CNS Feature Stories

Special articles and reports on timely nonproliferation issues by CNS staff.
Updated: Sep 16, 2009

Will the Stars Align in New York for Test Ban Advocates?
A Preview of the Sixth CTBT Article XIV Conference

The Obama administration's support for the CTBT will increase political momentum for accelerating the Treaty's entry into force during the Article XIV Conference convening at the United Nations in New York.
Kaegan McGrath and Luis Gain

Posted: September 16, 2009

In September 2009 at the United Nations headquarters in New York, the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) will convene the sixth Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (Article XIV Conference). The conference will be attended by representatives from over 100 states and will commence on 24 September, thirteen years to the day since U.S. President Bill Clinton became the first world leader to sign the CTBT. The Article XIV Conference will take place amidst a confluence of events that CTBT proponents have sought after for nearly a decade. After eight years of intransigence from the previous U.S. administration on the Treaty, unyielding persistence from CTBT supporters from all walks of political and civil life seems to have paid some dividends. Not only has President Obama voiced his support for the Treaty in broad measure, but his administration has outlined an ambitious nonproliferation and disarmament agenda with "immediately and aggressively" pursuing U.S. ratification, and working with the international community to achieve the Treaty's entry into force, comprising one of the most vital components of this plan of action.[1] For the first time in almost ten years, there will be one major piece of the puzzle that has been missing at Article XIV Conferences—a U.S. delegation committed to the CTBT. Moreover, the White House has announced that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will lead the U.S. delegation and deliver the U.S. national statement during the conference, another indication of the importance that the Obama administration has assigned to the Treaty.[2]

Words do matter, yet words alone will not pave the way for U.S. ratification, or achieving the Treaty's entry into force. With regard to securing the two-thirds majority necessary for approving the Treaty's ratification in the U.S. Senate, political factors not related to nuclear nonproliferation or national security may stymie the administration's efforts.[3] Internationally, there are eight countries in addition to the United States that must ratify the CTBT in order to achieve its entry into force, three of which have not yet signed the Treaty. Nonetheless, the Article XIV Conference, which will convene concurrently with a UN Security Council summit addressing nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament to be chaired by President Obama, will provide the international community with an opportunity to enumerate steps toward achieving what has remained so elusive over the past half century—a comprehensive global ban on explosive nuclear testing.


The CTBT is a ban on all nuclear test explosions in all environments. Upon the Treaty's entry into force, the CTBTO verification regime will monitor the globe for evidence of a nuclear explosion. The Treaty's verification mechanism consists of a three-tiered regime: (1) a global network of monitoring facilities; (2) the International Data Centre, where data from the monitoring system is analyzed then distributed to member states; and (3) provisions for intrusive on-site inspections in the event of a suspected violation of the Treaty.[4]

The CTBT is one of the most widely subscribed to treaties in history, now boasting 181 signatories and 149 ratifications. The UN General Assembly First Committee passed a resolution in 2008 supporting the CTBT with 168 states voting in favor, three abstaining, and only one state voting against—the United States. However, in order for the CTBT to enter into force all 44 Annex 2 states must sign and ratify the Treaty. "Annex 2 states" refers to a list of countries, mentioned specifically in the Treaty, who possessed nuclear reactors in 1996 (when the Treaty was open for signature) and participated in CTBT negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament. Thirty-five Annex 2 states have already ratified the Treaty. Of the nine Annex 2 states who have not yet ratified, China, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, and the United States are signatories to the Treaty. Three Annex 2 states—the DPRK, India, and Pakistan have not yet signed the Treaty.

The U.S. Policy Reversal on the CTBT

In a clear departure from the policies of the previous administration, President Obama boldly declared in an April 2009 speech in Prague that he would seek the peace and security of a world free of nuclear weapons. President Obama noted in this speech that as the only state to use nuclear weapons in conflict, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. Obama then outlined the steps his administration would take to begin the process. These steps include reducing the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy; negotiating a START follow-on treaty with the Russians before the end of the year; seeking a treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials intended for use in state nuclear weapons; and pursuing U.S. ratification of the CTBT. Vice President Joe Biden was subsequently named to help lead the administration's nonproliferation efforts, including Senate approval of the Treaty's ratification.[5] Vice President Biden spent 36 years in the U.S. Senate, where he was ranking minority leader, and later chair, of the Foreign Relations Committee. As a leader in this committee, Biden led the Clinton administration's efforts to ratify the CTBT in 1999.[6] The decision to task Biden with the responsibility of shepherding the administration's nonproliferation and disarmament agenda demonstrates Obama's commitment to winning Senate approval of the CTBT.

In addition to the selection of Biden to lead the administration's efforts for CTBT ratification, the State Department is relying on newly appointed Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, Ellen Tauscher, and Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Verification, Compliance, and Implementation, Rose Gottemoeller, to reinforce Obama administration's new strategy in the United States and abroad. Tauscher, handpicked by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to help lead in the administration's efforts in arms control and nonproliferation, chaired the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces.[7] She also introduced a resolution (H.Res.882) expressing the view from the House of Representatives that the U.S. Senate "should initiate a bipartisan process to give its advice and consent to ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty."[8] During the Munich Security Conference in June 2009, where approximately 300 participants, including a dozen heads of state from more than 50 countries, gathered to usher in a new era of international relations, Tauscher stated that, "the United States should immediately ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty."[9] Gottemoeller, prior to her recent appointment at the State Department, was with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where she focused on U.S.-Russian relations and nuclear security and stability. Prior to joining Carnegie, she served in various nonproliferation and national security posts at the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Security Council.[10]

The ISS and On-Site Inspection Exercise in Kazakhstan

Progress on the establishment of the International Monitoring System (IMS), which consists of 337 monitoring facilities strategically located around the globe, is sure to receive substantial attention throughout the up-coming conference. The IMS utilizes four monitoring technologies to scan the earth for evidence of a nuclear explosion—seismological, infrasound, hydroacoustic, and radionuclide. The CTBT stipulates that its verification regime shall be capable of meeting the verification requirements of the Treaty at its entry into force.[11] To date, 248 IMS stations—nearly 75 percent of planned facilities—have been certified as meeting the rigorous CTBTO specifications. On 10 June 2009, the International Scientific Studies (ISS) Conference in Vienna, Austria, marked the conclusion of a yearlong project designed to assess the capability and readiness of the CTBTO verification regime and promote increased interaction between the global scientific community and the CTBTO. Approximately 600 participants from roughly 100 countries convened in Vienna in order to share ideas and data, as well as discuss various research findings. One of the many themes covered at the Conference was advancements made in verification technologies, such as the utilization of data mining and data fusion as a means to accelerate current data processing capabilities while improving accuracy and identifying smaller scale events.[12]

Another event that participants at the Article XIV Conference will likely highlight is the successful conclusion of the Integrated Field Exercise 2008, which was conducted at the former Soviet nuclear test site in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan. The objective of the exercise was to evaluate procedures under development for conducting on-site inspections in the case of a suspected nuclear event. The simulation was conducted in a very difficult environment, and provided the CTBTO with many valuable lessons that will assist the organization in the continued development of on-site inspection protocols.[13] Upon entry into force of the Treaty, the CTBTO could be called on to launch an on-site inspection in any region of the world on very short notice. As evinced by the prompt detection of both nuclear tests conducted on the Korean peninsula, the International Data Centre demonstrated its capacity to quickly and accurately analyze IMS monitoring data. Therefore, the development of credible on-site inspections will constitute the final layer of the Treaty's verification regime, and provide a powerful deterrent to would be CTBT violators.

Positive Signals and Lingering Concerns

In recent months, several events have illustrated the increasing saliency of the CTBT and the significance that the international community has attached to achieving its entry into force. During the 15th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit held from 11 to 16 July 2009 in Sharm El Sheik, Egypt, NAM Heads of State and Government emphasized the importance of achieving universal adherence to the CTBT and stressed the positive role that the Treaty plays in making progress toward nuclear disarmament.[14] Similarly, the G8 adopted a statement on nonproliferation at its recent summit in L'Aquilia, Italy, welcoming President Obama's announcement that he would seek U.S. CTBT ratification and committing to intensify efforts to achieve the Treaty's entry into force. In the statement, the CTBT was described as a principal instrument of the "international security architecture and a key measure of non-proliferation and disarmament."[15] The United States is the only member of the G-8 that is not a State Party to the CTBT. The third session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2010 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty also served to highlight the value of the CTBT as an essential component of the international nonproliferation regime. During the general debate, groups such as the New Agenda Coalition, NAM, the League of Arab States, the European Union, the Arab Group, the African Group, and states including China, Kazakhstan, South Africa, Russia, the United States, and many more all made positive statements about the Treaty.[16] Another important development in the past year is that Indonesia, one of the remaining Annex 2 States whose ratification is required for entry into force, changed its position on the CTBT and announced that if the United States ratifies the Treaty its own ratification would follow.[17]

Notwithstanding these positive developments, a number of recent events have also underscored the political hurdles facing the Treaty's entry into force. The three Annex 2 states that have yet to sign the CTBT appear to be moving even further away from accepting the Treaty. Previously, Pakistan had not rejected the treaty and had noted as early as 1998 that it would accept the Treaty if India did so first. However, in June 2009 Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated that due to an altered security environment since Pakistan made its original pledge in 1998, it had no plan to sign the CTBT.[18] Next door in India, Pakistan's nuclear-armed rival, a scientist involved with India's 1998 nuclear tests stated that because its failure to detonate a thermonuclear device, India should not sign the CTBT and instead should resume nuclear testing.[19]The most recent nuclear test in North Korea and the lack of progress on resuming the Six-Party Talks aimed at denuclearizing the Korean peninsula serve as reminders of the long road still to travel in order to achieve the Treaty's entry into force.


The current political momentum and an atmosphere of optimism surrounding the prospects for U.S. ratification and the Treaty's entry into force during leading up to this year's conference stand in stark contrast to the grim environment that encompassed the 2007s Article XIV Conference. Although many states retained cautious optimism at the earlier conference, severe budgetary restrictions due to member states' failures to pay their assessed contributions, continued opposition to the CTBT from the Bush administration, and the perceived weakening of the international nonproliferation regime clouded visions for progress at the 2007 conference.[20]

While the political winds have shifted in the United States, a successful U.S. ratification campaign in the Senate will require serious, sustained efforts. Many agree that there currently exists a window of opportunity to make tangible progress on the international nonproliferation and disarmament agenda. Active participation from the United States at the conference and substantive discussions on means with which to achieve the Treaty's entry into force, as well as a successful conclusion of the special Security Council meeting chaired by President Obama, may lay the groundwork for a strengthened international nonproliferation regime. Nonetheless, failure to make headway on nonproliferation and disarmament measures in the United States, as well as in the international community, may slam shut the current window of opportunity, to the detriment of U.S. security and the peace and stability in the international community. The outcome of the up-coming Article XIV Conference in New York, as well as the impact of the Security Council meeting, will provide invaluable insight on whether the necessary political will exists to further the international nonproliferation and disarmament agenda.


[1] See Stephen S. Schwartz, "Barack Obama and John McCain on Nuclear Security Issues," CNS Feature Story, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, updated 8 October, 2008,; and "Remarks By President Barack Obama, Hradcany Square, Prague, Czech Republic," April 5, 2009,
[2] Robert Gibbs, "Statement by the Press Secretary on the U.S. delegation to the Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty," The White House Office of the Press Secretary, 15 September 2009,
[3] Sean Dunlop and Jean du Preez, "The United States and the CTBT: Renewed Hope or Politics as Usual?" NTI Issue Brief, Nuclear Threat Initiative, February 2009,
[4] See Text of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization,, and Ambassador Tibor Toth, "Building Up the Regime for Verifying the CTBT," Arms Control Today, September 2009,
[5] Carnegie International Nonproliferation Conference, Remarks by Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 6 April 2009,
[6] Walter Pincus, "Biden to Shepherd Test Ban Treaty Vote: Events of 1999 Attest to Task's Difficulty," Washington Post, 8 April 2009,
[7] Biography, Ellen Tauscher, U.S. Department of State,
[8] "H. Res. 882--110th Congress: Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the Senate should initiate a bipartisan...." (database of federal legislation), 2007. Sep 16, 2009,
[9] Representative Ellen Tauscher, Munich Security Conference speech, 6 February 2009,
[10] Biography, Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. Department of State,
[11] Text of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization,
[12] "International Scientific Studies Conference Assessing the Capabilities of the Verification Regime," CTBTO Press Release, Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, 10 June 2009,
[13] Oliver Meier, "Special Report: Major Exercise Tests CTBT On-Site Inspections," Arms Control Today, November 2008,
[14] "Non-Aligned Heads of State Call for Universal Adherence to the CTBT," CTBTO Newsletter, Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, 20 July 2009,
[15] "L'Aquila Statement on Non-Proliferation," 2009 G8 Summit, L'Aquila, Italy, 8-10 July 2009,
[16] "Importance of CTBT Stressed at the NPT PrepCom," CTBTO Highlights, Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, 12 May 2009,
[17] "Indonesia Vows to Ratify CTBT After U.S.," Global Security Newswire, 9 June 2009,
[18] See Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abdul Basit, Press Briefing, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, 18 June 2009,, and "Pakistan Rules Out Test Ban Treaty Endorsement," Global Security Newswire, 19 June 2009,
[19] Sachin Parashar, "Pokhran II not fully successful: Scientist," Times of India, 27 August 2009,
[20] Kaegan McGrath, "Entry into Force of the CTBT: All Roads Lead to Washington," NTI Issue Brief, Nuclear Threat Initiative, April 2008, .

Return to Top