Civil Society Statement to the 13th Article XIV Conference on Facilitating Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty

On 22 September 2023, Emma Bjertén of Reaching Critical Will delivered a joint civil society statement, coordinated by the Arms Control Association, to the 13th Article XIV Conference on Facilitating Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.

Since the conclusion of the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which has been signed by 186 countries, nuclear testing has become taboo. 

All CTBT states parties agree that the treaty prohibits “any nuclear weapons test explosion, or any other nuclear explosion,” no matter what the yield. The CTBT Organization operates a fully functional International Monitoring System (IMS) to detect and deter cheating.

Most nuclear-armed states that have not signed or not ratified the CTBT, including India, Israel, and Pakistan, are currently observing nuclear testing moratoria. Even though the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) announced in January 2020 it "will no longer observe its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear testing," it has not yet resumed nuclear testing.

Though it has not yet formally entered into force, the CTBT is one of the most successful and valuable agreements in the long history of nuclear nonproliferation, arms control, and disarmament. Without the option to conduct nuclear tests, it is more difficult, although not impossible, to develop, prove, and field new warhead designs. 

Civil society friends of the CTBT welcome the governmental support for the CTBT that is evident at this assembly. 

But now, after 13 such meetings, it is clear to us that new and more energetic strategies must be considered not only to advance the treaty, but to strengthen the de facto norm against testing.

Like other critical nuclear risk reduction, nonproliferation, and arms control agreements, the CTBT is under threat due to inattention and worsening relations between nuclear-armed adversaries.

In recent years, the possessors of the largest nuclear arsenals have launched nuclear weapons modernization programs, some are pursuing new nuclear weapons designs, and some are increasing the size and diversity of their arsenals. Military activities and subcritical experiments at former test sites continue. There has been no serious consideration of ratification of the CTBT by any of the remaining Annex 2 states in several years.

With these challenges in mind, states parties cannot afford to simply express rhetorical support. They must do more through more energetic, higher-level bilateral and multilateral diplomacy through this Article XIV process, at the UN General Assembly, the Security Council, and beyond.

As representatives of civil society, we offer the following observations and recommendations for all states parties to consider and pursue.

Energetic Diplomacy Focused on the Eight Hold-Out States

We welcome recent efforts to secure ratifications from several additional states. But it is now time for this conference and each CTBT state party to focus on new and creative approaches to overcome the stubborn intransigence of the eight remaining Annex 2 “hold-out” states—China, DPRK, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, and the United States—which have deprived the international community, and themselves, of the full security benefits of the treaty and its extensive verification system.

While ratifications by individual hold-out states might stimulate other hold-out states to follow suit, there is no reason for any state to make its ratification dependent upon another state’s ratification, as the treaty becomes binding for all only when all hold-out states have ratified.

If the states parties at this conference are serious about securing entry into force, they will need to devote more significant and higher-level diplomatic pressure in the capitals of all eight CTBT hold-out states to move them to sign and/or ratify the treaty.

  • The People’s Republic of China: Since halting nuclear testing and signing the CTBT in 1996, China’s leaders and officials have consistently expressed their support for the CTBT, but they have failed to follow through with ratification. Chinese leadership is important and overdue. The government’s explanation for delaying formal consideration of its ratification of the treaty is no longer serious or credible. We call on China to finally initiate the process for ratification of the treaty without further delay or excuses.

We welcome these statements of support, but unfortunately, the Biden administration has, so far, done nothing to pursue the kind of outreach and education campaign that will be necessary to secure the advice and consent for ratification by the U.S. Senate. Given that the United States has not conducted a nuclear test explosion in more than 30 years and has no technical, military, or political reason to resume testing, the national security case for ratification and strengthening the barriers against testing by others is even stronger than when it was last considered by the Senate in 1999.

One salient issue that will need to be addressed to secure U.S. ratification is the recent U.S. State Department charge that “during the 1995–2018 timeframe, Russia probably conducted nuclear weapons-related tests” at its former test site at Novaya Zemlya. The assessment provides no evidence of the charge and does not claim the Russian activities were militarily significant. Russia, which has signed and ratified the CTBT, has vigorously denied the charge and repeatedly pointed to the failure of the United States to ratify the treaty.

The United States, China, and Russia, all CTBT signatories, all continue to engage in weapons-related activities at their former nuclear testing sites. Although the IMS is operational and far more effective than originally envisioned, very low-yield nuclear test explosions can still be difficult to detect without on-site monitoring equipment or inspections, which will not be in place until after entry into force. 

To address concerns about clandestine activities at former test sites, states parties should explore the development of voluntary confidence-building measures designed to detect and deter possible low-level, clandestine nuclear testing. 

In a positive move, in June National Nuclear Security Administrator, Jill Hruby, announced that her agency is "open to working with others to develop a regime that would allow reciprocal observation with radiation detection equipment at each other’s subcritical experiments to allow confirmation that the experiment was consistent with the CTBT."

We urge all CTBT states parties, especially those with active nuclear test sites, to engage in this important technical dialogue to improve capabilities to ensure compliance before and after the treaty's entry into force.

  • The Russian Federation: More than thirty years ago, citizen activists and independence leaders in Kazakhstan forced the Russian leadership to halt nuclear testing. In the years that followed, Russia actively supported the negotiation of the CTBT and it ratified the treaty.

Now, unfortunately, there are credible reports that senior Russian officials have been discussing the option of "unratifying" the CTBT in order to achieve symmetry with the United States in all areas of nuclear policy, but no official decisions have been made. 

Such a move would be self-defeating and would sabotage the CTBT regime. Contrary to perceptions of extremists in Moscow, "un-ratification" would not in any way create leverage for Russia vis-a-vis "the collective West." Instead, it would undermine Russia's already shaky nuclear nonproliferation standing, alienate nonnuclear weapon states, and damage the broader nuclear nonproliferation system. 

Recall that in 2016, Russia joined the United States, China, and other members of the UN Security Council in support of Resolution 2310, which reaffirms support for the CTBT, and Russia joined a statement from its permanent five members pledging they would not take any action that would “defeat the object or purpose of the treaty."

According to an August 29 report by the news outlet RBC, a Russian Foreign Ministry official said that as for the possibility of Russia withdrawing its ratification, the official said that the option "is not under consideration at the moment." 

We strongly urge Russia to formally reaffirm its full support for the CTBT and to work constructively with other friends of the CTBT to urge the remaining hold-out states to sign and/or ratify the treaty without delay and to work in collaboration with other CTBT states parties to engage in talks to develop voluntary confidence building measures to ensure that ongoing experiments at former nuclear test sites are consistent with the CTBT.

  • India and Pakistan: Since their destabilizing tit-for-tat nuclear detonations in 1998, India and Pakistan have refused to reconsider the CTBT even though neither country has expressed an interest in, nor technical justification for, renewing nuclear testing. UN Security Council Resolution 1172 paragraph 13 “urges India and Pakistan ... to become Parties to the ... Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty without delay and without conditions.”

India and/or Pakistan could advance the cause of nuclear disarmament, enhance their national security and nonproliferation reputations, and ease concerns about a resumption of nuclear testing, by converting their unilateral test moratoria into legally binding commitments through the CTBT. 

  • The Middle East: Ratification of the CTBT by Egypt, Iran, and nuclear-armed Israel—all of which must ratify to trigger CTBT entry into force—and Saudi Arabia would reduce nuclear weapons-related security concerns in the region. It would also help create the conditions necessary to achieve their common, stated goal of a weapons of mass destruction free zone in the Middle East. A goal of the co-chairs of the Article XIV process should be to approach each of these governments to gain a clearer understanding regarding the circumstances that would allow each to join the CTBT.

  • The DPRK: Pyongyang's push to build-up its nuclear weapons capabilities represents another threat to the norm against nuclear testing. Although Chairman Kim Jong Un has green-lighted further ballistic missile testing and fissile material production, he has not ordered the resumption of nuclear testing since he announced a unilateral nuclear test moratorium in the spring of 2018. However, the closure of the DPRK’s test site has still not been verified, and the DPRK has not made a legally binding commitment to halt nuclear test explosions by signing and ratifying the CTBT. 

All CTBT signatory states should underscore, in multilateral and bilateral fora and in meetings with the government in Pyongyang, that signature and ratification of the treaty would represent a significant step toward denuclearization and help create the conditions for peace and normalization of relations. 

In particular, we call upon the leadership of China and Russia, which maintain ties to the DPRK, to press Chairman Kim to reaffirm the DPRK's nuclear test moratorium and, as former CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo proposed in 2018, urge him to sign the CTBT like all the other major nuclear powers have done, and close the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site under international supervision.

Addressing the Human Cost of Nuclear Testing

Since 1945, there have been 2,056 nuclear weapons test explosions. Of that total, the United States detonated some 1,030 test explosions and the Russian Federation detonated 715. 

The CTBT and the de facto global nuclear testing moratoria help reduce further health and environmental injury from further nuclear weapons testing. CTBT states parties have a moral, and in some cases, a legal obligation to provide health monitoring, health care, and other forms of assistance to those impacted by nuclear weapons test explosions.

Hundreds of thousands of people have died and millions more have suffered—and continue to suffer—from illnesses directly related to the radioactive fallout from nuclear detonations in the southwestern and western United States, islands in the Pacific, in Australia, western China, Algeria, across Russia, in eastern Kazakhstan, India, Pakistan, the DPRK, and elsewhere.

For example, in Kazakhstan, where the Soviet Union conducted more than 450 nuclear test detonations, including 116 in the atmosphere, the Kazakh government estimates more than 1.5 million people were harmed and it is clear that many continue to suffer the effects of these detonations.

Fallout from U.S. atmospheric nuclear blasts at the Nevada Test Site may have caused 10,000 to 75,000 thyroid cancers in the United States, according to a 1990 National Cancer Institute study. A new study, released in July by Princeton University researchers, shows that the fallout from the 1945 Trinity test reached 46 states, Canada, and Mexico within 10 days of detonation. The study also reanalyzed fallout from all 93 aboveground U.S. atomic tests in Nevada and suggests that earlier official assessments underestimated the scope of the contamination, which reached all regions of the continental United States and points beyond.

In the Marshall Islands, where the United States detonated massive above ground nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s, the scale of damage from nuclear testing was immense. The 67 U.S. atmospheric nuclear weapons tests—23 at Bikini Atoll and 44 at Enewetak Atoll—spewed radioactivity over the entirety of the Marshall Islands and produced a total explosive power of 108.5 megatons (TNT equivalent). That was about 100 times the total yield of all atmospheric tests conducted at the Nevada Test Site. 

Today, the United States and the Republic of the Marshall Islands are negotiating the terms of a new Compact of Free Association that obligates the United States to help address the damage caused by past nuclear testing. 

We join others in urging the Biden administration to agree to provide the necessary financial and technical support for long-term environmental remediation programs, expansion access to health care especially as it relates to treatment related to illnesses associated with radiation exposure, and for building independent capacity to monitor, assess, and address environmental and health needs of the Marshallese in the years to come.

An independent 2021 scientific investigation using information from declassified French military archives re-evaluated the estimations of the doses of radioactivity received by the civilian population of so-called French Polynesia after the six most contaminating French atmospheric tests. The study found that France’s atomic energy commission calculations of the maximum dose received by the local inhabitants were between twice to ten times lower than the updated estimates.

We urge all CTBT states parties (particularly nuclear-armed states) to:

  • Support further scientific research on the health and environmental effects of nuclear testing, and provide financial support for health monitoring and health care programs for populations affected by nuclear testing; and 
  • Cooperate with states parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) as they begin to fulfill their legal responsibilities under that treaty to provide assistance and environmental remediation to those people and regions affected by nuclear weapon use and testing. We also encourage those CTBT states parties that have not already done so to sign and ratify the TPNW, which reinforces the CTBT's prohibition on nuclear testing. 

Bottom Line

More than a quarter century since they were established, the CTBT and the CTBTO enjoy broad support and have been highly successful. But we cannot take the treaty, the IMS, or the de facto global nuclear test moratorium for granted. 

Now is the time to act to reinforce the treaty and the global norm against nuclear testing, which is important for the achievement of nuclear disarmament.

Endorsed by:

Dr. Rebecca E. Johnson, Executive Director, Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy

Giancarlo Aragona, former Italian Ambassador Moscow and London, former Director of Political Affairs in the Foreign Ministry, and member of the European Leadership Network

Thomas Countryman, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, Chair of the Board of the Arms Control Association

Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association

Shatabhisha Shetty, Director, Asia Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament

Tanya Ogilvie-White, Senior Research Advisor, Asia Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament

Joel Petersson Ivre, Policy Fellow, Asia-Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament

Peter Wilk, M.D., Administrative Chair, Back from the Brink Coalition

Sebastian Brixey-Williams, British American Security Information Council (BASIC)

Lord Des Browne of Ladyton, Vice-Chair, Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI)* and former Minister of Defence of the United Kingdom

Susan F. Burk former Special Representative of the President on Nuclear Nonproliferation, and member of the ACA Board of Directors

Rachel Bronson, Ph.D., President & CEO, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Francesco Calogero, Emeritus Professor of Theoretical Physics, University of Rome*

Lord Walter Menzies Campbell of Pittenweem, member of the European Leadership Network*

Dr. Tobias Fella, Coordinator, Commission on Challenges to Deep Cuts*

Dr. Pierce Corden, Former Director of Administration, CTBTO Preparatory Commission

John Tierney, Executive Director, Council for a Livable World

Admiral (ret.) Giampaolo Di Paola, former Minister of Defence and former Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, and currently Chairman of the Board of Aerea*

Sergio Duarte, Amb. ret., Ministry of External Relations of Brazil* and former UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs

Marc Finaud, Senior Advisor, Associate Fellow, Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP)*

Hubert K. Foy, Director & Senior Research Scientist, African Center for Science and International Security*

Rebecca Davis Gibbons, Professor, University of Southern Maine*

Robert Goldston, Professor, Princeton University, Department of Astrophysical Sciences, Affiliated Faculty Program on Science and Global Security*

Ambassador Thomas Greminger, Executive Director, Geneva Centre for Security Policy

Lisbeth Gronlund, Visiting Scholar, Laboratory for Nuclear Security and Policy, Nuclear Science and Engineering Dept, Massachusetts Institute of Technology*

Thomas Hajnoczi, former UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, and Amb. ret., formerly Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs*

Lord David Hannay of Chiswick, and member of the European Leadership Network*

Blaise Imbert, Finance Officer, Initiatives pour le Désarmement Nucléaire (IDN) *

Zahnd Patrick, Professeur à Sciences Po Paris, Initiatives pour le Désarmement Nucléaire (IDN)*

Annick Suzor-Weiner, Professor Emeritus, Initiatives pour le Désarmement Nucléaire (IDN)

Daniel Högsta, Interim Executive Director, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)

Michael Christ , Executive Director, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW)

Garry Jacobd, President and CEO, World Academy of Art and Science*

Tedo Japaridze, Ambassador, former Foreign Minister of Georgia, and Chairman of the Center for Foreign Policy and Diplomatic Studies, House of Justice, Tbilisi

Angela Kane, Former UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs

Dr. Togzhan Kassenova, Senior Fellow, Center for Policy Research, University at Albany*

Jan Kavan, former Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, and former President of the UN General Assembly

David A. Koplow, Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center*

Dr. Ulrich Kühn, Director Arms Control and Emerging Technologies Program, Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg*

Frederick K. Lamb, Research Professor of Physics and Astronomy and Core Faculty Member, Program in Arms Control & Domestic and International Security, University of Illinois*

Jutta Bertram-Nothnagel, Vice President, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy

John Burroughs, Senior Analyst, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy

Benetick Kabua Maddison, Executive Director, Marshallese Educational Initiative

János Martonyi, former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Hungary, and Professor Emeritus at the University of Szeged

Kazumi Matsui, Mayor of Hiroshima and President of Mayors for Peace*

Oliver Meier, Policy & Research Director, European Leadership Network*

Ivana Nikolić Hughes, President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

Lord David Owen, former Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom

Kevin Martin, President, Peace Action

John Hallam, Nuclear Disarmament Campaigner, People for Nuclear Disarmament

Matthias Grosse Perdekamp, Professor of Physics and Head of the Department of Physics, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign*

Sebastien Philippe, Research Scholar, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University*

Martin Fleck, Director, Nuclear Weapons Abolition Program, Physicians for Social Responsibility (National)

Denise Duffield, Associate Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles

Dr. Emma Belcher, President, Ploughshares Fund

Stewart Prager, Professor of Astrophysical Sciences Emeritus, affiliated with the Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University*

Alexander Glaser, Co-Director, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University

Frank N. von Hippel, Senior Research Scientist and Professor of Public and International Affairs emeritus, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University*

Francesca Giovannini, Executive Director, Project on Managing the Atom, Belfer Center, Harvard Kennedy School

William Potter, Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar Professor of Nonproliferation Studies, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey*

Robert K. Musil, Ph.D., M.P.H., President & CEO, Rachel Carson Council

Amb. (ret.), Jaap Ramaker, Chair of the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament

Tariq Rauf, former Head of Verification and Security Policy, IAEA, and former Consulting Advisor to the Executive Secretary for Policy and Outreach, CTBTO

Ray Acheson, Director, Reaching Critical Will

Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, and Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics, Department of Astronomy, University of Cambridge*

Christian N. Ciobanu, Project Coordinator, Reverse The Trend: Save Our People, Save Our Planet

Alan Robock, Distinguished Professor, Rutgers University

Carlo Schaerf, Professor of Physics, and co-founder of the International School on Disarmament and Research on Conflicts (ISODARCO)

Sahil V. Shah Senior Fellow and Program Manager, Janne E. Nolan Center on Strategic Weapons, Council on Strategic Risks*

Mark Muhich, Chairman, Sierra Club Stop Nuclear Weapons Team

Stefano Silvestri, Professor, Scientific Advisor, Istituto Affari Internazionali*

Dr. Jennifer Allen Simons, Founder and President, The Simons Foundation Canada

Ivo Slaus, Professor of Physics Emeritus, Honorary President of the Board of Trustees of the World Academy of Art and Science, and the European Leadership Network*

Goran Svilanovic, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia and Montenegro

Greg Thielmann, former Director of the Strategic, Proliferation and Military Affairs, at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and member of the ACA Board of Directors

Aaron Tovish, Founder and Member of the Coordinating Committee of NoFirstUse Global*

Carlo Trezza, former Ambassador of Italy to the Conference on Disarmament, former Chair of the Missile Technology Control Regime, and member of the European Leadership Network*

Lord David Triesman of Tottenham, member of the European Leadership Network*

Marylia Kelley, Senior Advisor, Tri-Valley CAREs (Communities Against a Radioactive Environment)

Dr. Tara Drozdenko, Director, Global Security Program, Union of Concerned Scientists

Dylan Spaulding, Senior Scientist, Union of Concerned Scientists

Deb Sawyer, Facilitator, Utah Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

Jacqueline Cabasso, Executive Director, Western States Legal Foundation

Elayne Whyte-Gomez, Professor of Practice, School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, former Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations Office in Geneva, and President of the Negotiating Conference for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Dr. Klaus Wittmann, Brigadier General (ret.) with the German Armed Forces, Potsdam University

Uta Zapf, former Chair of the Subcommittee on Arms Control, Disarmament and Nonproliferation of the Deutsche Bundestag

*Statement coordinated by the Arms Control Association

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