Ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) -- the international agreement that bans the testing of nuclear weapons -- remains a politically contentious issue over a decade since President Bill Clinton signed the agreement in 1996.
The CTBT essentially states that participating countries should neither detonate nuclear weapons nor support others to do so. The treaty was created after a vote in United Nations General Assembly. Of 195 member states, 154 have signed and ratified the treaty -- the latest being Ghana on June 14, 2011.
The treaty cannot officially go into effect until all 44 countries listed in Annex 2 of the treaty ratify it. The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Organization -- an entity in charge of promoting the treaty and creating a verification regime -- defines the countries as those "that formally participated in the 1996 session of the Conference on Disarmament and possessed nuclear power or research reactors at the time." Most of these countries have ratified the treaty. The nine holdouts are India, Pakistan, Israel, China, Iran, Indonesia, North Korea, Egypt and the United States.
In 1999, President Clinton was unable to secure the two-thirds majority, or 67 votes, needed in the Senate to ratify the treaty. The principle objection of opponents was -- and remains -- that there is no way for the United States to verify the actions of other countries. In addition, many opponents to ratification fear that the United States would be unable to maintain its nuclear arsenal without testing. Ratification failed, 51-48, largely along party lines with Republicans overwhelmingly against it.
The Obama administration picked up the ratification cause when it came to power in 2009. Its argument is that to prevent countries such as North Korea from testing nukes, the United States must first take steps to control its own testing. The Department of State and Department of Energy are co-sponsoring a report by the National Academy of Sciences that will examine technical and sustainability issues related to ratification of the CTBT. The report is expected to be released later this year.
Since 1999, a great deal of bipartisan support has emerged for ratification. Former Reagan Secretary of State George Shultz, former Bush National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates all support ratification. In addition, senators who opposed the agreement in 1999, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., have expressed a softening of their views toward the treaty in recent years.
Despite what seems to be wider support, experts we consulted about the CTBT expressed skepticism about ratification during the next year and a half. Paul Carroll, program director of the Ploughshares Fund -- a foundation opposed to the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons -- said he feels that the likelihood of ratification decreases the closer the United States gets to the 2012 presidential election. He also asserts that there was only the political will to pass the new START or the CTBT, not both. The Senate ratified the new START, or Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, in late 2010. The bilateral treaty between Russia and the United States limits the number of deployed nuclear warheads to 1,550 for both nations.
"In the current Senate, if the administration had nothing else on its plate, and it focused all its efforts on the test ban, there is a some quite slim chance it might succeed. However, obviously, the administration appropriately has more important priorities at present, in particular the economy and jobs, but also ending two wars," said Stephen Young, a senior analyst, at the Union for Concerned Scientists which supports ratification.
"We continue a careful and methodical process to lay the groundwork for Senate reconsideration of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty," said Jamie Mannina of the State Department's Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance. "Currently, the Obama Administration is engaging with Senators and their staffs on the importance of the CTBT but it is too soon to predict when the Senate will be asked to vote."
Even so, there is general agreement that the chances for ratification of the CTBT during the remainder of President Obama"s term are slim. Given the upcoming 2012 presidential election, the Republican Party will be reluctant to embrace any high-profile policy pushed by the Obama administration. Even winning ratification for the related weapons treaty New START in 2010 was difficult, and that was when the Democratic Party had more votes in the U.S. Senate.
Given these realities, ratification is extremely unlikely during the next year and a half of this administration. We rate this promise Broken.