Value of the CTBT for the United States and for the World

Ambassador Glyn Davies

Permanent U.S. Representative to International Organizations in Vienna

September 9, 2011

“Value of the CTBT for the United States and for the World”

Remarks to Participants in the CTBTO Introductory Course
(as prepared)


I’d like to thank Executive Secretary Toth and Jean for the kind invitation to speak with you today about the United States’ perspective on the CTBT and its value.  I know there is also keen interest in the state of the ratification debate in the United States, and I promise to touch on that a bit later.

But first I wanted to say how pleased I am that the CTBTO has organized this course, which offers a useful primer on arms control issues for diplomats, employees of international organizations, academics and others.  A real challenge for all of us who work on these issues is that with the end of the Cold War and the passage of time since the last nuclear tests by major nuclear powers, awareness of and knowledge about arms control issues – among policy professionals and the public alike – has diminished.  This course represents an important corrective to that unhelpful trend, and I want to acknowledge the CTBTO for its work in putting it together.

U.S. Views on the CTBT and its Value

With that, I’d like to say a few words about U.S. views on the CTBT and the effort
to promote its universality.  Entry into force of the CTBT is an essential step toward the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons, the vision
President Obama articulated when he spoke in Prague in April 2009.  While the United States abides by the core prohibition of the CTBT through our nuclear testing moratorium, which we voluntarily undertook in 1992, the principal benefit of the Treaty – that of constraining all states from testing – still eludes us.

Something that wasn’t readily apparent to me when I began my current posting was the extent of the interplay between nonproliferation on the one hand, and arms control and disarmament on the other.  The CTBT—which has been signed by 182 states and ratified by 154—plays a key role in the global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament regime.  The foundation of that regime is the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).  The CTBT directly underpins the NPT by inhibiting the development of new nuclear weapons and the refinement of existing ones.  The CTBT also contributes to strategic stability by attenuating the inclination of states to react to others’ tests with tests of their own.  But the CTBT can only fully play that role, and the CTBTO can only dispose of all the tools prescribed by the Treaty, including on-site inspections, when the Treaty enters into force.

The On-Site Inspection regime (OSI) creates a powerful deterrent against nuclear testing by would-be proliferators because it provides a mechanism by which the international community can definitively establish the provenance of ambiguous events.  OSI has been described as the most intrusive verification measure prescribed in any Treaty.  We would argue that is appropriate given that the issue at hand is detecting clandestine nuclear explosions.  I’d like to stress the importance the United States attaches to developing the OSI regime, which has historically lagged behind development of the International Monitoring System (IMS), the other key pillar of the CTBT’s verification regime.

While we would like to see OSI draw even with the IMS, the good news is that there has been significant progress in the past decade building the IMS.  86 percent of the IMS stations have been built, and 80 percent certified.   The expansion of the IMS network, together with significant advances in the main technologies that undergird the verification regime, mean that the CTBTO can reliably detect even relatively small nuclear explosions.  That capability was graphically demonstrated in 2006 and 2009 with the DPRK’s nuclear tests, both of which the IMS detected.

A less obvious, but equally important benefit of the CTBT is that it provides a ready mechanism for verifying regional nuclear-weapons-free zones such as those in Africa, Central Asia, Latin America, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.  The CTBT also serves as an important confidence building measure, contributing to regional peace and security by limiting the extent to which nuclear testing can be used as a political lever in regional conflicts.  And with the recent Fukushima nuclear crisis, we saw dramatic proof the CTBTO’s International Monitoring System for non-verification related purposes such as tsunami warnings and tracking radioactivity from reactor accidents.

As a demonstration of the value the United States places on the CTBT, we have just concluded with the Provisional Technical Secretariat (PTS) a Memorandum of Understanding for the United States to provide a contribution of up to $25.5 million to underwrite a project to rebuild a hydroacoustic monitoring station in the southern Indian Ocean.  That station, on Crozet Island, will complete the IMS’s important hydro acoustic network.  The United Stated also announced two weeks ago a voluntary in-kind contribution of $8.9 million to support projects that will accelerate development of the CTBT verification regime.  Together, U.S. extra-budgetary contributions to the CTBTO this year total $34.4 million, more than our annual assessed contribution ($33.5 million).  Given the tough budget climate in Washington and other capitals, those contributions are particularly timely and important.  They also graphically demonstrate the vital importance the United States attaches to the CTBT, and to completing the verification regime.

Status of the U.S. Ratification Effort

Now I promised you at the outset that I would address the status of the CTBT ratification effort in the United States, so before I close I’d like to say a few words about that.   Some of you may be aware that Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Disarmament and Verification Rose Gottemoeller led the U.S. delegation at the CTBTO’s Preparatory Commission meeting in June.  I want to reiterate her statement at the PrepCom emphasizing the serious commitment by the United States and the administration of President Obama to seek the advice and consent of the United States Senate to ratify the CTBT.  Her participation in that meeting – as the most senior U.S. representative to date to a PrepCom – underscored the depth of that commitment.  To that end, we have begun a deliberate and methodical process of engaging the U.S. Senate and the American public on the importance of the CTBT.

In anticipation of the ratification debate in the U.S. Senate, the Administration commissioned a number of classified and unclassified reports, including an updated National Intelligence Estimate and an independent National Academy of Sciences report to assess the ability of the United States to monitor compliance with the Treaty and the ability of the United States to maintain, in the absence of nuclear explosive testing, a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal so long as these weapons exist.  Those reports and meetings with Senators and their expert staff to respond to questions about the CTBTO and its capabilities will give the U.S. Senate a wealth of information to assist them in making a determination on the merits of ratification of the CTBT.

The key question those reports and briefings will attempt to answer definitively and positively is whether the CTBT could be effectively verified.  As many of you are well aware, the U.S. Senate declined to provide its consent to ratification of the CTBT in 1999, in large part because of concerns about whether the Treaty could be effectively verified.  With the advances in technology and the build out of the IMS that have happened since, we have a much stronger case in that regard today.   It is thanks to the hard work of the CTBTO Preparatory Commission, the CTBT’s States Signatory, and the staff of the PTS that such great progress toward establishing the Treaty’s verification regime has been made in the last decade.

That’s the good news.

The other news is that there has been a substantial change of the guard in the U.S. Senate since the Treaty was last considered in 1999.  One of the challenges proponents of the CTBT face is that the generation of U.S. politicians who came of age during the Cold War, many of whom invested considerable time learning arms control issues, has given way to a new cadre of leaders.  For many of them, arms control is relatively unfamiliar territory.  So there is a process of engagement and explanation that needs to take place to tee up an informed debate about the merits of the CTBT.  That process, like most things worth doing, takes some time.

Our recent experience working with the U.S. Senate to gain ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty – New START – with the Russian Federation has prepared us for what is expected to be an equally thorough and robust debate over the CTBT.  We do not expect it will be easy or happen quickly, but we will work hard to make it happen.  We have been careful and consistent in noting that we have no specific date in mind for a ratification vote.  There is a good reason for that: rushing to a vote before the important process of engagement and explanation has run its course increases the risk of an unfavorable outcome, which is the last thing those of us who support the CTBT want.   So we will continue working to engage members of the Senate on the national security rationale behind our support for the CTBT, and will keep a close eye on that dialogue to judge when the time is right to bring the CTBT to the floor of the U.S. Senate for a formal debate.