Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1996, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has still not yet been activated, or, in treaty talk, “entered into force.” As of September 2011, 155 states have ratified the CTBT and another 27 states, not least among them the United States, have signed but not ratified it.

According to the Basic Obligations under ARTICLE I, the CTBT requires that:

Each State Party [as in “state that is party to the treaty”] undertakes not to carry out any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion, and to prohibit and prevent any such nuclear explosion at any place under its jurisdiction or control.

On September 23 of this year, the Conference on Facilitating the Entry Into Force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was held, spurring calls in support. At the conference itself United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said

We gather at a moment of action. On the international front, the calls for bringing the CTBT into effect are growing. … We must face facts. Until we have universal adherence to a legally binding global norm against nuclear testing, there is no guarantee that nuclear tests will not happen again. We need no more reminders. We need political will. We need concrete action.

Meanwhile, former Secretary of Energy Hazel O’Leary and Hazel O’Leary and Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, wrote in the Los Angeles Times:

The treaty is an essential tool for dealing with today’s security threats. … Countries with nuclear weapons, such as China, India and Pakistan, cannot create advanced nukes without further nuclear test explosions. Without nuclear tests, Iran could not confidently build warheads for delivery by ballistic missiles. By ratifying the treaty, the United States would put pressure on these nations to shelve their nuclear programs and engage more productively with the international community.

Most important, by ratifying the treaty, “the United States would gain the political and moral leverage to end nuclear testing worldwide.”

In a December 2009 article for Z Magazine, Darwin BondGraham shows how the United States gained a different kind of political leverage, and at the expense of moral (emphasis added).

According to Ray Acheson [of the disarmament group Reaching Critical Will, a nation that] “pursues nuclear weapons, such as North Korea, must do so based on the tried-and-true path of setting off a nuclear detonation. But to do so under the CTBT would almost reflexively entail sanctions and military strikes.” Acheson and others point out that the “virtual testing” advances at the U.S. labs—particularly in the areas of flash-ray and laser technologies—provide it with an exclusive, high-tech route around the CTBT. The U.S. remains free to continue developing qualitatively new nuclear weapons … without violating the letter of the agreement.

In the current subscription edition of Counterpunch BondGraham provided additional insights into how a treaty such as the CTBT is not all it’s cracked up to be. He explains that the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program (SSM)

. . . came about largely because of the Clinton administration’s counterproductive obsession with ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). … The nuclear weapons complex and its allies in the Pentagon, Congress, and industry [claimed that] an end to testing … would require huge funding increases to build complex virtual testing facilities to use in lieu of nuclear shots under the desert. Even though Clinton approved SSM, setting in motion a decade of trough-feeding for the nuclear complex, the CTBT was never ratified by the Senate. Republicans balked.

In any event, U.S. ratification of the CTBT isn’t exactly impending. Global Security Newswire reports that a U.S. official explained that the Obama administration

… “cannot simply negotiate treaties and put them into force. … Every treaty we negotiate must be ratified. That is 67 votes [in the Senate] and always requires a major effort.” So far that effort has not been officially launched in Washington. While other nations are “very keen” on CTBT ratification, [Jarmo Viinanen, chairman of the U.N. General Assembly’s First Committee, which handles disarmament] said, “if you expect there is going to be any movement from the U.S. side, I don’t think so. … One year before the [presidential] election, I’m not counting on that.”

Not that the United States is the only one dragging its feet. Among the other nine nations “that must still ratify the treaty before it can become a global rule of law [are] nuclear-armed … China, India, Pakistan and North Korea.”

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