West’s reluctance to conduct a constructive dialogue with Russia on the ratification of the CTBT causes damage in the field of nuclear disarmament.
Written by Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Since the creation of the first nuclear weapons, the world has been constantly under tension over the possibility of their use in a large-scale conflict. The lamentable episodes in Japan, at the end of World War II, revealed to the world a portion of the immense destructive power of these types of weapons. With the technologies that developed later, resulting in warheads thousands of times more destructive than those of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, fear has only progressively heightened throughout international society. To contain this terror, agreements and norms of international law have been built with the objective of reassuring peoples about the lack of interest on the part of the great world powers in using such warheads in an eventual conflict scenario. However, the US seems less and less interested in such negotiations, threatening global nuclear security in the name of egoistic and insensitive interests.
During the Cold War, several nuclear tests were carried out around the world. The US and the Soviet Union – as well as their allied powers – tried at all times to demonstrate strength and impose their interests on a global scale, with the detonation of nuclear weapons as the main mechanism to achieve their ends. At that time, there was a real nuclear race, as at each test the enemy power became conscious of the degree of atomic development of its opponent and strived to overcome it, in a constant search for reaching nuclear supremacy. With the end of the Cold War, the international society understood that it was time to completely end the nuclear race, which is why a conference was established in New York, in 1996, to sign a new agreement towards nuclear disarmament, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).
The CTBT’s objective was to take a step beyond what was given by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons – in force since 1970, considering that this older agreement adopted a bipolar, obsolete and discriminatory perspective, dividing the world between hegemonic nuclear powers and practically subordinate non-nuclear nations. With the CTBT, the nuclear powers would be completely prohibited from using their weapons, which would bring a more egalitarian perspective and would mean a step further towards total disarmament. However, the agreement never came into effect, mainly due to Western disinterest in continuing negotiations.
Since the George W. Bush administration, Washington has completely stopped negotiating the treaty. Previously, the US had already signed the agreement, but the bill was not approved for ratification by the US Congress when put to vote at the end of the Clinton administration. Bush took a stance strongly against the idea of denuclearization, so he immediately stopped any attempt in this regard. Altogether, among the nuclear powers, only Russia, France and the UK signed and ratified the agreement. Just as the US, China and Israel have not internally ratified the signing of the treaty, while the other nuclear powers (North Korea, India, and Pakistan) have not even signed it. There are also countries that do not have nuclear weapons but that have specific technology to produce them, such as Iran, Egypt and Indonesia, which also have not ratified the treaty. As a result of this lack of dialogue, the world remains under constant threat of a possible return of the nuclear tests.
In fact, the American disinterest in the CTBT is simple to be understanded: the current situation is comfortable for the US. Russia ratified the agreement in 1997, before the US Congress voted – and rejected – it in 1999. In the current scenario, Russia agrees to self-impose nuclear restrictions in the name of global peace and disarmament, while Washington remains free in relation to international commitments, being able, in theory, to carry out new tests in the future. This situation generates distrust in the other nuclear powers that also have not ratified the agreement yet, encouraging them to remain in the same position, without advancing a step towards the definitive ban on tests.
Without the CTBT, it will not be possible to continue controlling nuclear technology in the long term, as countries that have not ratified it will be able to return to testing at any time and, as a result, Russia, UK, and France will tend to renounce the agreement so that they are not geopolitically harmed by self-imposed limitations, which will result in a new arms race.
To enter into force, the CTBT must have 44 signatories with specific nuclear technology (currently only 35 countries with such technology have accepted the terms of the pact). The problem with this issue is that to increase the number of signatories, the US needs to take the initial step, ratifying the treaty and setting an example to be followed by other nations. A pragmatic and sincere negotiation between Washington and Moscow could encourage the CTBT to be put back to a vote in the Congress and finally approved.
Furthermore, even having ratified the treaty, France and the UK, as US allies in NATO, refuse to encourage US-Russia dialogue. In fact, the current situation also brings comfort for them, since, despite accepting the impositions of the agreement, they take advantage from the American “nuclear freedom”.
Regardless of geopolitical disputes, universal nuclear disarmament is a common interest of the entire world and can only be achieved through the goodwill of the nuclear powers.
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