Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1404, (2 - 8 August 2018)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1404, (2 - 8 August 2018)

Ahram Weekly

The Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and the Middle East

It is important that all the states in the Middle East ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, which was adopted by the United Nations in 1996 but has still not entered into force, writes Mounir Zahran


The overwhelming majority of United Nations member states and states parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) are Non-Nuclear Weapons States (NNWSs) and are not the target of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) since they do not possess nuclear weapons to test.

Therefore, the only advantage for them of signing and ratifying the CTBT, other than supporting the goals of arms control, is to participate in the monitoring mechanism of the CTBT through its International Monitoring System (IMS) being operated by the transitional Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) in Vienna.

The CTBT, as it was shaped through negotiations in 1994-1996 at the Conference on Disarmament (CD), was intended to be comprehensive and to be an additional measure of nuclear disarmament as is mentioned in its text. However, in the view of the non-aligned countries, in order to be comprehensive the CTBT should have prohibited all nuclear tests and not only nuclear test explosions. It was intended to complete the aspirations of the 1963 Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Tests in the Atmosphere, Outer Space and Under Water, and it was agreed during the negotiations of the CTBT during the CD that it would be a zero-yield treaty.

Nevertheless, the CTBT only prohibits nuclear test explosions by virtue of the language of its preamble in paragraphs 5 and 6 and its Article 1. Accordingly, nuclear tests that do not use explosions are not prohibited under the treaty, such as nuclear tests that are practised through laboratory simulations or super computers. Such tests could be used to upgrade and/or modernise the nuclear weapons of those states possessing them, whether they are parties to the NPT or remain outside of the treaty, such as India, Israel and Pakistan, in addition to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea), which withdrew from the NPT.

Looking at the Middle East from the CTBT perspective, Egypt is a party to the NPT as a NNWS and thus has no nuclear weapons to test, whether through test explosions or otherwise. However, if the United States and Israel ratify the CTBT, since they possess nuclear weapons that threaten the peoples of the Middle East, the road will be clear for Egypt to ratify it and use the IMS and the International Data Centre (IDC) established by the treaty. It is to be noted that two CTBT seismic stations are planned to be installed in Egypt in Luxor and Qattamiya (Cairo) and that both of these would allow Egypt to benefit from the CTBT monitoring and verification system.

Regarding the case of Israel, which has only signed the treaty, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated to the Times of Israel newspaper on 20 June 2016 that his country’s ratification was dependent upon the regional context and the appropriate timing — a statement which was clearly evasive. In 2016, Israel announced its commitment to a moratorium on nuclear weapons testing and called for a regional moratorium that would enhance security and potentially lead to the ratification of the CTBT. Israel’s two seismic stations and radionuclide laboratory forming part of the IMS have been installed and certified.

The case of Iran is different, since Iran is a state party to the NPT as a NNWS which should not possess nuclear weapons. The nuclear deal that was concluded with Iran and the 5+1 group of the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany in July 2015 (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — JCPOA) missed the opportunity to require Iran to ratify the CTBT. This requirement should apply to the case of the DPRK in the current negotiations between it and the US, following the summit meeting that took place between the leaders of those two countries in Singapore on 12 June 2018.

As far as the Arab countries are concerned, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Syria have not signed the treaty, and Yemen has signed but not ratified it. All these countries are NNWSs and states parties to the NPT. Each of them has its own reasons regarding signing and/or ratifying the CTBT. All of them are united in doubting the good will of Israel as far as the NPT and peace and security at the regional level are concerned. In addition, Saudi Arabia is suspicious regarding the peaceful intentions of Iran and its role in Syria and Yemen.  

Yemen fears both Iran and Saudi Arabia, and it overlooks the Straits of the Bab Al-Mandab at the southern entrance of the Red Sea. As far as Somalia is concerned, it is in a state of civil war and has had failed institutions since the early 1990s. It is to be noted that Palestine, which adheres to the NPT as a non-member observer state of the United Nations, has neither signed nor acceded to the CTBT.

Regarding the application of the CTBT IMS mechanism in the Middle East region, it is to be noted that 11 states (Egypt, Tunisia, Djibouti, Morocco, Mauritania, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia) have certified 12 stations, installed three, and planned five. Almost all of those to be stationed in Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia have been installed, although the latter has not yet signed or ratified the treaty.

This is lower than the current 90 per cent completion rate of the IMS overall; however, it is important as once the treaty enters into force it will rely on the IMS for the verification of compliance, and the Middle East is an especially important region in terms of regional tensions and conflicts. The tensions in the Middle East might not be solved soon, but the ratification of the treaty by Israel, Iran and Egypt might help to assuage them, and it would certainly help break the logjam towards the entry into force of the CTBT.

As stated in UN Security Council Resolution 2310 of 2016, the CTBT verification regime is of global reach. It will be complete following the complete construction of IMS facilities that will transmit data to the IDC set up under the CTBT.

Ratification by the remaining countries in the Middle East would be an important step towards the establishment in the Middle East of a zone free of nuclear and all other weapons of mass destruction. Such a zone was proposed by Egypt in 1990 and was the subject of a resolution adopted at the 1995 NPT Extension and Review Conference that paved the way for the decision adopted at the same conference on the indefinite extension of the NPT.

For that resolution to be implemented, Israel should first adhere to the NPT, since it is the only country in the region that remains outside the NPT. In parallel, all other Middle East countries that have not already done so should adhere to the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention.


NEGOTIATIONS: During the 1996 session of the CD, the ad hoc committee negotiating the CTBT selected Jap Ramaker of the Netherlands as chair and formed two working groups, as during the previous years of the negotiations in 1994-95.

The first group dealt with legal and institutional questions and was chaired by the ambassador of Egypt, and the other dealt with the technical monitoring and verification and was chaired by Grigory Berdennikov of Russia. The latter proceeded to conquer the many scientific and technical challenges of verification without experiencing the same kind of political difficulties as the former.

In the first working group, there were two main difficulties. The first related to the basic obligations mentioned in Article 1, Paragraph 1, of the treaty that stipulates that “Each state party undertakes not to carry out any weapons test explosion or any other nuclear explosion, and to prohibit and prevent any such nuclear explosion at any place under its jurisdiction or control.”

During the negotiations in working group one, some delegations proposed to delete from the language of Article 1, Paragraph 1, the word “explosion”. They wanted to ensure that the new treaty should prohibit all nuclear tests in order to deserve its title and thus to be “comprehensive”. The second reason was to ensure that the new treaty should contribute to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

Many delegations supported this amendment, but a few of them, including the NWSs and their allies, opposed it. In order to accelerate the negotiations, the chair of the group suggested putting the word “explosion” between brackets and proceeding with the negotiations.

The second issue facing difficulty in the negotiations was the language of Article 14 and Annex 2 of the treaty regarding its entry into force. During the negotiations, several formulas were proposed. The chair of the ad hoc committee entrusted one of the country ambassadors with consulting the various delegations on the best formula. The consultations then led him to propose to the chair and the negotiators the language of Article 14 and Annex 2 that includes a list of 44 countries that participated formally in the work of the 1996 CD session that negotiated the CTBT and also appear in Table 1 of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report (December 1995 edition) of countries possessing nuclear research reactors and Table 1 of the IAEA report (April 1996 edition) of countries possessing nuclear power reactors.

Some CD members were sceptical regarding the language proposed for Article 14 and the list of countries suggested in Annex 2, fearing the possibility of hanging the future entry into force of the CTBT on the willingness of a few countries, particularly those which remained outside of the NPT, to ratify it.

Ramaker, as chair, decided at the beginning of summer 1996 to take matters into his own hands and with the agreement of the committee decided to discontinue the work of the two working groups. He started consultations with the CD delegations on the controversial pending issues and submitted to the committee, and later to the CD plenary, a text free from brackets (square brackets were inserted to indicate no agreement on the text). As a result, the text of Article 1 remained with no brackets, and the text of Article 14 and Annex 2 remained as it had been drafted by friend of the chair Nasser Benjalloun Touimi of Morocco.

When this text was submitted to the plenary of the CD in the summer of 1996, India opposed it. Due to a rule of the CD that requires consensus decision-making, the CD was thus not able to adopt the draft CTBT as submitted by the chair of the ad hoc committee.

The same text, which the CD had failed to adopt, was submitted later by Australia to the UN General Assembly in September 1996. The latter adopted the CTBT by more than a two-thirds majority of members present and voting. The CTBT was then opened for signature in the autumn of 1996.

However, the opposition of India to the CTBT in the CD and in the UN General Assembly and later the test explosions conducted by India and Pakistan in May 1998 shed doubt on the future entry into force of the Treaty in virtue of Article 14 and Annex 2, even though the two countries subsequently declared moratoria on nuclear tests.


ENTRY INTO FORCE: More than 20 years after the opening for signature of the CTBT, with 166 states having ratified it and most of the IMS stations installed, the CTBT has now established itself as a global norm against nuclear weapons test explosions.

However, as mentioned previously, there is still room for nuclear tests without explosion, allowing for upgrading and modernising nuclear weapons that are in the possession of NWSs that are parties to the NPT and states possessing nuclear weapons that have remained outside the NPT, namely India, Israel and Pakistan, in addition to the DPRK.

Eight states listed in Annex 2 of the CTBT still need to ratify the treaty to trigger its entry into force, namely China, the DPRK, Egypt, Iran, India, Israel, Pakistan and the United States, in accordance with its Article 14. The CTBT will enter into force 180 days after all the states listed in Annex 2 deposit their instruments of ratification.

Among the five nuclear weapons states parties to the NPT, three have ratified the CTBT, namely the United Kingdom, France and the Russian Federation, but two have not, namely China and the US. However, China has said that it will ratify when the US does. India, Israel and Pakistan are not parties to the NPT, and all campaign efforts to adhere to the NPT and to the CTBT should concentrate on these three countries. India has stated that it will only sign the treaty if the US presents a schedule for its nuclear stockpile elimination, a condition that the US has rejected.

Thirteen states have not signed the treaty, and 17 have signed but not ratified it, including some of those listed in Annex 2. The most important NWS that should ratify the Treaty is the US since many states that have not signed or ratified the CTBT have been waiting for the US to ratify it before doing so.

The US Senate rejected the treaty’s ratification on 13 October 1999. The situation has not changed since then, even with the pledge of former US president Barack Obama to secure its ratification during his presidential campaign in 2008 and in his speech in Prague on 5 April 2009. However, there is an ongoing debate in the US over whether to ratify the Treaty.

The ratification by the US is crucial for the entry into force of the CTBT since the majority of the states that did not sign it, or have signed it without ratifying the treaty (30 states), as well as those 166 that have ratified it, are waiting for the US ratification.  

The writer is the former head of the Egyptian Delegation to the Conference on Disarmament and 1996 chair of the Working Group on Legal and Institutional matters of the CTBT negotiations.

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