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Key Takeaways from the Senate Hearing on the CTBT UNSCR Initiative

By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

The first Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing dealing with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in over a decade took place on September 7th. Attendance was high, with Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) presiding, ranking Democrat Senator Cardin (D-Md.), and Senators Risch (R-Idaho), Rubio (R-Fla.), Flake (R-Ariz.), Perdue (R-Ga.), Menendez (D-N.J.), Shaheen (D-N.H.), Murphy (D-Conn.), Udall (D-N.M.), and Markey (D-Mass.) in attendance.

The hearing was convened to discuss the Barack Obama administration’s proposed United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) and P5 statement reaffirming support for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and its international monitoring system, which is under discussion and is expected to be finalized in mid-September.

The committee heard testimony from Stephen Rademaker, a former State Department official in the George W. Bush administration, and testimony from Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Stimson Center.

The hearing provided several key takeaways on the UNSCR initiative and Senate views on the CTBT itself.

The Debate Over Obama’s UNSCR Proposal

U.S. President Barack Obama is seeking approval for a UN Security Council resolution to reinforce the norm against nuclear testing, in a move that would coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which the United States signed in 1996.

The Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin quoted National Security Council spokesperson Ned Price as saying that while the administration would like to see the Senate ratify the CTBT, they are “looking at possible action in the UN Security Council that would call on states not to test and support the CTBT’s objectives. We will continue to explore ways to achieve this goal, being careful to protect the Senate’s constitutional role.”

Republican Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) were quick to respond to the proposed UN Security Council resolution with statements of opposition, alleging that President Obama was "circumventing" Congress by going to the United Nations.

On Aug. 15, former Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.)—a lead opposition figure against the CTBT—penned an op-ed with Douglas J. Feith of the Hudson Institute against the UN Security Council resolution initiative.

However, administration officials were quick to note that they "fully respect the Senate's role" toward ratification of the treaty, and that the UN Security Council resolution "is in no way a substitute for entry into force of the CTBT."

Looking Ahead in 2016

August 29: International Day Against Nuclear Tests and the 25th anniversary of the closure of the Soviet Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in Kazakhstan.

September 10: 20th anniversary of the special session of the UN General Assembly that overwhelmingly approved the 1996 CTBT by a margin of 158 to 3, with five abstentions, opening the way for signature and ratification.

Pakistan and a Bilateral Non-Testing Agreement With India

On Aug. 12, Pakistan announced at a press briefing that it is "prepared to consider translating its unilateral moratorium [on nuclear testing] into a bilateral arrangement on non-testing with India."

This statement is a variation of Pakistan's views on a regional test moratorium. At the June CTBT Ministerial Meeting in Vienna, Pakistan's ambassador said:

Following the first nuclear test in 1974 in our neighbourhood, Pakistan made several proposals for keeping South Asia free of nuclear weapons and missiles including a proposal for a regional CTBT. None of these proposals met a favourable response.

Collisions: A Captivating Virtual Reality Warning on Nuclear Weapons

By Andrey Burin

August 5 marks the anniversary of the signing of the Partial Test Ban Treaty, which prohibited the testing of nuclear weapons in outer space, underwater, or in the atmosphere. This treaty was signed by representatives of the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom, marking an important first step towards controlling and ceasing the harmful results of nuclear testing, such as the tests by the United Kingdom in Western Australia.

Collisions, directed by Australian filmmaker Lynette Walworth, takes viewers on a virtual reality (VR) journey into the center of a situation most would never want to be in—a nuclear test.

Obama Pursuing a UN Security Council Resolution on Test Ban

U.S. President Barack Obama is seeking approval for a UN Security Council resolution to reinforce the norm against nuclear testing, in a move that would coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which the United States signed in 1996.

The Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin quoted National Security Council spokesperson Ned Price as saying that while the administration would like to see the Senate ratify the CTBT, they are “looking at possible action in the UN Security Council that would call on states not to test and support the CTBT’s objectives. We will continue to explore ways to achieve this goal, being careful to protect the Senate’s constitutional role.”

The Democratic National Committee Platform and the CTBT

The 2016 Democratic Party Platform, which was released on July 21, says that Democrats "will strengthen the [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty], push for the ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, and stop the spread of loose nuclear material."

This is modified slightly from the 2012 party platform which declares:

Leaders Convene to Push Test Ban Treaty

Foreign ministers and representatives from more than 69 states and international organizations gathered in Vienna on June 13-14 for a special meeting to mark the 20th anniversary of the opening for signature of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and to explore options for advancing its entry into force. Following a visit from the head of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) to Jerusalem on June 20, the Israeli government pledged to ratify the treaty “at the right time.”

In his welcoming remarks, Lassina Zerbo, the executive secretary of the CTBTO Provisional Technical Secretariat, noted that “we cannot really approach the anniversary as a cause for celebration. Until it enters into force, the CTBT is unfinished business. Until we finish what we started, there is a risk that the world will backslide into nuclear testing.”

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