Day 4 at the NPT: Sad News and Testing Times

posted by Rebecca Johnson

The NPT General Debate ended on Thursday, having heard 109 statements from states parties, some of which represented significant groups or blocs.  Iran was the only one represented at presidential level, but presentations were given by 34 senior or foreign ministers and 11 at the level of deputy ministers.  Four intergovernmental organizations spoke at the end.  The NPT Review Conference begins on Friday to debate nuclear disarmament issues in Committee 1, and will hear arguments from a spectrum of NGOs – including Nobel Laureate Jody Williams – in the afternoon.

The first of these was the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), barred from addressing NPT meetings during the Bush administration, but back now at the heart of the non-proliferation regime.   Tibor Tóth, Executive Secretary of the CTBTO started his speech with the sad news of the death of Ambassador Stephen Ledogar, who led the US delegation in negotiating the CTBT, playing also a critical role during the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference.   By a strange quirk of fate, he died on Monday May 3, the opening day of this Review Conference.  I heard of his death only a few hours before Tibor told the Conference, and my mind has been crowded with memories.

Almost exactly a year ago, I was immensely honoured that Ambassador Ledogar came to the United Nations to speak at the launch of my book “Unfinished Business”, which analysed the nuclear test ban negotiations from first calls in 1954 to conclusion in 1996.  He was physically frail and in pain, but he took the trouble to travel to New York from his home in New Jersey because he cared so deeply about getting the facts across on why the CTBT is so important for US and international security and non-proliferation.  The moment he spoke in that gravelly voice that I remembered hearing day after day at the Conference on Disarmament (CD), his authority and determination shone through.

Steve Ledogar was a great and honourable man, a giant among diplomats not only in his tall physical stature, but in his intellect, kindness and generosity.  As a negotiator, he was straightforward, astute and tough.  He was also unfailingly courteous and helpful to me, even though I was perpetually hanging around outside the closed Nuclear Test Ban Committee meetings and pestering delegations for working papers and meetings so that I could inform NGOs back home what was going on.

In Ambassador Ledogar’s honour – and in recognition of the fact that over a hundred statements in the opening debate have pledged support for making the test ban permanent by bringing the treaty into force – I have decided to devote this blog to the CTBT, the treaty that he saw through from its negotiating mandate in the Conference on Disarmament in 1993 to its adoption by the UN General Assembly in September 1996.

The CTBT has been an important feature of this Review Conference, as befits a key commitment in the NPT’s preamble and the consensus agreements of 1995 and 2000.  Actor Michael Douglas (the China Syndrome, Wall Street and The American President) gave a clarion call to Washington to ratify the treaty when he joined UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at a glittering reception hosted by the CTBTO. Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa was applauded for his country’s belated decision to go ahead and ratify without waiting for the US Senate.  The reception took place surrounded by an exhibition showing ugly mushroom clouds (the past) and all aspects of the CTBT verification regime (the present and, we hope, the future).  Once Indonesia ratifies, only eight of the 44 required ratifications remain to be achieved.

Speaking at the very end of the General Debate, Tibor Tóth called the CTBT “a strong and verifiable final barrier to a nuclear weapons capability…  of vital importance for a comprehensive approach to address our common security challenges”.  He spoke of the CTBT verification regime “nearing completion”, with 80 percent of the 321 global monitoring stations and others in the process of being built or certified. With 182 signatories and 151 ratifications, the CTBT is one of the best supported treaties in history.  In additional to familiar argument for why entry into force of the CTBT is in the interests of nuclear-weapon states China and the United States, Tóth called on all countries in the Middle East to ratify (Egypt, Iran and Israel have all signed but not yet ratified), arguing that it would be “a key step in creating the right conditions for a Middle East nuclear-weapon-free zone”. Moreover, the CTBT is already so deeply embedded in international law that ratifying it “carries no political cost while the positive spillover effects can increase mutual trust”.  He concluded by arguing that CTBT entry into force could pave the way to solving some of the challenges facing the NPT: “The Treaty already exists, it has near universal membership, its verification regime is close to completion, and it has been tried and tested by two nuclear test explosions” conducted by North Korea.

What the CTBT notably lacks is US ratification, which was bungled in a bitterly partisan Senate in 1999.  Without the United States, achieving the ratification of the remaining eight nuclear capable countries necessary for entry into force appears an unsurmountable hurdle.  With US ratification, international pressure and political strategies are likely to bear fruit with most if not all of them. Noting that it is nearly 15 years since the Treaty was opened for signature, Ban Ki-Moon canvassed the possibility that “an alternative mechanism” might be needed to bring this long-sought treaty into effect.  I have explored options for provisional application of the CTBT in my book and earlier articles, but for now I think we should keep the pressure up to get the remaining states to ratify (and in the case of India, Pakistan and North Korea) to sign and then ratify.  For this, the US Senate is key.

Steve Ledogar provided one of the most compelling testimonies to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in October 1999.  Pointing out that he had first been appointed as an ambassador by President Reagan, and had then served under Presidents Bush and Clinton as chief negotiator in Geneva, first to complete the Chemical Weapons Convention and then to negotiate the CTBT, he specifically addressed the criticisms from some of the Republican Senators regarding the treaty’s scope, verification and entry into force. He gave an overview of how these outcomes had been negotiated and what they meant, pointing out that the “zero means zero” yield decision was in US interests as it cut short the “squabbling” among the P-5 nuclear-weapon states and ensured that there would be “no threshold for anybody. … If what you did produced any nuclear yield whatsoever, it would not be allowed. If it didn’t, it was allowed”.

With regard to verification, Steve told the Committee:  “The point I would like to stress here is that the US succeeded in the negotiations in getting virtually everything the intelligence community and other parts of the government wanted from the treaty … to strengthen our ability to detect and deter cheating and to seek appropriate redress if cheating did occur. At the same time, we succeeded in getting virtually everything the Defense Department and others wanted to insure the protection of sensitive national security information.”

Sadly, Steve will no longer be able to give the US Senate the benefit of his important, first hand testimony, but they would do well to read the evidence he gave in 1999.  A former US navy officer and lawyer, Steve was a tough and determined negotiator on behalf of his country – making sure that the CTBT would have more than enough verification for its purposes.  I understand the partisan politics of the Senate, but instead of making deals that undermine Obama’s objective of working for a nuclear-free world – CTBT votes for increased funding for the nuclear weapons establishment, for example – it’s time the Obama administration played hardball.  The Bush administration’s policy was to maintain the moratorium but not ratify the Treaty.  The logic of that is for the US to be constrained without empowering the CTBTO to monitor and verify the compliance of everyone else.  For the self-proclaimed party of national security, how stupid is that? How unpatriotic (and, dare I say it, unAmerican)!  Instead of defensively looking for ways to buy the Republican votes needed to make the 67 (two-thirds) majority for Senate ratification, President Obama should invite the ten key Republican senators for one-to-one private meetings, insist they read Ambassador Ledogar’s testimony from 1999, and tell them about the ad campaign being readied to show the American people how the Republicans’ opposition to ratification is contrary to American security and would tie US hands wthout getting global verification and a vital non-proliferation tool in return.

Meanwhile, we mourn the loss of a fine ambassador and good friend, and think of Marcie and Steve’s family.

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