The movement to limit or even prohibit the testing of nuclear weapons has been around almost since the dawn of the nuclear age itself. Concern over harming the environment and causing widespread damage to human life led to the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963 and the 1974 Threshold Test Ban Treaty, which limited underground nuclear tests to 150 megatons. In the 1993, with the fall of the USSR, negotiations were begun in earnest on a comprehensive test ban treaty at the United Nations Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. Established in 1979, the CD meets in annual sessions three times a year and serves as a forum for states to discuss the reduction of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons.
Not surprisingly with an agreement of this scope and severity, there were many obstacles to overcome. While the U.S. wanted to permit only a “whisper” of no more than four or five pounds of TNT, while Russia and France were pushing for 10 to 200 tons. In most cases, the “Five” were generally in consensus on objectives and what the CTBT should not do, which was reduce nuclear stockpiles.
During the negotiations, the CD was expanded, but Washington, which was not reading the many cables sent its way from the U.S. delegation in Geneva, vociferously objected when it discovered Iraq was part of the list. Then, India began to make unreasonable demands which threatened to torpedo the entire agreement. In all these cases, imaginative ways were found to circumvent the bureaucracy and arrive at a text.
The text was adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 10, 1996. However, two decades later, it has not entered into force as eight specific states have not yet ratified the treaty: China, Egypt, Iran, Israel , and the United States have signed, but not ratified, the treaty, while India, North Korea, and Pakistan have not signed. The U.S. Senate vetoed its first security treaty since the Treaty of Versailles. Undeterred, President Bill Clinton vowed to continue the moratorium on nuclear tests, a policy which has continued to this day.
Stephen J. Ledogar was the U.S. Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament from 1990-1997. He was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in March 2000.
Learn about the mishandled negotiations behind the neutron bomb. Read how the CTBT was blocked again as recently as September 2016. Go here for other Moments on the UN and on negotiations. Read about India and Pakistan’s nuclear tests in 1998 and other Moments on arms control.
A moratorium, then negotiations
LEDOGAR: All during 1993 in the Conference on Disarmament (CD), we had a whole lot of conversations about what would be the next issue for negotiation. A majority of participants were interested in nuclear testing, but for a long time that was not the U.S. Administration’s choice. However, towards the end of the Bush Administration, there had been increasing feeling in the U.S. that something ought to be done about the continuation of underground nuclear tests.
A piece of legislation was passed in late 1992 called the Mitchell-Hatfield-Exon Amendment [named for the sponsoring senators] to the Water and Energy Appropriations Act of 1983. It dealt with nuclear testing and essentially said henceforth there would be in the United States a one-year moratorium on testing.
After the moratorium, Congress would appropriate money only for a limited number of further tests, not to exceed 15. These had to be applied for individually by the President. Those tests could only be for purposes of safety and reliability, not for development of new types of weapons, and those 15 tests had to include any British tests (the British tested in Nevada, too).
It also said that the U.S. should engage in Nuclear Test Ban negotiations and that by September 30, 1996, the Administration was in effect enjoined by the legislation to have completed a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. After that, there would be no more U.S. testing, unless some other countries tested.
It was a very odd piece of legislation, but it was in effect from ‘93 to ‘97. In ’93, the CD thrashed around, but kind of exhausted the year in trying to get ourselves sorted out. In ’94, the Conference on Disarmament got serious and established a Nuclear Testing Committee and gave that Committee a negotiating mandate to begin trying to organize a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
That’s when the serious nuclear test ban negotiation started, from my point of view, and that negotiation ended in a treaty two years later in September of ‘96. That treaty was signed by what is by now over 120 states. But it has not been ratified by the United States. It failed ratification in October 2000. It is not in force, and is not beloved by the [then] current Administration of George W. Bush.
But the treaty was big stuff in international affairs at the time. Curiously, there was much more international pressure to get rid of nuclear testing at that time than there is today, the reason being that France was still testing, China was still testing, and until the Hatfield-Mitchell Amendment, the United States was still testing.
During the course of the negotiation, the pressure was really on France and China to stop testing. By the time we began the negotiation, there was a U.S. mandatory moratorium in place.
When the mandatory period expired, the issue for [President Bill] Clinton was whether to continue it, or to seek those 15 shots that were allowed. At one time, Clinton was on the verge of asking for nine of them, of which three would go to the Brits, who had a particular need to finish off their Trident warhead.
But the U.S. Administration decided that it was not going to go for any at all, that it was going to take the high road of continuing the moratorium. Therefore, the last U.S. test was back in ’92. The CTBT negotiation was begun in mid-’94, completed in September of ’96. It was very intense. That may not seem rapid, but that is rapid for an endeavor of that size.
CD Expansion – “Despite the fact that I had all kinds of acquiescence, Washington finally woke up to the fact that Iraq was on the list”
During this time, there was enormous international pressure to expand the Conference on Disarmament by increasing its membership by at least 50%.
A plan was developed by the Australian ambassador who had been commissioned by the rest of us to come up with a recommendation. He was asked to take all the applicants and screen them out and come up with a list of new members that took in a sufficient number to take the pressure off, but obviously the CD couldn’t accommodate everyone who wanted to join.
In the group that he recommended to be brought in, which was essentially 22 more, bringing membership up to 60, we wanted to have a balance of interests (geographical, geopolitical, and so forth).
It is important to note that at that time, in the Conference on Disarmament we long since had a category of Non-Member Participants. Any UN member country that was interested in a particular subject being negotiated in the CD could participate in the negotiations. They had all the rights and privileges of members except that they just couldn’t vote on matters. You didn’t actually vote. What you did was when a matter was put up for approval, you either sat silently and let the gavel fall, or you spoke up and denied consensus.
So, when we got into the nuclear test ban negotiation, we had Israel as a Non-Member Participant working full-time with the rest of us. India and Pakistan were already members. The group that we would pick up under the recommended expansion included Austria, Finland, and Ireland. South Africa was also in the new group — very important because they immediately started playing a very important role.
The actual CD expansion was on the verge of being shouted through when suddenly, despite the fact that I had all kinds of Washington acquiescence to support the expansion, Washington finally woke up to the fact that Iraq was on the list.
At 2 am Geneva time on the day expansion was to be gaveled down, I got an irate call from a senior White House official. He said, “What is it you’re trying to do? Don’t you realize we just fought a war with those characters? You mean to say you’re going to reward them by letting them come into the Conference on Disarmament?”
Now it’s not terrible to have your recommendation slapped down by Washington. But all along we kept Washington fully informed on how the CD expansion issue was going. Washington had gone along with the developments, and with their concurrence, we were sort of among those who were in the leadership role to get this membership problem solved.
Maybe Washington support was only at the working level and not from the top-level officials. That was their problem. In any event, within hours I got an instruction from Washington telling me to break consensus and oppose the whole expansion because key Washington officials had suddenly awakened to the fact that Iraq was on the expansion list.
Our allies were flabbergasted, saying “This isn’t a reward to Iraq. Iraq is a rogue country and we need to have them involved in the beginning of disarmament negotiations.” So it was a very difficult period for the U.S., where for a long time we stood alone, blocking CD expansion. There wasn’t a single other country that had any understanding or sympathy for our position of blocking the expansion of the Conference on Disarmament.
[Secretary of State] Warren Christopher was probably the most responsible for this absolute prejudice against the idea of Iraq being in an international organization so long as they were flouting the agreements that had been achieved at the end of the Persian Gulf War. But he had help from William Perry, Secretary of Defense. There was no single person.
Q: How did you respond?
LEDOGAR: To Washington? I just said, “Yes, Sir.”
Q: Did the members of the Delegation of those other countries, including both in and out on the first list and the second list, go back to Washington to say, “What the hell are you doing?”
LEDOGAR: Yes, indeed. And senior U.S. officials, no matter where they went in the world, were being confronted by whomever they talked to with the proposition that there was absolutely no justification for the United States reversal. Nobody bought our reasons even though they probably believed we were sincere. It was a very awkward situation.
One of the first things I did was, in order to cover my rear end, I had my people pull out every single cable in which we had reported on CD expansion developments all along, and we listed all the cables and all the responses and the non-responses from Washington, so that nobody could try to make the case that we had acted without authority. It was really a disconnect.
In fact, some Washington people who were quite senior said to me, “We understand that the fault is back here. It never came to a sufficiently high level that this was occurring.”
Iran had been in the CD all along. That was not a problem. [North Korea was] on the list.
Q: How was this resolved?
LEDOGAR: Remember, most nations of the world had delegations in Geneva accredited to all the U.N. activities there. Remember also that any nation that wished could participate in CD deliberations, though only formal members could block consensus. Once the recommended list of CD expansion countries was made known, all those countries attended CD meetings even though the expansion was not yet formalized.
When South Africa joined, there was a very clever guy who was the head of the South African delegation. This ambassador was very interesting. He was obviously one of President Mandela’s men. He was not an experienced diplomat himself because he had been outside the government for so long. But he was extremely intelligent and resourceful. He came up with a scheme that in essence allowed the 22 new folks to become full members without the United States having to say, “Yes.”
I can’t remember the details, but it was a way of satisfying the U.S. fundamental refusal to give Iraq the right ever to stand alone and deny a consensus in the CD. Under the compromise, all 22 new members accepted not standing alone in a veto of progress, all the while reaffirming that everyone was exercising their sovereign rights in doing so. “I’m volunteering not to exercise my sovereign right in this case.” It was sort of finessed in that way. But it was a success and expansion took place right at the end of the Comprehensive Test Ban negotiation.
“The Five were primarily interested in reaching agreement on what would not be prohibited by the big treaty”
Most if not all of the new full time CD members were already participating in the CTBT negotiations as very active observers. So their now formal status had very little new impact on the course of the ongoing test ban negotiations.
There was, however, a most important, if very low profile, sidebar to the big CD negotiation. That was a private concurrent negotiation that the five declared Nuclear Weapons States, who also happened to be the Permanent Five on the UN Security Council and therefore were known as the P-5 [the U.S., Britain, France, China, and Russia], conducted among ourselves.
The P-5 realized early on that the broader negotiation looking to a test ban treaty was really about what we, the Five, would stop doing. We were the known testers who would agree to do no more nuclear testing. Now let’s leave aside for now the so-called “threshold” states of India, Pakistan, and Israel. We’ll also leave aside the question of South Africa, which had been a clandestine nuclear state. They had built five or six nuclear weapons of a rather primitive sort, but they had never fired one off. Recently, they swore them off and destroyed their stockpile. There was a question as to where North Korea was, and where was Iran regarding nuclear ambition. Let’s leave all these folks aside.
The five Declared Nuclear Weapons states — and the declaration was made in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) — were the ones who really brought to the table the most negotiating chips. So, we Five agreed early on that we would have to talk among ourselves frequently and profoundly. Therefore, we quickly established a private negotiation among the five right there in Geneva.
The curious thing was that it soon became not so much a board of directors for the larger negotiation, because we found that we were content to let the larger negotiation proceed with its deliberations and delineations as to what would be prohibited. What the Five were primarily interested in was understanding among ourselves and reaching agreement on what would not be prohibited by the big treaty.
Obviously, we were not giving up our nuclear weapons stockpile; our stockpile would remain. As the British Ambassador at the time said, “This CTBT negotiation was about banning the bang and not banning the bomb.”
The subject of CTBT was explosive nuclear testing. We intended, for as far into the future as we could see, to keep our nuclear stockpiles; but we wanted to have an understanding among ourselves that there were certain things we could do to maintain our stockpiles in a safe and reliable fashion — to move them or to count them or to keep them clean and dry; just the whole business of activities not prohibited. They were activities that only the Five, originally at least, were experienced enough to even debate.
We wanted to make sure that the treaty would not prohibit nonnuclear yield testing of these weapons; rather, that it would permit such testing of the hardware, the software, and even the chemicals, provided that in these simulations there was no explosion that produced nuclear yield.
There are ways that you can take a nuclear warhead and scoop out some or all of the fissile material and put in some other material that may be heavy so that it liquefies at roughly the same pressure and temperatures of a nuclear implosion. Recall that’s how the chemical explosive compresses the plutonium and creates criticality.
The imploded fissile material becomes a critical mass and therefore a chain reaction is set off. We Five wanted it understood that we would be able to continue simulations including those so-called “hydrodynamic experiments.” In other words, leaving aside all the technical blather, we were maintaining the right to conduct certain experiments short of actual nuclear yield of any sort.
For a long time during the course of the negotiation, the five of us were all over the lot about what should be the threshold between what would be permitted and what would be banned. We, the U.S., wanted to say, “You can have a little bit of yield, a very tiny whisper, equivalent to no more than four or five pounds of TNT.”
The Russians said, “No, we think you ought to be able to have a yield up to 10 tons of that equivalent. The French at one point were saying, “How about 200 tons?” We were all over the lot.
Washington was convinced that we needed the flexibility of being allowed this little tiny whisper. During the nuclear testing moratorium in the Eisenhower years, we had perfected ways of conducting these hydro-nuclear experiments that would have the very tiniest bit of nuclear yield and we found we could learn a certain amount from them.
The Russians and the Chinese started saying, “You guys can learn something at those very low yields, but we’re not that far along on that technical road, so we’re not going to authorize you to continue certain activities that benefit you and don’t mean anything to us because we don’t operate at that very low threshold.”
In the meantime in the broader negotiations, we were talking about what was going to be ruled out. We five wanted to be sure that the language that ruled out nuclear explosions was not so inclusive that it would impact on our ability to simulate. Simulations were necessary to assure the safety and reliability of our stockpiles. They were done in all different ways, including sometimes just as a computer exercise.
You could simulate a nuclear explosion on your computer by putting in certain well-calibrated variables from actual tests. Indeed you could experiment and test all the hundreds of parts and sub-systems of a real nuclear warhead without setting it off and in a way that resulted in nuclear yield.
“India indeed became a problem”
It was not long before the other participants in the negotiation realized that the P-5 were meeting separately and that created a little friction, but we just stiffed it out, and told the others, “Look, we’re the ones who are really bringing stuff to the table and we have got problems, many of which the rest of you wouldn’t even understand because you’re not into the physics of nuclear weapons. Therefore, we’re going to go ahead and work out these problems among ourselves.”
It was on this issue of non-nuclear simulation that we began to have problems with certain neutral/non-aligned countries. India, which was a closet nuclear weapons state, started to become extremely difficult. As we got closer and closer to the end of the CTBT negotiations, they got worse and worse, and finally we finished the negotiation without India.
Thus, the CTBT was not formally a product of the Conference on Disarmament, because there was no CD consensus on it. But it was a product developed there.
The draft final CTBT treaty text was sort of bootlegged from Geneva to New York and reintroduced in New York as an individual initiative. Because the treaty text developed in Geneva was vetoed by India, the rest of us pulled it around to the back door and put it into the UN General Assembly as an individual national paper that no one could veto. We got everybody but India and one or two others to embrace it in New York.
So, India indeed became a problem. They became a problem for a number of reasons and these were tied up with Indian politics, which I’ll admit I really didn’t fully understand. But essentially, India had reached a point where at least some of its major political elements wanted to resume Indian nuclear testing, and therefore did not want to sign onto prohibitions.
At the same time they wanted to try to wrap into the Comprehensive Test Ban, either for altruistic reasons or for narrow national reasons — I’ve never been fully sure myself — commitments on the part of the five nuclear weapons states that would go beyond the cessation of any further nuclear testing, and begin the reductions of the P-5’s nuclear weapons stockpiles, essentially under the supervision of the neutral/non-aligned.
This of course was not acceptable to any of the nuclear weapons states, certainly not to the United States. It was not acceptable to Russia or China either. The Indians tried consistently as the negotiation went on to insert killer language that would make it impossible for the five. They tried to include in the big treaty language that went in the direction of prohibiting those activities which we five were trying to make sure were not prohibited, such as simulations.
India was trying to ban all nuclear weapons activities, even simulations.
In the field of verification once the treaty was in force, Pakistan and some others were at the forefront in trying to rule out any evidence that would be introduced by anyone to the international organization if that evidence had been acquired by so-called “national technical means.” In other words, if anybody’s satellites picked up information, photographs or energy emissions, suggesting that something was wrong somewhere, that evidence could not be considered. We and the majority said, “That certainly would be admissible as evidence — not proof, but as evidence — for the international examination of what really is going on.”
The instinct behind this prejudice in a lot of the have-not nations is that somehow or other facts picked up by remote sensors advantage those who have satellites to the disadvantage of those who do not have satellites. So they conclude that it is necessary to ban all information that comes from satellites.
India and Pakistan have all kinds of apparatus along their common border to look at each other and they’re pretending they don’t have national technical means. They have the most sophisticated ones that exist along the Kashmir border. So, we had a lot of problems from the Indians, but I think myself that most of them had to do with the fact that the pro-nuclear party in India was increasingly likely to come into power, which indeed it did.
Then shortly after the treaty was signed, they popped off what they said were five nuclear test explosions. I don’t know what the truth was. But they announced that there were five, all done roughly at the same time. But that was after the treaty was signed, not by them, but by the rest of us. So, India really was a fly in the ointment, so much so that they tried to veto the entire thing — veto it or wreck it.
“P-5 were the ones who were really bringing the most chips to the table in the nuclear test ban endeavor”
Originally, the other CD people didn’t have a clue as to what the P-5 issues were, what we were talking about. A lot of these people got technical educations as the negotiations dragged on and more and more was being written about technical issues. The terminology became less and less abstruse and more in the common jargon.
But it was an extremely fascinating negotiation. You had these two negotiations going on — at Five and at forty [countries], sometimes interacting with each other. The two obviously affected each other because anything you agreed to in the one forum as being allowed — you had to be sure that it was not prohibited in the other forum. And yet you didn’t want to have gaps in between the scope of the two undertakings….
In the debate over CTBT ratification, a point that those of us who are in favor of the treaty being ratified try to make to the opponents of the treaty is that you’ve got to maintain the stockpile anyway, whether you have a treaty or not. And you’ve also got to verify because you’ve got to keep your eye on everybody else in the world and what they’re doing, whether you have a treaty or no treaty, except it would be easier if you had a treaty because you would have all the international apparatus to assist us. We’ve made all of these points. [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] John Shaliskashvili put them together in a very useful report.
Yes, and he was brought in during the last months of the Clinton Administration after the outrageously politicized, vindictive, and irresponsible defeat of CTBT ratification in October of 2000, to prepare a basis for a more focused, less emotional future Congressional look at the treaty. Shali points out in his report that the U.S. is not threatening the laboratories by moving from active underground testing to science-based stockpile stewardship..…
I wanted to touch on the Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT]. In a real sense, the Non-Proliferation Treaty is the background against which the Nuclear Testing Treaty has to be seen.
The Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1970 is the one that codified the fact that there were five nuclear weapons states, the ones which were in existence and recognized and overt at that time. It also said that all other states were invited to sign on as non-nuclear weapon states, and would not try to acquire in any way — manufacturing or purchasing or otherwise — any nuclear weapons capability.
NPT set up the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA in Vienna]. That was the verification branch of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. I mention this because you have the nuclear weapon states which are the so-called “legitimate” ones, the five recognized by the NPT.
By the time of the CTBT, almost all of the other nations in the world had already undertaken in the NPT the pledge not to acquire nuclear weapons by any means. In exchange it was agreed that certain nuclear research advantages would be shared by the nuclear weapon states and all that stuff.
I mention this to support the observation I made before that the P-5 were the ones who were really bringing the most chips to the table in the nuclear test ban endeavor. In theory if you were a non-nuclear weapon state and you were in compliance with your obligations under the NPT, you had nothing to test. So if you were now giving up testing when you had already given up any possibility of acquiring nuclear weapons, it’s not a great leap forward. Mind you Israel, India, Pakistan and a couple of others never did sign onto NPT.
The second point is that many countries, have limited foreign services and international expertise in specific international security subjects. When it comes to the broad and complex field of disarmament, they don’t have sub-specialists. They’ve got disarmament guys who do everything. That’s why when you have a conference on one big disarmament issue in one place, you can’t have another one simultaneously elsewhere. Only countries like the U.S. and other large ones have the resources to be able to get special experts in NPT and experts in chemical weapons, and other disarmament focal points.
The NPT Review and Extension Conference, May 1995
In May of 1995, everything in Geneva stopped because everybody who was literate in international security and disarmament matters went to New York for a big conference designed to address the fact that the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which was of 25 years duration, was running out. The undertaking and the conference was called the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review and Extension Conference.
Every five years, there was a review conference to see how NPT things were doing, to try to see whether or not the regime could be strengthened without rewriting the treaty. But here in May 1995 it was going to be the expiration of the treaty unless it was renewed.
So, all of us were going to New York. For the U.S. NPT Delegation, the leadership was out of Washington. We had very senior people, including the deputy director of ACDA there. Madeleine Albright as U.S. Ambassador to the UN was the nominal head of delegation. The Vice President came for part of the conference. So, it was a pretty high-powered U.S. delegation. The U.S. was a major force in bringing about the unlimited extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. I was among those who came from Geneva.
There was nobody else to talk to in Geneva, so I came and served on the U.S. Delegation in New York, and had quite a bit to do with the development of certain parts of what was the end product of the NPT Review and Extension Conference. I think that’s probably all I need to say about that.
There were big issues. The biggest issue of all was an attempt by the nonnuclear weapons states (NNWS) to gain a tighter, more immediate commitment by the nuclear weapons states (NWS) to accelerate nuclear disarmament. There is a commitment in the NPT treaty itself, but it’s sort of general in that the NWS will engage in efforts to reduce their nuclear capability in the context of general and complete disarmament. That is kind of a panacea down the road.
Gradually, the NNWS were getting more and more impatient and more belligerent about saying, “That’s not good enough. We want you, the P-5, to sign on the dotted line.”
We would say, “Look at SALT [Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty] and look at START [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] and look at INF [Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty, all agreements between the U.S. and the Soviet Union/Russia], and look at the unilateral efforts to dispose of fissile material.”
They would say, “No, we don’t want just unilateral efforts. We want to have an international negotiation where you five bring your nuclear weapons, put them on the table, and we’ll tell you how to dispose of them and under what kind of timetable.”
Well, that just wasn’t in the cards. So, that was the big issue.
The NNWS were trying to increase and make more immediate the obligation that was vaguely set forth in the NPT treaty itself; they wanted it to be incumbent on the NWS to get rid of their nuclear weapons as the NNA would say “in a time-bound framework.” We worked out some new words and they sounded a little better and a little more urgent, but we did not have the capability of rewriting the treaty which had been ratified by the Senate.
So, there wasn’t too much to be done except express political commitment to press on with things.
There is another effort that started at that time that looked like it was going to take off and become a real side-by-side negotiation with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. That was an engagement to henceforth ban the manufacture of fissile material for nuclear weapon purposes. This was known as “fizz cutoff,” which again would only affect certain countries, but importantly, it would affect India, Pakistan, and Israel if we could get them in and get this regime organized.
If you could in essence freeze the current levels of fissile material where they were, and ban any further production of military fissile material, then you would begin to pull India, Pakistan, and Israel, which still ignore the NPT treaty, into a kind of commitment through the backdoor that would say, “You may not have to give up your nuclear capability, but you can’t produce any more enriched uranium or plutonium.”
That was on the verge of starting, but then things went awry and it was one of the negative fallouts from the aftermath of the NPT Review and Extension Conference in ’95 — that and the fact that India was beginning to look to preserve its nuclear capability and flex its muscle. So, fizz cutoff keeps being on the verge of being ready for negotiation, but to my knowledge, it still hadn’t started years later.
India blocks consensus — so sidestep them and go to the General Assembly
But getting back to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, we had indeed the usual problems with inspection and trying to detail and get right the balance between intrusiveness and protection of national interests. We had a certain amount of problem with the issue of whether or not national technical means could be used in trying to point the finger and ask for international inspections.
We had a couple of other issues that we struggled with, but I can’t remember any other major ones that we could elaborate on here without excessive technical explanations. The treaty came together.
Towards the end, there were a lot of problems with Washington from my perspective. There were two camps that kind of grew up there about this business of intrusiveness versus protection. It had to do with what the threshold was for getting a challenge inspection. There, the State Department and CIA were kind of lined up on one side. It was a very strange arrangement. But eventually, the thing got done. President Clinton had challenged everyone to finish by the end of 1996, and by George, we did.
Going back to the fact that some nations’ disarmament expertise had finite resource limitations, especially the smaller countries, in the autumn each year the UN General Assembly has a Committee on Disarmament called the First Committee.
Literally, everybody from the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva packs up and moves to New York for about six weeks, where we reconfigure ourselves as the UN First Committee on Disarmament. The CD year ends just before we leave for New York. So, we had a real scurry to finish the CTBT treaty.
Then we ran into the problem of India saying that if she didn’t get the commitment to ban all tests, even simulations, and didn’t get a commitment of the five nuclear weapons states immediately to begin a negotiation with oversight from the non-nuclear weapon states about further reductions in their stockpile, and all sorts of other impossible things, India couldn’t see its way clear to sign the treaty, or even to allow it to go forward. So, we were in this standoff. The whole thing was ready.
Now, we had had problems of a similar sort, holdouts at the last minute, in the Chemical Weapons Convention four years before. Those of us who were around at that time realized that even in an organization that operates by consensus, you have a certain power which could be called the “tyranny of the majority.”
It goes like this: “Okay, you’re going to veto this endeavor here? The friends of the endeavor are going to meet across the street and we’re going to agree on a course of action as to how we’re going to push our project forward. You by your veto can’t stop the treaty. You can only stop it from being done here.” That had worked in the case of the CW Treaty.
So here we were in the early autumn of 1996 on the verge of going to New York. The whole draft treaty had been stuffed into a report to the UN General Assembly.
Attached to the text of the treaty was a recommendation that it be opened by the Secretary General for national signatures with him as the depository. India vetoed it. So as a CD document it failed.
We went to New York and got the Australians there to put the text in a resolution, saying, “Hey, by the way, I have this national initiative and it’s got this nifty draft nuclear test ban treaty text attached to it. We think that it ought to be adopted by the General Assembly.”
The General Assembly operates by vote, not by consensus. Anybody who has a proposition can put it in resolution form and run around and get cosponsors. So, we all ran around and got 150+ cosponsors for this Australian resolution — almost everybody but India.
The resolution was adopted and there was the treaty text enshrined in it. The Secretary General declared that it was open for signature. We had the P-5 leaders come to New York and the CTBT was signed by President Clinton representing the host country. He was immediately followed by China, France, Russia, and the UK in alphabetical order, then all the others.
There were 70 signatures on the first day — but not India, not Pakistan, and not North Korea. Israel signed. That’s where the CTBT resides today, signed but not in force.
The big fight, one of the last fights that we had during the negotiation, was the provision in the treaty for entry into force. The result was not very satisfactory. In the Chemical Weapons Convention, we used the simple approach that upon deposit of the 65th country’s articles of accession, the clock would start ticking and 60 days later the treaty would enter into force.
It was recognized that the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty would not operate quite so simply. It would be a farce if you didn’t have certain countries there. You had to have the five nuclear weapons states and you really had to have the threshold states: India, Pakistan, and Israel.
But to draw an entry into force provision that said, “50 or 60 states, but it must include these eight” would deeply offend all those who could have gone the nuclear route 30 years ago but chose to take the high road.
It was politically unacceptable to many countries such as Canada, Australia, and others who felt very strongly about the need to get rid of nuclear testing to have India, Pakistan, and Israel specified as essential states. They would see it as kind of a reward to India, Pakistan, and Israel for having stayed out of the otherwise almost universal NPT regime, especially since all three had gone ahead and developed nuclear weapons programs.
So, we had to find some sort of a euphemistic collective rather than just call for a number of any 60 or 65 states. Then we began to worry about, suppose if we specify a collective, one member of that collective might say, “Hey, wait a minute, I want to have my rights to the islands of So and So in the South China Sea recognized by everybody as a condition for me to sign.” In other words, somebody might try to hold entry into force of the CTBT as hostage for an unrelated concession. Taking the treaty hostage had to be avoided.
But a curious group that most distressingly included Russia, the UK, and a couple of others said, “If you allow for an entry into forces approach that will let you go forward despite missing one or two specified countries, then the pressure is going to be on everybody else to go ahead and let the thing enter into force and not on the countries that are trying to hold you up.”
So, they said, “We’ve got to have a collective and it’s got to mean everybody in that collective.” The treaty as it exists today selected a collective which, in effect, was a list of all those countries that have nuclear reactors, whether for power or for research. That includes India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, and a number of folks who are not going to be too easy to placate and get them to sign.
Now, most of us believe that you can get India and Pakistan provided you get them together as part of a package where everybody moves at the same time. Neither will sign on before the other. Indeed, China will not deposit its instruments unless India is going to put its down. Indian capability is a threat to China. It is a neighbor. China does not have all that much more in way of deterrence.
So ratification — selling CTBT to the U.S. Senate — is very important, but getting the U.S. to come on board may not be the last fight. You’ve still got to get India and Pakistan. It’s conceivable that North Korea would hold out, but I don’t think they would be the last one. That was pretty much the end of it for me.
As I said, the treaty was signed in New York in September of 1996. I came and did the usual springtime disarmament stuff in New York in 1997 and was preparing to retire. I had already passed the regular Foreign Service retirement age of 65 and was staying on only until the treaty was finished. I wanted to retire.
During my last two years of Foreign Service, the Clinton Administration wouldn’t let me retire until the treaty was put away, so I was two years overdue. I stayed and did the springtime New York business and then packed up my bags and said, “Goodbye”