Center for Strategic Communication

After several rounds of voting, the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) elected Lassina Zerbo, a geophysicist from Burkina Faso, as its head.  Zerbo faces the task of obtaining the ratification of several signatories of the CTBT, a zero-yield nuclear test ban treaty which was drafted in the late 1990s and which has not yet entered into force.  Currently, the ratification of eight of the forty-four so-called Annex-2 States, states designated as having nuclear weapons technology is required for the treaty to enter force.  The eight hold out states are the United States, Egypt, Israel, India, Iran, China, Pakistan, and North Korea.

Given Zerbo’s recent election, the case for CTBT ratification should be reiterated.

The CTBT provides for an effective monitoring and verification regime to ensure compliance with the treaty’s aims.  Currently, the International Monitoring System can detect with a high degree of confidence nuclear explosions above one kiloton.  To supplement this, on-site inspections can be made to ensure compliance with the treaty.  The system successfully detected North Korean nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.  Eighty percent of the system is now online.  In short, the verification system is much more capable than it was in the late 1990s, and nullifies what was once a major objection to ratification.

It’s also important to note that the treaty would enhance U.S. national security.  The United States has over 1,000 nuclear tests to draw data from, and the Stockpile Stewardship Program allows us to maintain our current nuclear deterrent.  The CTBT does not change any of this.  However, it does provide a major obstacle for states with potential nuclear ambitions, who would have to risk deploying an untested – and potentially unreliable – weapon.  The United States would be left with a sizeable nuclear deterrent option while non-nuclear states would be obstructed from developing such a capability.

For more reading on the CTBT, our fact sheet can be found here.  In addition, Acting Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller‘s comments on the treaty at a recent American Security Project event marking the twentieth anniversary of the United States’ last nuclear test can be found here.