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Jayantha Dhanapala on CTBT - Debate in The Hindu

8 April 2012

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The Hindu, April 4, 2012

Defusing the nuclear powder keg

by Jayantha Dhanapala

The wider Asian region must follow Indonesia’s shining example of ratifying the CTBT.

If our cricket-crazy South Asian subcontinent knows the Sri Lankan hill-country town of Pallekelle — in the suburbs of my hometown of Kandy — for anything, it is for the Pallekelle International Cricket Stadium here where some of the 2011 World Cup Cricket matches were played.

However, Pallekelle is also home to another, more inconspicuous but no less important complex: a monitoring station to detect nuclear explosions. It is a part of an unprecedented global alarm system built by the Vienna-based Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO).

Sensors across the world

Over 300 state-of-the-art sensors in every corner of the world listen to the atmosphere, the oceans and underground for shock waves from a nuclear blast. Radionuclide stations sniff the air for radioactivity — the “smoking gun” of any nuclear test. Thanks to the most elaborate verification system in the history of arms control, which is now nearing completion, the international community can rest assured that any nuclear test will be detected.

Although the CTBTO celebrates its 15th birthday this year and has come a long way in establishing its formidable verification system, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) has yet to become global law. This is one of the main reasons why, in my presence on January 10 in Washington D.C. this year, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists decided to adjust the hands of its famous “Doomsday Clock” — a symbolic measure which counts down to nuclear Armageddon — one minute closer to midnight: it is now set at 11:55, five minutes before global disaster.

Veteran Nepalese diplomat Hira B. Thapa recently wrote about the looming danger of nuclear warfare in South Asia for his country. I share the same fears for Sri Lanka. The detonation, accidental or planned, of even a single nuclear weapon in this part of the world, would be catastrophic for the region. A nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan would cause a global nuclear winter leading to years of widespread famine, as Professors Alan Robock from Rutgers University and Owen Brian Toon from the University of Colorado, United States, predicted.

Only eight specific ratifications are missing for the CTBT to enter into force: the U.S., China, Iran, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Israel, and North Korea. In February 2012, Indonesia decided to leave this group and join the 156 countries that had already ratified the CTBT while the Obama Administration has pledged to resubmit the treaty to the U.S. Senate for advice and consent.

Since its inception in 1996, the CTBT’s zero-testing norm is the expression of a zero-tolerance stance against nuclear testing, treated nowadays as a reckless and atavistic display of nuclear weapon possession. It is my hope that other countries in the wider Asian region will follow Indonesia’s shining example.

On peace and the environment

The non-nuclear weapon States in our region could make a difference by leading through example: among the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), only Brunei, Myanmar and Thailand have yet to ratify the CTBT. The ASEAN countries are also members of the South-East Asia Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone (Treaty of Bangkok), which itself prohibits nuclear tests. Full regional membership of the Treaty of Bangkok and the CTBT are important steps in establishing South-East Asia as a nuclear weapon-free bastion of stability. In the wider region, the only countries that have yet to ratify the CTBT are Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, Nepal, and my own country, Sri Lanka. Taking this decisive step would put the nuclear weapon possessors and the remaining eight CTBT hold-outs in the spotlight.

All these countries are parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as non-nuclear weapon States and active members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). For NAM, nuclear disarmament has been a core value since its inception in 1961. Over the decades it has pushed incessantly, and vigorously, for a global ban on nuclear weapons and nuclear tests alike and has supported the CTBT.

Ratifying the CTBT is not only a matter of principle. It is not only about supporting world peace and the environment. It is in our security interests. Indonesia has shown the way — now it is up to other countries to follow suit. Each additional ratification sends a clear political signal to the remaining hold-out States.

The saga for the banning of all nuclear tests began in 1954 with a great visionary leader from Asia — Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. It would be a tragic irony for Asian nations to be an obstacle now when that goal is within sight.

(Jayantha Dhanapala is currently President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. He was United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs from 1998 to 2003 and Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the United States from 1995 to 1997.)

o o o

The Hindu, April 5, 2012

The CTBT conundrum

Shyam Saran

In his article in The Hindu Defusing the nuclear powder keg (April 4, 2012), Jayantha Dhanapala makes three key observations.

1. The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) with its “over 300 state-of-the-art sensors in every corner of the world,” gives assurance that “any nuclear test will be detected.”

Comment: There are actually 337 CTBTO stations in the world, but only 250 or so have been internationally certified. So there is still some way to go before the level of confidence in the verification procedures can be considered adequate. It may also be noted that the CTBT does not bar virtual tests undertaken through computer simulations. With rapid advances in computing power and sophisticated software, the actual testing of a nuclear device may not be necessary to either improve existing weapons or assemble a modest but workable nuclear arsenal. There is also the possibility of a fully tested design of a nuclear weapon or even an actual device being transferred clandestinely from a nuclear weapon state to a non-nuclear weapon one. This is what China did with respect to Pakistan in the late 1980s. The CTBT and the CTBTO provide no answer to such challenges.

2. There is a looming danger of nuclear warfare in South Asia, which would be catastrophic for the entire region.

Comment: The greater danger today is not the threat of a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan but the threat emanating from a loss of control over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons as a result of increasing dysfunction and even possible disintegration of the country’s polity and governance structure. There is a growing risk that these weapons may fall into the hands of jihadi and extremist elements. In that case, not only India and South Asia, but also the entire world would be under a nuclear threat.

Further, regional issues, should not detract from the urgent focus required on achieving a world free of nuclear weapons. CTBT has significance only if it is integrally located within a credible and time-bound programme of nuclear disarmament. The link between nuclear weapons and international terrorism, highlighted by the United Nations, is a new dimension of the nuclear threat which demands a renewed priority to nuclear disarmament.

3. The ratification of the CTBT by non-nuclear weapon states in the Asian region, would serve to put the “eight CTBT holdouts in the spotlight.”

Comment: This is a simplistic argument. These countries have little or no impact on the security perspectives of the eight holdouts. The holdouts themselves are motivated by different factors. India, Pakistan and North Korea have neither signed nor ratified the CTBT. It would be fair to say that Pakistan’s calculations are influenced by what India does. In 1999, Pakistan and India committed themselves bilaterally to a moratorium on nuclear testing. India’s calculations are similarly conditioned by what China does and China is unlikely to become a party unless the U.S. does.

Egypt and Iran obviously link their decisions to what happens to Israel’s undeclared nuclear weapon arsenal. North Korea is a problem country in its own right. What would hasten the coming into force of the treaty is a U.S. decision to ratify the treaty, which would likely trigger a chain of positive decisions among the other holdouts. Not all “holdouts,” therefore, are equal in this respect.

India has declared that it would be unable to sign and ratify the CTBT as it currently formulated, but will continue its voluntary and unilateral moratorium on further testing. At one point, India had also declared that it would not stand in the way of the CTBT coming into force, but that would require an amendment to the treaty’s unusual provision that it will come into force only if it has been signed and ratified by all the 44 nuclear-capable states, including India. India is the only nuclear weapon state to declare that it believes its security would be enhanced, not diminished, in a world free of nuclear weapons.

It is willing to engage in multilateral negotiations on an International Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Manufacture, Deployment and Use of Nuclear Weapons, at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. Success in these negotiations would automatically take care of the issue of nuclear testing.

I agree that the world may be perched on a “nuclear powder keg.” But that requires us to move beyond partial and interim measures such as the CTBT and deliver, with a sense of urgency, on the long-standing international commitment to eliminate nuclear weapons altogether as a category of weapons of mass destruction, as has already been achieved with chemical weapons.

(Shyam Saran is a former Foreign Secretary and is currently Chairman, RIS, and Senior Fellow, CPR.)

o o o

The Hindu, April 6, 2012

Jayantha Dhanapala responds

Opposing the CTBT because it fails to deliver complete disarmament is tantamount to opposing speed limits on roads because they fail to prevent accidents completely.

The 287 CTBTO stations are complete. Even with much fewer stations, the 2006 and 2009 North Korean tests were detected, in spite of their low yield. Monitoring technologies have evolved far beyond what was envisaged at the time of the system’s conception in the 1990s. The recent NAS study shows that all tests of military significance will be detected. The CTBT is non-discriminatory. It bans all nuclear explosions and all 182 Member States receive the monitoring data on equal terms.

A crude Hiroshima-bomb type weapon can be developed without testing, yet the development of more advanced nuclear weapons continues to rely on testing.

The CTBT was never meant to be a cure-all. It addresses one, albeit crucial aspect: hampering qualitative improvements of nuclear weapons. It could make a difference — whether a “simple” nuclear weapon is at stake or a thermonuclear weapon with apocalyptic destructive power.

Yes, nuclear war in South Asia can be triggered by states or non-state actors; by accident or design -– as long as nuclear weapons exist in the region.

A nuclear weapon convention outlawing nuclear weapons is an increasingly popular goal but renegotiating the CTBT’s entry-into-force provisions is surely unrealistic.

(Jayantha Dhanapala is currently President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. He was United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs from 1998 to 2003 and Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the United States from 1995 to 1997.)

Click here for the article "The CTBT Conundrum" by Shyam Saran.


The above articles from the Hindu are reproduced here for educational and non commercial use.