International Day against Nuclear Testing: a critical review

By Beenish Altaf

Ever since the first nuclear testing on 16 July 1945, two thousand plus nuclear weapons tests have taken place up till now. The so called international instrument responsible for putting an end to all forms of nuclear weapons testing is the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) that is yet to enter into force. Paradoxically, if the treaty still holds no ground to stand for its agenda point, then the need to allocate a day for banning nuclear testing would be of no implications.

On 2 December 2009, the 64thsession of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) declared 29thAugust, an international day against nuclear tests by unanimously adopting resolution 64/35. The resolution calls for increasing awareness and education “about the effects of nuclear weapon test explosions or any other nuclear explosions and the need for their cessation as one of the means of achieving the goal of a nuclear weapon free world.” The nuclear testing has markedly had catastrophic consequences for the environment, humans and all kind of life forms.

The resolution was initiated by the Republic of Kazakhstan, together with a large number of sponsors and cosponsors with a view to commemorating the closure of the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test site on 29 August 1991. The day is meant to animate the United Nations’ member states, youth networks, academic institutions, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, and the media to enlighten, educate, instruct and promote the inevitability of banning nuclear weapon tests.

The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres launched his new disarmament agenda titled as “Securing our Common Future,” on 24 May 2018. Despite the fact that the document does not hold any substantial step towards disarmament agenda however the secretary general has eagerly assumed that the norm against testing is an example of a measure that serves both disarmament and non-proliferation objectives. If the CTBT would have worked, it might constraint the development of new types of advanced nuclear weapons that would resultantly halt the growing arms race around both ends of the globe. Regrettably it does not serve as a powerful normative barrier against the states that might seek to build up, construct, manufacture and consequently acquire nuclear weapons in violation of their non-proliferation commitments.

On the account of CTBT, for the past few years, there has been a repeated effort to prohibit the testing of nuclear weapons. But the treaty still remains in a state of limbo. A deadlock exists because Article XIV of the CTBT makes the ratification by 44 states with commercial or research nuclear reactors a necessary requirement for the treaty to become legally binding. Out of those 44 particular states, Pakistan, North Korea, China, Israel, Iran, India, Egypt and the US have yet to ratify the treaty.

The delay in the non-ratification of the treaty requires an understanding of the fact that the CTBT is a political issue and not a technical one. Even on the floor of the US Senate, partisan-cum-personal rivalries played an important role in undermining the treaty. It would not be wrong to argue that the rejection of the CTBT was a classic case of the failure of the executive branch in conducting its foreign policy. In 1999, the Clinton administration was bogged down in a number of domestic political issues and the CTBT was left to the mercy of the chaotic politics of the Congress.

Summing-up on ideal terms, the international day against nuclear testing should primarily be taken as a chance to reflect on this danger and ensure some serious efforts to stop the race of nuclear testing and such type of all devastating weapons especially from the P-5 states. Owing to the fact that the 51stsession of the CTBT’s preparatory committee is being held in  September (2018), the US should take the platform and the day as an opportunity to take substantial actions. It should urge other countries to make the CTBT a reality by ensuring no nuclear weapons testing in future. But it is also a fact that when the US itself is not taking any significant step in this regard, how it can force any other state to abide by the CTBT unless it gets into force.

Last but not the least, the day is being celebrated for more than a decade now; it is  time to recognize some sort of progress in this regard by the super powers first and foremost. However, realistically narrating the international strategic community is not serious enough towards its self constructed disarmament and the non-proliferation measures.

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Beenish Altaf

Beenish Altaf is working as a Research Associate at the Strategic Vision Institute, an Islamabad based think tank. Her areas of research are nuclear non-proliferation and strategic issues of South Asia. She has a masters degree in Defence and Diplomatic Studies from Fatima Jinnah Women University.

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