Women. Power. Peace.

Unfinished Business: WAND at UN Entry Into Force Conference of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)

Kathy Crandall Robinson
WAND Interim DC Director

On Wednesday September 20, I was extremely honored to go to the United Nations to deliver the NGO statement at the Article XIV Entry Into Force Conference of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). 

The CTBT is a treaty to permanently ban all nuclear weapons test explosions. Such a ban has been sought since the dawn of the nuclear age. Nuclear testing has fueled the arms race driving the development of more sophisticated and dangerous nuclear weapons, and spewing radioactive fallout around the world.

This is the 10th Entry Into Force Conference that seeks to garner support for the CTBT. The treaty that was negotiated and opened for signature in 1996 is currently signed by 183 countries and ratified by 166, but there are nine countries that must still sign and ratify the treaty before the CTBT enters into force. Those countries, are the United States, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Although the CTBT has not fully entered into force, over the past 21 years it has successfully set a global norm against nuclear testing, with North Korea the only country to conduct a nuclear test explosion in the 21st century. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) has developed an International Monitoring System and great technical expertise to detect and deter nuclear explosive tests.

Yet the CTBT’s entry into force is needed to bring the full force of international law to thwart nuclear testing and enable onsite inspections of suspected nuclear testing activities. As the foreign minister from the Marshall Islands noted in his statement at the Conference, the recent North Korea nuclear test “punctuates” the need for a CTBT. Indeed, later last week North Korea added a few exclamation points to that punctuation with its threats of a nuclear test in the Pacific and then concerns about seismic activities near North Korea’s test site. (It was, by the way, data from the CTBTO that provided information and assurance that this seismic activity was likely not a nuclear weapons test.)

The opportunity to deliver this statement on behalf of civil society was particularly meaningful to me. 

I first learned about the campaign to end nuclear testing in 1988 when I was an intern working for Women Strike for Peace. The first week of my internship I attended a press conference honoring the 25th anniversary of the ratification of the Partial Test Ban Treaty that ended atmospheric nuclear testing. That’s when I heard the remarkable story of the 1961 cadre of self-proclaimed housewives who called for a one-day strike to, “end the arms race, not the human race.” These women were terrified of the building nuclear arms race and they were so concerned about radioactive fallout from atmospheric nuclear tests that they were sending their children’s baby teeth to be checked for levels of strontium-90. Their one-day strike turned into more strikes, demonstrations, and action. In 1963, they were proud of the role that they played in ending atmospheric nuclear testing. And then there was disappointment as underground nuclear testing continued to fuel the arms race and harm health and the environment. At that 1988 press conference, the women who participated in the 1961 strike and continued to work for an end to the nuclear arms race fervently believed that a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was their unfinished business.

A few years (and a law degree) later, I came back to Washington DC in 1996 to work as Coordinator of the Disarmament Clearinghouse – a coalition of grassroots organizations that included WAND, Peace Action, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Greenpeace and Plutonium Challenge. This was four years after the last U.S. nuclear weapons test had been conducted on September 23, 1992. There was a test moratorium in place and the United States was playing a leadership role in negotiating the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. In September 1996 when the CTBT was opened for signature at the UN in New York, I helped to organize bell-toll commemoration ceremonies across the country, and a few internationally, to mark five decades of nuclear testing impacts and welcome the treaty that was to complete the unfinished business of Women Strike for Peace and others who had long sought an end to nuclear testing.

It was a great moment, but it slipped sideways. In 1999 the U.S. Senate failed to vote to ratify the CTBT after a hasty and partisan debate.  Since that failure to ratify the treaty, it has been too challenging a political environment to bring the CTBT forward for ratification given that a two-thirds majority vote in the U.S. Senate is required.

Still, last Saturday marked 25 years since the last U.S. nuclear test explosion and to most it has seemed settled that the United States would not resume explosive nuclear testing. The Trump administration, however, is unsettling in many ways. In fact, there are reasons to be concerned as pressure for new nuclear weapons development could provoke resumption of nuclear testing.

It’s important for us to resist any efforts to return to nuclear testing. Please sign our petition to halt funding for new nuclear weapons or nuclear testing.

The title of the NGO statement to this year’s Entry Into Force Conference is “Past Time to Finish What We Started.”  For me that is spot on: my quest is to carry forward inspirational work started by mighty women, so that a permanent nuclear testing and the nuclear arms race is not a task that I leave still unfinished for my daughter and future generations. As we say at WAND, we are for the human race, not a new nuclear arms race.

Kathy Crandall Robinson
WAND Interim DC Director

Left to Right : Kathy Crandall Robinson, Madeleijn van den Nieuwenhuizen, Setou Ouattara from the CTBTO Youth Group and Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association

 

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