Ban the blast

This treaty banned all test detonations of nuclear weapons except underground. Prior to this, atmospheric nuclear testing had increased global fallout levels to unprecedented levels. Radioactive elements such as strontium-90 had found their way into the food chain and ultimately into human bones and teeth, as U.S. scientist Louise Reiss discovered through her famous Baby Tooth Survey, which caused a public outcry.

The PTBT significantly reduced global levels of fallout in the atmosphere and was considered as the most significant arms control treaty adopted under Kennedy’s administration. However, it did not prevent an increasing number of countries from developing ever more powerful nuclear weapons. This treaty indeed banned all test detonations of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, outer space, and under water, but it did not include underground tests.

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A total ban was sought but the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States, the original parties to the treaty, failed to reach an agreement. Such a treaty would become a reality only decades later, through the adoption of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, or CTBT. The CTBT has further paved the way towards a world free of nuclear weapons. It bans all kinds of nuclear testing, everywhere and by everyone.

The CTBT has achieved a lot. Nuclear testing, once perceived as a display of military prowess, has now become a pariah activity. In today’s world, where our economies are more interdependent than ever and we understand that we share the same, fragile biosphere, the concept of carrying out nuclear test explosions is unthinkable for any responsible member of the international community. This is the conviction shared not only by Hungary and Indonesia but by all 183 signatories to the CTBT, which abide by it as if the treaty had already entered into force.  It is telling that North Korea is the sole country to have conducted nuclear tests in our millennium. But as North Korea’s actions show, the risk of renewed nuclear testing cannot be taken lightly. The CTBT’s entry into force would outlaw all nuclear testing. We believe that the CTBT will bring the world closer to the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

Today at the United Nations headquarters in New York, we will preside jointly over a meeting of foreign ministers and other high-level representatives from many countries to make progress on this objective. The meeting will endorse a new initiative, the establishment of a Group of Eminent Persons, in which we are both honoured to participate. We, as co-ordinators, support this initiative as a complementary one supporting our joint efforts to promote early entry into force of the treaty in line with Article XIV of the CTBT.

The members of this group will seek to build personal relations and dialogue with the eight remaining countries that have yet to formally endorse the treaty before it can enter into force: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the United States.

Hungary and Indonesia, whose ratifications were also a precondition for the CTBT’s entry into force, did so in 1999 and 2012 respectively. We therefore call on the remaining eight to consider ratification independently of the others. President Barack Obama’s declaration that he intends to pursue CTBT ratification by the United States, recently reaffirmed in Berlin, is highly welcome. During the first attempt to achieve CTBT ratification in 1999, a bipartisan rift resulted in failure. One of the main concerns at that time was that the treaty was not verifiable, that would-be violators might avoid detection.  In the meantime, this concern has been thoroughly addressed. The treaty’s Preparatory Commission in Vienna has already ensured that 85 percent of its over 300 monitoring stations are up and running. The system reliably detected all three North Korean nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013. And once the CTBT enters into force, the international community will wield an even more powerful verification tool: that of on-site inspections.

By ratifying the treaty, states make a solid investment in global security insurance: a multilateral undertaking to rid nuclear weapons from the world. At the regional level, the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones in several regions has already complemented the purpose of the CTBT.   As the PTBT turns 50 this year, a comprehensive ban should become a reality. Tireless efforts have been made and will continue to encourage states, especially those whose signatures and ratifications are necessary for the entry into force of the treaty, to take individual initiatives to sign and ratify the CTBT without delay. The time to act has come. Our task here is to lead by example, not to wait nor to follow.

A world without nuclear weapons is not beyond our reach.

Ministers Martonyi and Natalegawa are presiding over the UN meeting on ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty.

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