Expected Council Action
In September, the Council is expected to hold a briefing under the agenda item “non-proliferation” to mark the 25th anniversary of the opening for signature of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). Briefings are expected from Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) Robert Floyd, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu, and a member of the CTBTO Youth Group.
Background and Key Recent Developments
The CTBT, which prohibits states parties from carrying out any “any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion”, opened for signature on 24 September 1996. While it is nearly universally accepted, it has yet to enter into force. To date, 185 states have signed the treaty, and 170 have ratified it. Before it can enter into force, however, all 44 states designated as “nuclear-capable” and listed in Annex 2 of the treaty must sign and ratify it. Of the 44 specified states, three have not signed the treaty and eight have yet to ratify it. (See Council and Wider Dynamics below.)
Since 1999, the Secretary-General has convened a biennial conference, known as the Article XIV conference (named after the relevant Treaty article), as part of ongoing efforts to promote the treaty’s entry into force. At the conference, participating states commit to promoting the treaty and discuss concrete ways to accelerate its entry into force. The conference also offers the Preparatory Commission for the CTBTO, the interim multilateral body responsible for building up the verification regime in preparation for the treaty’s entry into force, an opportunity to apprise member states of its progress. This year’s Article XIV conference will take place the week before the Council briefing. As such, its deliberations may feed into the Council’s discussions.
The Security Council has rarely considered the issue of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction through the lens of the CTBT. In 2016, on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the treaty’s opening for signature, the Council adopted its first and only resolution specifically on the CTBT. Co-sponsored by 42 countries, resolution 2310, which sought to reinforce international support for the CTBT, passed with 14 votes in favour and an abstention by Egypt. The resolution affirmed that the treaty’s entry into force would contribute to the enhancement of international peace and security and recognised that the monitoring elements of the CTBT verification regime “contribute to regional stability as a significant confidence-building measure”. The resolution urged all states that had yet to sign or ratify the treaty, particularly the eight remaining Annex 2 states, to do so immediately and to uphold their moratoria.
Since the adoption of resolution 2310, there has been only one nuclear test. On 3 September 2017, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) announced that it had conducted its sixth nuclear test since 2006. The incident, which was swiftly detected by the international monitoring system of the CTBT, was met with widespread condemnation and a raft of new sanctions unanimously adopted by the Security Council. While tensions on the Korean peninsula have since subsided, media reports based on satellite data suggest resumed activity at missile launch sites.
On 20 May, Robert Floyd was appointed Executive Secretary of the CTBTO after he defeated former CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo in a competitive election that featured multiple rounds of voting. Zerbo’s seeking of an unprecedented third term was a divisive point in the election. Some member states argued that re-electing Zerbo would offer much-needed continuity to the organisation’s work in the face of persistent challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but other countries, including the US, opposed his re-election, citing its support for a two-term limit for heads of international organisations.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council is how it can promote the treaty’s entry into force. States parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) have held review conferences every five years since its entry into force in 1970 to analyse the treaty’s operation and debate other related issues. Council members may consider endorsing the idea of using this review process as a forum to support the CTBT and promote its entry into force.
Another important issue is the role of nuclear testing moratoria in promoting the objectives of the CTBT. While several member states emphasised the importance of national moratoria during the adoption of resolution 2310, others raised reservations about relying on them as a substitute for committing to legally binding international norms. Russia stressed that the CTBT, rather than moratoria, “should be the benchmark for States’ responsible behaviour”.
A further key issue is how the Preparatory Commission of the CTBTO can be better supported to complete its work and to ensure that its verification regime is fully operational by the time the treaty enters into force.
An option that the Council could consider is to pursue a statement that:
- reaffirms the importance of the non-proliferation regime,
- calls on states to uphold national moratoria on conducting nuclear weapons testing,
- expresses support for the work of the CTBTO and its verification regime; and
- highlights the role of other stakeholders, such as the private sector, civil society, and academia, in promoting the treaty’s entry into force and supporting the work of the CTBTO.
Council and Wider Dynamics
India is the only current Council member that has not signed or ratified the CTBT. China and the US have signed the treaty but have yet to ratify it. All other Council members have both signed and ratified the treaty.
Council members seem to agree that the CTBT has established a strong international norm against nuclear testing. On 15 September 2016, the permanent members of the Council issued a joint statement calling upon all states “to uphold national moratoria on conducting nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion pending entry-into-force of the CTBT”.
Ireland and Mexico, both of which are members of the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), a group of countries seeking to make progress on nuclear disarmament within the General Assembly’s First Committee, may be critical of some members of the P5 for failing to comply with their nuclear disarmament obligations. Each year, the NAC presents an annual resolution in the First Committee titled “Towards a nuclear-weapon-free world: accelerating the implementation of nuclear disarmament commitments”, which expresses serious concern over the increased priority given to nuclear weapons in some states’ security doctrines and the significant modernisation programmes currently underway.
The current Council membership also includes several members of the Non-Aligned Movement—including India, Kenya, Niger, Tunisia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Viet Nam—which has frequently criticised the P5 for not fulfilling their disarmament obligations under the NPT. According to a June report by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), nuclear-armed states spent $1.4 billion more on reinforcing and updating their nuclear arsenals in 2020 than they did the year before, despite the economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. Six of the top nine spenders—including the US, China, India, Israel, Pakistan, and the DPRK, respectively in the order of amount spent—have not ratified the CTBT (Iran and Egypt are the other two states that have not ratified the CTBT), and three–namely the DPRK, India and Pakistan–have yet to sign it.
UN DOCUMENTS ON NON-PROLIFERATION
|Security Council Resolutions|
|11 September 2017S/RES/2375||This resolution expanded sanctions to additional sectors of the North Korean economy in response to the DPRK’s nuclear test.|
|23 September 2016S/RES/2310||This was a resolution on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the opening for signature of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|23 September 2016S/PV.7776||This was a meeting to adopt resolution 2310 on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the opening for signature of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Egypt abstained, while all other Council members voted in favour.|
|General Assembly Documents|
|7 December 2020A/RES/75/65||This was a resolution titled “Towards a nuclear-weapon-free world: accelerating the implementation of nuclear disarmament commitments”.|