratification in 1999 is one of the Administration's highest priorities. In addition, the United States is committed to working toward the earliest possible entry into force of this fundamental treaty and will approach the 'Article XIV Conference' scheduled to be held this fall, with that objective firmly in mind...." (1) China's delegation noted that President Jiang Zemin promised on 26 March that the CTBT, will be submitted "very soon" to China's National Peoples Assembly for approval of Chinese ratification. (2)

The NPT Preparatory Committee meeting also signalled a new phase in the informal discussions - underway since last year - among treaty ratifiers about the Article XIV Special Conference. Until last month, most of the informal discussions were focused on timing and venue, and the means by which the Conference will be convened. Led by Vienna-based Ambassadors, those discussions resulted in a majority of ratifiers writing to Secretary General Kofi Annan this spring to inform him of their interest in convening Article XIV Conference in Vienna very soon after 24 September. On 11 May, Austrian Ambassador Willy Kempel made the first public announcement about ratifiers' plans to convene the first Article XIV Special Conference when he said it "...will take place later in the year in Vienna to look for ways and means how to achieve early entry into force." (3) The likely dates for the meeting are 6-8 October.

Now, the task of planning the agenda, meeting procedures, and paving the way for productive meeting outcomes must begin. Serving as "Consultative Chair" of the informal discussions on the Article XIV Special Conference, Britain's Ambassador to Vienna, John Freeman, convened a meeting of representatives of CTBT ratifiers and signatories on the margin of the NPT meeting on 18 May in New York. This meeting, one of several held over the last few weeks, covered matters including the meeting agenda, draft rules of procedure and the respective roles of Conference attendees. While Article XIV of the CTBT stipulates that only ratifiers may take decisions at the Conference, States that have only signed will attend as "observers," and even non-signers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) may be granted such status. NGOs have been an essential driving force behind the CTBT since its inception. They would, if granted observer status and access to Conference documents, play an important and constructive role in the Conference. NGOs could provide significant and much needed assistance with the dissemination and publicity of Conference proceedings and outcomes. But the discussions on Conference procedures are clearly at the early stages and much more remains to be done over the next one to two months to prepare for the substantive actions of the Conference.

As a further contribution to this process, the Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers, an alliance of 17 Washington and London-based NGOs released a report by former US Ambassador George Bunn and others, Accelerating Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty: The Article XIV Special Conference. (4) The NGO report, released last month, makes the case for a "high-level" event and it describes several measures that might be adopted by the Special Conference. Since the Article XIV Conference cannot waive the entry into force provision or otherwise amend the treaty to change this requirement, the Conference can only decide on "measures consistent with international law to accelerate the ratification process in order to facilitate the early entry into force of this Treaty." The NGO report outlines several measures that might be pursued, including:

  • A declaration on the importance of the CTBT, its entry into force and its implementation, which describes the value the international community places on the CTBT. The Conference declaration could call upon each signatory to provide its full share of financial support for the continued development and operation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization so that the International Data Center, the International Monitoring System and the Executive Secretariat are available and ready when the CTBT does enter into force.
  • A declaration naming the States among the 44 that have not ratified as of the date of the conference and calling upon them to do so.
  • Offers by participants of practical assistance to non-ratifying States to help them ratify, including providing information to non-ratifying States on the likelihood of CTBT inspections in their territories, or on other aspects of the verification system; providing help with legislation that parliaments of ratifying States may see as necessary as part of the ratification process. Article III of the CTBT requires parties to "take any necessary measures" to prohibit individuals or organizations within their territory, or any of their nationals anywhere, from conducting nuclear test explosions or encouraging or participating in the conduct of such an explosion anywhere. States are also expected to establish a national authority and to be prepared to accept the responsibility of participation in the verification regime. The Special Conference could facilitate assistance on implementing legislation from those that have ratified and have addressed these issues for themselves.
  • A declaration urging that ratifying States give special consideration in the future to others that have ratified when considering whether to support them or non-ratifiers for international positions such as the Conference on Disarmament or on the Security Council, for international loans by the World Bank or International Monetary Fund, for national loans or other economic assistance or for purchases of goods or services.
  • A declaration condemning any future testing of nuclear weapons and calling for economic sanctions to be imposed upon any State conducting them.
  • A declaration condemning future testing by any signatory to the CTBT as violating Article XVIII of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties because testing would be inconsistent with the "object and purpose" of signing the CTBT. (5)
  • Agreement to send emissaries to capitals of non-ratifying States of the 44 after the Special Conference on CTBT Entry Into Force is over to inform them of its conclusions and seek their prompt ratification. High-level officials from particular regions or particular international organizations could join together in trips to other members of their region or their organization.
  • A decision to convene another Article XIV Special Conference in 2000 if the CTBT has not entered into force by then. Unless otherwise decided by the voting members of the first Special Conference on Entry Into Force, Article XIV allows for this process to "be repeated at subsequent anniversaries of the opening for signature of this treaty." A second conference, one year later, could set a new deadline and provide similar incentives for the remaining holdouts.
But as Bunn argues in the May 1999 report, the success of the Article XIV Special Conference on Entry Into Force depends on what governments that support the CTBT and its prompt entry into force do in the run-up to the Conference. It is vital that concerned parties act now to help accelerate ratifications by the remaining hold-out States. Indeed, Australia and Japan, among others, are now making demarches to CTBT signers who have not ratified. If by October a larger number of States have ratified the CTBT (38 have done so thus far), the Conference will have greater influence on the remaining hold-outs.

For the Special Conference to succeed in accelerating entry into force, it also needs to become a large convocation of political leaders, non-governmental organizations and media representatives. All States that have ratified the CTBT should support plans for this Conference that would create maximum visibility and encourage high-level representation by all States that have ratified, most importantly, by stating their intention to have their foreign ministers attend the Special Conference on CTBT Entry Into Force, at least on its opening day. The ability of the Conference to make significant political decisions and to achieve significant media and political attention will largely be a function of whether high-level representatives attend or not. Governments that support the prompt entry into force of the CTBT could take the additional step, at all appropriate international meetings and in connection with senior-level bilateral meetings, of calling upon all States to sign and ratify the Treaty before the Article XIV Conference is convened.

Ratification by the United States?

Nowhere, except perhaps in India, is CTBT approval more problematic than in the United States. At the same time, ratification by the United States is most important, given the likelihood that several key States, including Russia and China, seem to be waiting for the United States to ratify. Although President Clinton's government was vital to the conclusion of negotiations on the so-called "zero-yield" test ban treaty, his Administration has been unable to move the CTBT to a vote in the United States Senate, despite overwhelming public support, the endorsement of military leaders, and strong Senate backing. US ratification requires the approval of a two thirds majority of the Senate. Most Senate observers expect that the CTBT will win Senate approval, if it is voted on. But prospects for ratification are in jeopardy because a small, but powerful minority, led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (Republican - North Carolina), have blocked a vote in the Senate.

The CTBT was transmitted to the Senate for its approval over 20 months ago, but Helms has held the treaty hostage. He can do so because Senate rules give his committee jurisdiction over treaties and he is exercising that power by demanding that the Clinton Administration send two unrelated treaties to his Committee before he allows the CTBT to move forward. Helms' position is that: "Not until the Administration has submitted the ABM protocols and the Kyoto global-warming treaty ... will the Foreign Relations Committee turn its attention to other treaties on the president's agenda. ... I expect them [the ABM protocols] to arrive by 1 June." (6) Helms stated intention is to defeat the ABM protocols and undermine the 1972 ABM Treaty itself in order to hasten US deployment of a national missile defense system.

However, because the ABM protocols are unlikely to gain the two-thirds Senate majority required for their approval without the added value of deep, verifiable reduction in Russian strategic nuclear weapons, the Clinton Administration has no intention of delivering the ABM protocols until the Russian State Duma ratifies START II - a possibility that is all the more remote in the wake of the war in Yugoslavia. As a consequence, the CTBT appears to be stuck in a treaties "traffic jam" in the US Senate with few alternative routes available for the completion of its journey.

Senator Helms' hawkish views and his politics-before-substance tactics stand in stark contrast to the views of most of his Senate colleagues, several of whom have begun to show signs that they will more forcefully challenge Helms and try to bring the CTBT to the Senate for a vote. Several "moderate" Republican Senators have gone on record urging Helms to hold hearings on the CTBT and/or have urged the Senate as a whole to approve the treaty. On 4 May, Senator Susan Collins (Republican - Minnesota) wrote Helms urging him to hold hearings at an early date. Others, in the Senate, particularly some Democrats appear to be preparing the ground for an aggressive campaign to force the Senate to schedule a vote on the CTBT. Senator Byron Dorgan (Democrat - North Dakota) delivered a strong speech on the floor of the Senate on 24 May, warning that:

"I intend to work with a number of my colleagues to see if we are able, in the coming weeks, to speak with some aggressiveness on this issue here on the floor of the Senate and, on behalf of the American people, to make the case that we ought to have the opportunity to vote on the ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. We ought to do it soon. I have seen the agenda that has been offered by the Majority Leader as to what he hopes to bring to the floor to the Senate before Memorial Day, before the Fourth of July. This is not on it. It must be. It should be. I hope it will be, because this is a critically important issue to our country and to the world." (7)

While Helms' position is strong, it is not invulnerable to pressure for action on the CTBT from "moderate" members of his own party and Senate Democrats.

Many of Helms' Republican colleagues may also find it increasingly difficult to allow him to delay consideration of the CTBT in wake recent allegations of Chinese espionage at United States nuclear weapons laboratories. As covered elsewhere in this issue of Disarmament Diplomacy, a report released on 25 May by a select House committee on technology transfers (8) chaired by Rep. Christopher Cox (Republican - California) claims that China has gained access to classified information on as many as seven types of US nuclear warheads, including several nuclear warheads still at the core of the US arsenal. Worst-case scenarios, as reported by several leading US newspapers, suggest that China may have already used some US nuclear bomb data to test and certify one warhead type. (9)

Not only are such espionage allegations disputable and dire warnings about that Chinese nuclear forces modernization overdrawn, but they are helping to create the "Cold War II" political climate that could lead to a legitimately dangerous new nuclear arms race. It is important to keep in mind that the United States currently deploys a strategic nuclear arsenal in the range of 7,500 weapons, while China is reported to deploy approximately 20. Even if, by 2010, China modernizes its nuclear arsenal as planned, and the United States reduces to its arsenal to 3500 deployed strategic warheads, the US will still have a strategic nuclear force 35 times the size of China's and one deployed on more modern missiles and bombers. (10)

Also lost upon many US policy-makers concerned about China's nuclear weapons modernization is the fact that neither China, nor any other nation, can confidently incorporate advanced new designs into its arsenal without extensive explosive testing, which are banned by the CTBT. Whether or not the allegations of espionage at the nuclear weapons laboratories are true, it should be clear to those in the United States Senate and elsewhere around the world that the CTBT would help prevent China and other States from adding to its arsenal those advanced nuclear weapon types that have not already been tested thoroughly enough to achieve confidence in their performance. The select House committee's report indirectly acknowledges this fact, stating that: "If the PRC [People's Republic of China] violates the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by testing surreptitiously, it could further accelerate its nuclear development." (11) Ironically, many of the same Senators who are deeply critical of the Clinton Administration's handling of the nuclear espionage investigation are also blocking Senate consideration of the CTBT.

While Senator Helms' bears substantial responsibility for failure of the United States to ratify the CTBT thus far, the Clinton Administration is also accountable for the impasse because of its failure to press the case for the CTBT in the Senate. Despite a number of very strong statements calling on the Senate to approve of the CTBT this year, the Clinton Administration has not backed up its words with practical actions necessary to bring the CTBT to a vote and to win-over the remaining group of undecided Senators needed to secure two-thirds majority support. This effort requires the vigorous rebuttal of the arguments of CTBT skeptics in the Senate. The CTBT's Senate critics express qualms about America's ability to detect test ban violators, despite the fact that the Test Ban Treaty would establish a far reaching global monitoring network and the option of on-site inspections, backed up by military and intelligence gathering tools. The US must detect and deter nuclear testing by other States with or without the test ban - a job that can be done much more effectively with the test ban than without. Critics also complain that a CTBT may harm the United States' ability to check the reliability of its own nuclear arsenal, a position that has been repeatedly refuted by directors of the three US nuclear weapons labs, as well as independent weapons scientists, who all agree that the nuclear arsenal can be maintained reliably and safely through non-explosive tests and evaluations. With these and other objections largely discredited, it is regrettable that some Senators have chosen to delay a vote on the CTBT and that the Clinton Administration has delayed its effort to win Senate approval.

The Administration must begin the "cabinet-wide" public campaign that is necessary to secure CTBT approval and must do so within the next one to two months if the CTBT is to be ratified by the United States before the Special Conference on Entry Into Force in October. The powerful arguments in favor of the CTBT and the historic opportunity to ratify it are only as good as the political will and leadership available to take advantage of those arguments and to seize that opportunity.


The long history of nuclear test ban treaty efforts demonstrate that the opportunities for improving the security and future of human kind are infrequent and often elusive. As President John F. Kennedy, who tried and failed to secure a Comprehensive Test Ban, admonished in 1963: "We...have a great obligation to use whatever time remains to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, to persuade other countries not to test, transfer, acquire, possess, or produce such weapons."

Despite the significant obstacles facing CTBT entry into force, the current historical and political circumstances may provide the best opportunity for the entry into force of the treaty for years to come. It is also important to consider that more than the CTBT is at stake. The future credibility of the NPT, which will be reviewed again in April 2000, will be influenced by whether and how effectively the CTBT has been implemented. If entry into force is held up by some of the nuclear-weapon States that committed to pursue it, there will be charges of 'backing out of the deal' from some of the non-nuclear-weapon States to whom the promise was made. This can only provide aid and comfort to those around the world who may be seeking to acquire or improve nuclear weapons and leave open the possibility that the progress achieved toward a test ban - both real and symbolic - will be lost.

Notes and References

1. Statement by Norman A. Wulf, US Representative to the Third Session of the Preparatory Committee Meeting for the 2000 NPT Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, "US Commitment to Article VI," New York, 12 May, 1999.

2. "Kosovo, US missile plan, could delay nuclear pact: China," by Anne Penketh, Agence France-Presse International, 11 May, 1999.

3. Statement of Mr. Willy Kempel of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "Third NPT Preparatory Committee Meeting 1999: Nuclear Disarmament," New York, 12 May, 1999.

4. Accelerating the Entry Into Force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: the Article XIV Special Conference, George Bunn, with Rebecca Johnson and Daryl Kimball, Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers, May 1999. Available at http://www.clw.org/pub/clw/coalition/SpecConfRep0599.htm

5. The Vienna Convention precludes signatories to a treaty from taking steps that are inconsistent with the "object and purpose" of the treaty unless they decide after signing it that they no longer wish to ratify it. The Vienna Convention was ratified by many countries but not by the United States. Eventually, the US and Russia, when dealing with an arms control treaty, agreed that this provision of the Vienna Convention had become customary international law and therefore binding even on countries that had not ratified the Convention. See G. Bunn, "The Status of Norms against Testing," pp. 24-25.

6. Senator Jesse Helms, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, in The Wall Street Journal, 25 January, 1999.

7. Statement of Senator Byron Dorgan, The Congressional Record, page S5792, 24 May, 1999.

8. US National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People's Republic of China, Select Committee of the United States House of Representatives, May 1999. Full, unclassified text is available at http://www.house.gov/coxreport/

9. "China Is Installing a Warhead Said to Be Based on US Secrets," by James Risen and Jeff Gerth , The New York Times, 14 May, 1999.

10. "Putting the Chinese Nuclear Threat in Perspective," Joseph Cirincione, 1999, Global Beat Syndicate, 17 May, 1999, see http://www.nyu.edu/globalbeat/syndicate/

11. US National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People's Republic of China, Select Committee of the United States House of Representatives, page ix, May 1999.

Appendix: Status of Signature and Ratification by States Pursuant to Article XIV of the CTBT (1 June 1999)

Democratic People's Republic of Korea**
Democratic Republic of Congo*
Republic of Korea*
Russian Federation*
South Africa
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
United States of America*
Viet Nam*


* has not ratified
** has not signed

Daryl Kimball is executive director of the Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers, based in Washington, D.C.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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