Concept Paper 2016-2017

Topic: Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and its Role for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons


The history of nuclear testing began on July 16, 1945 when the United States detonated its first atomic weapon in Alamogordo, New Mexico. The code name of the test was Trinity.  This was the culmination of the Manhattan Project, which was a research and development project that produced the first nuclear weapons during World War II. The bomb was a 20-kiloton implosion-type nuclear weapon.

Less than one month after the first nuclear weapon testing, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan toward the end of World War II: one gun-type fission bomb called “Little Boy” that was not tested before, was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945; another implosion-type bomb called “Fat Man” that was tested at Alamogordo, New Mexico on July 16 for the first time was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9th.  More than 140,000 people in Hiroshima, and 74,000 people in Nagasaki died by the end of 1945.

The destruction of these two Japanese cities by the US nuclear weapons began an arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union.  Over 2000 nuclear weapons tests were conducted between 1945 and 1996 when the Comprehensive Nuclear- Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) was opened for signature on September 24, 1996. The United States conducted 1,032 tests between 1945 and 1992, the Soviet Union 715 tests between 1949 and 1990, the United Kingdom carried out 45 tests between 1952 and 1991, France 210 between 1960 and 1996, and China 45 between 1964 and 1996.[1]

After the CTBT was opened for signature, India conducted two tests in 1998 (India had also conducted one so-called peaceful nuclear explosion in 1974), and Pakistan conducted two tests only a few weeks after India’s tests. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea conducted five nuclear weapons tests since 2006. (One in 2006, 2009, and 2013, and two in 2016).

Between 1945 and 2006, over 60 locations throughout the world were used for these nuclear weapons tests. The United States, the Soviet Union and China conducted the majority of their nuclear tests within their respective continental territories. France tested in the Algerian Sahara and in French Polynesia in the South Pacific. The United Kingdom conducted most of its tests either in a joint series with the United States or in Australia, part of the British Commonwealth.

On November 1st, 1952 the United States became the first country to test a hydrogen bomb. The Castle Bravo test on March 1, 1954 yielded 15 megatons and was the largest nuclear weapon ever detonated by the United States.  By accident, the Japanese tuna fishing trawler Lucky Dragon Number 5 was contaminated with radioactive fallout, and one crewmember died due to the acute radiation syndrome. In addition, the inhabited atolls of Rongelap, Rongerik and Utirik were contaminated with radioactive fallout. The controversy over radioactive fallout from testing activities caused great international concern, and ignited anti-nuclear weapons testing campaigns among civil society.

India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru made the first proposal calling for an agreement to ban nuclear weapons tests on April 2nd, 1954. However, this call had little impact as the history witnessed the extensive nuclear testing during the Cold War.

Leaders of both the United States and Soviet Union came to believe that the nuclear arms race was reaching a dangerous level. In addition, public protest against the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons was gaining strength. In 1958, the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom began a Conference on the Discontinuance of Nuclear Tests in Geneva, aimed at reaching agreement on an effectively controlled test ban. The Conference did not come to fruition because the sides could not reach an agreement on the issue of verification procedures. Nevertheless, on August 5th, 1963, the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) — also known as the Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT)— was signed in Moscow by the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom.

The 1963 PTBT banned nuclear testing for military and for peaceful purposes, in the atmosphere, underwater and in space. The Treaty was important from an environmental point of view, curbing the radioactive fallout closely associated with atmospheric tests, but did little to prevent overall nuclear testing, which largely moved underground. The world did not witness any significant decrease in nuclear testing activities and nuclear weapons acquisition among the nuclear weapon States until the early 1990s. The total number of nuclear tests in the second half of the 1980s amounted to as many as 174.

Due to the hostile relationship between the United States and Russia during the Cold War, little progress was made in nuclear disarmament until the end of the Cold War in 1991. One significant progress is that after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, its main test site, Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan, was closed in 1991.

Moratoria on nuclear testing

In 1990, the Soviet Union proposed a moratorium on nuclear testing that was agreed to by the United Kingdom and the United States. This created an opportunity to move ahead for those advocates who, for decades, had promoted a comprehensive ban on all nuclear testing.

Parties to the PTBT held an amendment conference that year to discuss a proposal to convert the Treaty into an instrument banning all nuclear-weapon tests. With strong support from the UN General Assembly, negotiations for a comprehensive test-ban treaty began in 1993. Thus, the CTBT was negotiated in Geneva Conference on Disarmament between 1994 and 1996, and was opened for signature on September 24th, 1996.

The CTBT bans nuclear explosions by everyone, everywhere on the earth’s surface, in the atmosphere, underwater and underground.  It makes it very difficult for countries to develop nuclear weapons for the first time, or for countries that already have them, to make bombs more powerful. It also prevents the huge damage caused by radioactivity from nuclear explosions to humans, animals and plants.

Twenty years after its opening for signature, however, the treaty has not entered into force. Nevertheless, the CTBT is one of the most widely adhered to multilateral disarmament and nonproliferation agreements. As of December 2016, the treaty has 183 states signatories, and 166 ratifying states. Three of the nuclear weapon states, France, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom have ratified. However, 44 specific nuclear technology holder countries must sign and ratify before the CTBT can enter into force. Of these eight are still missing: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the USA. India, North Korea and Pakistan have yet to sign the CTBT. [2]

The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) was set up in 1996 with its headquarters in Vienna, Austria. It is an interim organization tasked with building up the verification regime of the CTBT in preparation for the Treaty’s entry into force as well as promoting the Treaty’s universality.

Verification regimes

The CTBT has a unique and comprehensive verification regimes to make sure that no nuclear explosion goes undetected. These regimes consist of three pillars: The International monitoring system (IMS); the International Data Center; and on-site inspections. These robust verification systems of the CTBT brought tremendous success to stop nuclear testing even before the entry into force of the treaty.

However, the fact that the CTBT remains to not enter into force has negative repercussions for its verification regimes. There should be no more delays in bringing the CTBT into full legal standing. The CTBT is a crucial legal tool to realize a world free of nuclear weapons. It is widely understood that a legally binding ban on nuclear tests will bring the world considerably closer to outlawing and eliminating nuclear weapons altogether.


The current world nuclear weapons status

More than two decades after the Cold War, approximately 15,350 nuclear warheads remain in the arsenals of the countries that possess nuclear weapons, of which approximately 4,000 are actively deployed, and some 1,800 are on high alert and ready for use on short notice.

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) prohibits its non-nuclear weapon state (NNWS) parties from developing nuclear weapons. The treaty, however, exempts five de jure nuclear weapon states (NWS) (France, the People’s Republic of China, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States) from this ban. These five states had tested nuclear weapons before January 1, 1967. This historical situation created two categories of states in the world: nuclear “haves” and “have-nots.” Therefore, the NPT is often criticized because of its discriminatory nature. This discriminatory nature is, however, challenged by a legal obligation in Article VI of the treaty for the five nuclear weapon states to eventually disarm.

Some NPT member states claim nuclear weapon states (NWS) are not fulfilling their disarmament obligations while demanding nonproliferation obligations from non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS). The deep division between nuclear possessing countries and countries without nuclear weapons was acutely highlighted in the recent efforts to ban nuclear weapons. At the 2016 United Nations General Assembly First Committee (The First Committee deals with disarmament, global challenges and threats to peace that affect the international community and seeks out solutions to the challenges in the international security regime) for the first time the draft resolution “Taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations” was adopted. However, the voting result and debates over the resolution accentuated deep division between NWS and NNWS.

The United States, along with the United Kingdom and France, and the Russian Federation adamantly expressed their concerns about the momentum for creating a new treaty to ban nuclear weapons. They remain convinced that the efforts toward a nuclear weapon free world should focus on promoting the NPT rather than detracting from it.

Many countries and civil society are frustrated with the lack of progress in nuclear disarmament, and demand new approaches to eliminate nuclear weapons. Most notably, the humanitarian approach to nuclear disarmament, which emphasizes the devastating human impact of nuclear weapons has been supported by an overwhelming majority of UN member states as well as civil society.

However, with the change of the U.S. administration, and unstable international security, it is unclear how nuclear disarmament efforts will be carried over. Especially, the prospect of the U.S. ratification of the CTBT for the early entry into force of the CTBT as President Obama stated in his famous Prague Speech in April 2009, seems to be bleak given its domestic political environment.

Nevertheless, the increasing momentum in humanitarian approach also gave some momentum in the CTBT since the human impact of the nuclear weapons testing has been more widely recognized through this initiative.

With the security environment surrounding nuclear weapons, increasing division between NWS and NNWS, and stalemate in nuclear disarmament, it is important for the next generation to think of effective measures to reduce nuclear dangers including the CTBT, and how the CTBT can contribute to peace and security of a world free of nuclear weapons.

How CIF students will tackle this year’s topic:

Nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states have different views on how to achieve peace and security of a world free of nuclear weapons. Some countries believe that the recent international security environment is not so conducive to nuclear disarmament, or that nuclear disarmament is not a desirable goal. Nevertheless, norm against nuclear weapons testing is almost universal with an exception of North Korea given the fact that North Korea is the only country that has conducted nuclear weapons tests since 1998. Nearly all of the world’s nations and civil society recognize that nuclear explosive testing is no longer acceptable.

It is also a widely-accepted idea that the CTBT is an essential step toward a world free of nuclear weapons. There should be no more delays in bringing the CTBT into full legal standing. However, given the 20 years of delay in entering into force of the Treaty, bringing the CTBT into full legal force will require more energetic, creative, pragmatic, and focused efforts from countries, civil society, and especially, young people.  The younger generation’s involvement is key to advancing the Treaty’s entry into force.

This year, the CIF program will challenge participants to study nuclear weapons testing history, and efforts to prevent nuclear weapons testing. Participants will examine how the CTBT was negotiated, its current status, challenges, and future prospects. Moreover, participants will investigate how the CTBT is going to contribute to accelerate the efforts toward a world free of nuclear weapons. The participants will also examine if there are any alternatives to the CTBT entry into force.  

Students will need to investigate how and whether these eight countries (China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the USA) that have not ratified the treaty will ratify it and how the international community facilitates the entry into force of the Treaty. Students will also examine how completely banning nuclear weapons testing can contribute to accelerate the nuclear ban treaty negotiation. Students will also study basic ideas on how the CTBT verification regime works. It is also important for students to understand the effects of the use of nuclear weapons. Although some may strongly believe that the total elimination of nuclear weapons and total nuclear ban must come immediately, some believe that first banning nuclear testing is an urgent matter.  Students will also investigate various views toward how to accomplish the goals of peace and security in a world without nuclear weapons. Students can also discuss if weapons that are illegal to test should also be illegal to possess.

To understand and examine these challenges and future prospects, it is important for CIF students to study the current world nuclear weapons situation, proliferation threats, and states’ policies toward nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, as well as basic scientific aspects of nuclear weapons.

Based on these investigations, students will try to come up with their own assessment on how to bring the CTBT into force, and how the CTBT contributes to the goals of peace and security of a world free of nuclear weapons. Participants will examine this topic in CIF’s four content domains: scientific/environmental, social/cultural, economic, and political /geopolitical.

[1] CTBTO website, World Overview.

[2] History, Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty.