Speech by Head of Laboratory, Theoretical Department of the Russian Federal Nuclear Center - All-Russian Institute of Technical Physics Vitaly Shchukin. Prospects for the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty

Speech by Head of Laboratory, Theoretical Department of the Russian Federal Nuclear Center - All-Russian Institute of Technical Physics Vitaly Shchukin.
Prospects for the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty

(Vienna, 8-9 April 2010)

At the beginning I would like to introduce myself. I am not only an expert at a Russian Federal nuclear center, which is one of the two nuclear weapons development centers, I also perform certain responsibilities as regards the operations of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). Specifically, I lead the work of national delegations in this organization on issues of on-site inspections. As a technical expert, I may allow myself a bit of an imbalance by paying more attention to a sphere I am more familiar with than the sphere of traditional diplomacy. Nevertheless, I will try to cover all aspects of the problem in my presentation.

Vyacheslav Vladimirovich Kantor has already identified the role of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in the system of measures to prevent a nuclear catastrophe. However, William Potter has hardly mentioned the role of this Treaty in terms of prospects for the 2010 NPT Review Conference. This is quite reasonable if we compare it to such current events as the signing of the new START Treaty or the rapidly growing threat of Iran creating nuclear weapons. However, if this question were not central in the work of the Conference under discussion, then in the long run one of the major challenges to the NPT’s sustainability would be the entry into force and implementation of the CTBT.

Before addressing the prospects I would like to look back and take stock of what has been done, i.e., how we have started to create the necessary conditions for the CTBT’s entry into force and where we are now. Only then could we talk about the prospects and level of expectations, as well as about what could and should be accomplished first of all. I remember the initial period after the draft Treaty was completed. It was a time of great optimism. Indeed, there were grounds for optimism, the period was marked by many significant achievements in nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament in general. Specifically, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction was successfully completed, the Republic of South Africa voluntarily renounced its nuclear weapons, the international community took decisive measures to terminate and dismantle the Iraqi nuclear weapons program, whereby special inspections played an instrumental role. Everybody expected that political conditions for the CTBT’s entry into force, specifically for its signing and ratification, would be met very quickly, maybe even too quickly for the verification regime of the Treaty to be built. This is why in addition to the ratification by all 44 listed States, Article XIV of Treaty stipulates that the Treaty shall not enter into force earlier than two years after its opening for signing. At the time everybody expected that all the 44 States referred to in the Article would sign and ratify the CTBT fairly quickly. But these expectations didn’t pan out.

Soon it became clear that the task of building the Treaty's verification regime was even more difficult than had been initially assumed. This system is unique in terms of its technical sophistication and scope of work required. In retrospect, it is obvious that it was impossible to build such a system in two years. Consequently, looking ahead one could say that a certain benefit came out of the delayed implementation of the Article XIV requirements for the Treaty’s entry into force. But this benefit could in no way compensate for the adverse effects of the CTBT’s delayed entry into force.

So what happened afterwards? In spite of the fact that at the very end of the negotiating process India refused to sign the CTBT and Pakistan made a similar statement using the position taken by Delhi to justify this move, the Treaty was approved and opened for signing. Moreover, it was signed fairly quickly by an overwhelming majority of the States and its ratification process commenced. The ratification process reached its peak in the third year after the Treaty had been opened for signing. Even the nuclear tests conducted simultaneously by India and Pakistan could not destroy at that time the hopes that the Treaty would be able to enter into force two years after its opening for signing. After all, they had been conducted before the deadline ran out, which gave India and Pakistan the option of acceding to the Treaty shortly afterwards without endangering the process of the CTBT’s entry into force.

Today, after more than a decade-long delay in the Treaty’s entry into force, the situation looks completely different. One of the reasons for the delay lies in the fact that the former Bush Administration not only seriously put the brakes on the Treaty ratification process but also created an environment where the opportunity for the CTBT’s entry into force was lost for a long time. Now there is a new administration in the US and there are new hopes, as can be seen in the work of the CTBTO Preparatory Commission. For instance, for the first time last month more than a hundred States participated in a regular session of its Working Group B (on verification issues). After a break of many years Pakistan took part in its work as an observer. These positive elements generate hope.

At the same time one cannot underestimate the remaining problems. Many believe that these would be resolved once the United States successfully ratified the Treaty, which optimists expect in the near future. I believe, however, that there is no guarantee of a successful CTBT ratification in Washington. The results of discussions and recommendations regarding the CTBT by the US Congressional Commission under the chairmanship of William Perry are well known, they were made public about a year ago. Its members failed to reach consensus on whether the US should ratify the Treaty. On the other hand, the Commission prepared a number of conditional recommendations that deserve attention not only in terms of how the ratification should proceed in the United States, but also in terms of reviewing what the international community could do to assist the process. Specifically, the Commission’s first recommendation reflected the need for extensive debates on a wide range of issues associated with the CTBT, including benefits and risks both domestic and international. While the domestic debates deal primarily with the issue of effective verification, as well as the extent of potential impacts of the accession to the Treaty on the US ability to maintain the safety of its nuclear arsenal, the international debates could focus on other issues. For instance, the question is raised once again as to the extent to which compliance with the CTBT would hinder the development and improvement of nuclear weapons. This question is to be expected from those States that have not acceded to the CTBT and it should be properly addressed.

Yet there are other issues requiring joint efforts, and not just within the USA. One of them has to do with the agreed understanding of prohibited activities under the CTBT. At the time of its signing the following wording was fixed: the Treaty prohibits all nuclear weapon test explosions and all other nuclear explosions. However, these terms were given no definition. Now the question is raised whether the activities conducted at nuclear test sites conform to the common understanding of the nuclear powers. Another issue is reflected in the second recommendation adopted by the Perry Commission. It is the option of the official nuclear P5 (in the sense of the NPT) entering into a separate agreement among themselves to conduct on-site inspections until the Treaty enters into force. I might recall that according to the CTBT no verification measures may apply until after the Treaty enters into force. In this case, there is no straight and simple solution either. Apparently, both the official Five and the whole international community, including our Forum, will need to exert efforts to produce a long-term strategy as to how to move towards the Treaty’s entry into force. This not only concerns the securing of CTBT ratification in the United States. Before the Treaty could enter into force, another eight nations besides the US will need to ratify it, three of which never even signed the Treaty: India, Pakistan and North Korea. Engaging these three States with the CTBT is not a simple task at all.

Finally, a few words about technical issues concerning the Treaty’s entry into force. In addition to political requirements, the Treaty stipulates that at its entry into force an effective verification regime shall be established and that it shall be capable of meeting the verification requirements of the Treaty. In the case of the International Monitoring System, as of now it is already close to meeting these requirements. It is at the level of the on-site inspections (OSI) regime where things are considerably more difficult. This task is much more challenging for a number of reasons. First of all, the OSI regime being unique in its scientific and technological depth and sophistication (over a dozen different technologies for targeted search, localization of suspicious events with the greatest precision and identification of their true nature) is completely different from verification regimes under other treaties, and does not have such experience of practical application for the detection of nuclear explosions as has been acquired over many years through IMS technologies, in particular, seismic monitoring. Therefore OSI has lagged behind the IMS from the very beginning when the CTBTO Preparatory Commission first started its work.

There is yet another even more fundamental difference between OSI and IMS that makes the OSI’s task significantly more challenging. The IMS benefits from major similarities between recorded signals from various nuclear explosions. For example, seismic signals from underground nuclear explosions recorded at seismic stations have a number of typical features that are practically independent from location and other explosion parameters. This considerably simplifies the task of differentiating them from sources of a non-explosive nature. As for the OSI, it has to deal with an infinite variety of potential scenarios driven by topographical, climatic, geological and other features of specific inspection areas, the environment and characteristics of a suspicious event whose nature has to be identified, as well as interactions with the inspected State, which gives the OSI a game quality. Therefore “readiness” criteria for the OSI haven’t been established yet, as they can’t be similar to the IMS. In this area one will probably have to make do only with operational readiness in the sense of capacity to conduct all operations from arrival of the inspection team and its equipment at the point of entry in the inspected State through completion of post-inspection actions provided for in the Treaty in strict compliance with their performance timing requirements.

Nevertheless, significant progress has also been made in the development of the inspection component. In particular, this was demonstrated by the first large-scale integrated OSI exercises in September 2008. On the basis of the experience of these exercises, the so-called Action Plan was produced and approved by the CTBTO Preparatory Commission in November 2009. The Plan covers further development of inspection technologies with a focus on those that lack substantial experience in application for OSI purposes, procurement and testing of unavailable equipment, improvement of infrastructure, progress in development of the OSI Operational Manual and other documents, a new training cycle for potential inspectors. The progress achieved in the establishment of the OSI regime will be demonstrated at the next large-scale integrated exercise tentatively scheduled for 2013. The expectation is that the implementation of the Plan will deliver the “minimum” operational capability required to conduct OSIs.

Consequently, there are reasons to believe that technical challenges of CTBT compliance monitoring will be resolved within a reasonable timeframe and will not slow down the Treaty’s entry into force.