Image source: GK Today - Photo: 2023

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS | 10 October 2023 (IDN) — The Russian Federation, which made several implicit threats to use nuclear weapons in its ongoing military conflict in Ukraine, is reportedly toying with the idea of withdrawing its ratification of the landmark Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). 

The international wire service Reuters reported on October 6 that Russia indicated that it was moving swiftly towards revoking its ratification of the CTBT after President Vladimir Putin held out the possibility of resuming nuclear testing.

Putin was quoted as saying that Russia’s nuclear doctrine—which sets out the conditions under which he would press the nuclear button—did not need updating but was not yet ready to say whether or not Moscow needed to resume nuclear tests.

He said Russia could look at revoking ratification of the CTBT as the United States had signed but not ratified it.

According to a report in the New York Times on October 8, Putin was quoted as saying Russia had successfully tested a nuclear-powered cruise missile but “dangled the prospect that Russia may revoke its ratification of the CTBT”.

Asked for a response from UN Secretary-General António Guterres, one of the strongest supporters of the CTBT, his Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said: “Yes, we’re aware of these comments”.

“All I can say about that is the Secretary-General has consistently stressed the need for the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).”

He strongly urges all states that have not ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to do so without reservations or conditions, especially those whose ratification is required for the treaty’s entry into force.

In the interim, the Secretary-General calls on all nuclear weapon states to publicly reaffirm their moratoriums against nuclear testing and their commitment to the CTBT. []

On 10 September 1996, the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty was adopted by a large majority, exceeding two-thirds of the General Assembly’s membership

France was the first Nuclear Weapon State and the United Kingdom to have signed the CTBT in 1996 and ratified it in 1998.

However, the treaty has yet to enter into force because of the unwillingness of a number of states to ratify it. The United States and China are the only remaining NPT Nuclear Weapon States that have not ratified the CTBT.

The treaty has been signed by 187 nations and ratified by 178. The treaty cannot formally enter into force until it is ratified by 44 specific nations, eight of which have yet to do so: China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, Iran, Egypt, and the United States.

Dr Rebecca Eleanor Johnson, Ecofeminist peace & security campaigner and Director Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy (AIDD), told IDN, “Nuclear testing was banned in 1996 because it harmed millions of people, poisoned the planet, and fed nuclear proliferation.”

“Putin’s recent threat to revoke Russia’s ratification of the CTBT can be recognized as posturing from a weak leader stuck in the lose-lose war that he launched on Ukraine.”

“Yet we cannot ignore that anyone brandishing nuclear weapons and threats puts the whole world in existential danger,” said Dr Johnson, author of “Unfinished Business”, an authoritative UN book on how the CTBT was achieved.

“Ever since the political miscalculations in 1962 led to the Cuban Missile Crisis that nearly blew up the planet, governments from both the USA and Russia—along with people across the world—have brought about nuclear arms control and disarmament treaties like the CTBT, recognizing them as vitally important legal building blocks to create greater international security, reduce nuclear dangers and prevent nuclear war.”

“It is worth remembering how the leaders of Russia, the USA and most of the rest of the world voted for the CTBT and signed it in September 1996.  Even after Republicans in the US Senate put their factional squabbling above US national security by denying President Clinton the two-thirds majority that US ratification of the CTBT required in 1999, Putin backed Russian ratification in 2000.”

“Sadly, China chose to delay its own ratification until the US ratified, which has paved the way for Putin’s current threat to the test ban treaty,” declared Dr Johnson.

Professor M.V. Ramana, Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, told IDN the announcement about Russia revoking its ratification of the CTBT is yet another downward step in the spiral of deteriorating nuclear arms control.

Is Russia planning a nuclear weapons test?

While Russian spokespersons have said that they don’t plan to test nuclear weapons, the latest announcement paves the way for a test at some future date. It is possible that Russia sees a nuclear weapon test as yet another step to warn the West about not helping Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s attack. Such a test would be far less destructive than the use of a nuclear weapon, which is also something that Russian leaders have threatened to carry out.

But it would open political opportunities for other countries like China, India and even the United States to carry out nuclear weapon tests, which would reverse the practice of not carrying out tests established over two decades, Dr Ramana said.

Elaborating further, Dr Johnson said having witnessed Putin and Trump in recent years vying to undermine the NPT, destroy the INF [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] Treaty, and block multilateral negotiations on the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, playing ‘tit for tat’ with Putin would be foolish and dangerous, Dr Johnson warned.

“The priority now is to prevent any further nuclear tests”.

At this point, she pointed out, the best way to counter Putin’s threats would be for the United States and China to ratify the CTBT, reinforce pressure on the few remaining hold-outs, and join the rest of the world in strengthening the CTBT Organization (CTBTO) to deter and detect any and all nuclear tests.  

“Such actions would greatly enhance their own national security as well as sending a powerful message to Russia.”

“Novaya Zemlya in the Arctic is already heavily contaminated from Russia’s previous nuclear tests, as a Greenpeace action I organized in 1990 exposed.  The Nenets people, like all survivors of nuclear testing, need to be protected from further harm.” [IDN-InDepthNews]

Image source: GK Today