What's In Blue

High-level Briefing on the Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction

On Monday (27 September), the Security Council will hold a high-level briefing marking the 25th anniversary of the opening for signature of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), under the agenda item “Non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction”. Simon Coveney, Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence, will chair the meeting. The expected briefers are UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu, Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) Robert Floyd, and a civil society representative. Italy and South Africa, co-chairs of this year’s Article XIV Conference—a biennial conference aimed at promoting the CTBT’s entry into force—are expected to participate in the meeting under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

Ireland circulated a concept note ahead of Monday’s briefing, which is one of the signature events of its Council presidency. It says that the meeting will focus on the CTBT’s goals and achievements and will provide Council members with an opportunity to lend impetus to promote the treaty’s entry into force. The CTBT, which prohibits states parties from carrying out “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 entering into force, 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, China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, and the US have signed but not ratified the treaty, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), India and Pakistan have yet to sign it.

The most recent Council meeting on the CTBT took place in 2016, on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the treaty’s opening for signature. At that meeting, the Security Council adopted resolution 2310, the first and only Council resolution on the CTBT to date. It stressed the vital importance and urgency of achieving the treaty’s early entry into force and affirmed that doing so will contribute to the enhancement of international peace and security. Resolution 2310 recognised that the monitoring elements of the CTBT verification regime, including the International Monitoring System (IMS), “contribute to regional stability as a significant confidence-building measure”. The resolution urged all states, particularly the eight remaining Annex 2 states, to ratify the treaty without further delay and to uphold their national moratoria on nuclear weapons testing.

During Monday’s briefing, Nakamitsu is likely to provide an update on the work of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), which supports efforts aimed at the non-proliferation and total elimination of nuclear weapons. Nakamitsu may highlight the Secretary-General’s “Securing Our Common Future: An Agenda for Disarmament”, published in 2018, which outlines concrete paths to resuming dialogue and negotiations for nuclear arms control and disarmament.

Floyd, who was elected as CTBTO Executive Secretary in May, is likely to outline his plan and vision for furthering the treaty’s entry into force and advancing the work of the Preparatory Commission for the CTBTO. (Set up in 1996, the Preparatory Commission is an interim multilateral body tasked with developing the global verification regime of the CTBT, which must be operational when the treaty enters into force.) He may also draw attention to the ways in which the verification regime has proven capable of effectively monitoring nuclear testing and describe its uses in the fields of climate change research and disaster warning.

Since 1999, the UN 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 Monday’s meeting, Italy and South Africa are expected to apprise Council members of the proceedings of this year’s Article XIV Conference, which was held on 23 and 24 September. They may also highlight key elements of this year’s Final Declaration, which was adopted by conference participants on 23 September. The declaration contains a list of 15 concrete and actionable steps that can be taken to promote the treaty’s universalisation and early entry into force.

The concept note which was prepared by Ireland suggests several questions to help guide the discussion at Monday’s briefing:

At Monday’s briefing, several Council members may raise the threats posed by the proliferation of nuclear weapons in some country situations. During this year’s Article XIV Conference, several members, including Ireland, discussed efforts to denuclearise the Korean peninsula. At that meeting, Ireland called on the DPRK to sign and ratify the CTBT, to return to the NPT, and to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). On 3 September 2017, the DPRK announced that it had conducted its sixth nuclear test since 2006 (and its first since the adoption of resolution 2310 in 2016). The incident, which was detected by the CTBT’s IMS, was met with widespread condemnation and a raft of new sanctions unanimously adopted by the Security Council.

The US may emphasise its support for the CTBT and note its zero-yield nuclear explosive testing moratorium, which it continues to observe. While all Council members recognise the importance of observing such moratoria, some will likely stress that these measures do not have the same permanent and legally binding effect as the CTBT and should therefore not be seen as a substitute for ratification of the treaty. 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 particularly critical of the eight remaining Annex 2 states and call on them to immediately sign and ratify the treaty.

It appears that Ireland had considered altering the format of Monday’s meeting to an open debate, but encountered resistance from some Council members, and decided to retain the briefing format.