Interview:
Jaap Ramaker, chairman of the CTBT negotiations in 1996

Jaap Ramaker served as Chairman of the CTBT negotiations during the end game in 1996. Currently he serves as the Special Representative to promote the CTBT ratification process.

Ambassador Jaap Ramaker of the Netherlands, served as Chairman of the CTBT negotiations during the end game in 1996. Currently he serves as the Special Representative to promote the CTBT ratification process. Ambassador Ramaker’s diplomatic career spans four decades, during which time he served the Dutch Foreign Service in Africa, the Americas and Europe and was awarded the Carnegie Foundation’s Wateler Peace Peace in 1998.

Q: The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty is seen as the culmination of four decades of international efforts to ban nuclear test explosions. It is one of the more complex treaties in the international arena (e.g. build-up of the verification system), but also one of the more clear-cut ones as regards basic obligations. Could you elaborate?

Yes, the Treaty is very clear-cut as regards the prohibition of nuclear explosions, whether of a military or peaceful nature. It is non-discriminatory and equally valid for each and every party to the Treaty. 
A complex Treaty? Yes, it was complex in terms of the negotiations process, which took three years. It is also complex in the sense that it is an umbrella under which an enormous scientific effort is being undertaken; namely the build-up of a high tech verification system that will – once the Treaty has entered into force – ascertain if, when and where a nuclear explosion may have occurred. So it is a high-tech Treaty that was fairly complicated to negotiate.

The CTBT is very clear-cut as regards the prohibition of nuclear explosions, whether of a military or peaceful nature. It is non-discriminatory and equally valid for each and every party to the Treaty.

Actually, the negotiations proceeded on two levels: the diplomatic and the scientific experts’ level. The diplomats were crafting the Treaty text so the scientific experts, who were working out all the technicalities of the verification regime, had to translate their issues into language understandable, not only to the scientific, but also to the diplomatic community.

It is a well-drafted Treaty, internally consistent and with very specific features not found in any other treaty in the global arms control arena.

Q: You were asked to lead the negotiations on the CTBT in 1996. How did this come about?

The CTBT was negotiated in Geneva in the Conference on Disarmament following the 1993 mandate, which preceded my arrival. For the next three years—1994, 1995 and 1996—we negotiated. I chaired these negotiations in 1996 during the so-called “end game”.

Unlike the UN’s five regional groupings, the Conference on Disarmament had a rotating chairmanship that revolved amongst three groups: the Eastern European Group, the non-aligned Group of 21 and the Western Group.

The CTBT is a well-drafted Treaty, internally consistent and with very specific features not found in any other treaty in the global arms control arena.

When the negotiations started in 1994, they were chaired by the Mexican Ambassador in Geneva, Miguel Marin-Bosch (G21). In 1995 the Chairmanship passed to Polish Ambassador Ludwik Dembinski (Eastern European Group). And in the decisive year of 1996, the chair was to pass to the Western Group. At that time there were 12 Western ambassadors to choose from, three of them from Nuclear Weapon States, who would not have been appropriate to appoint as Chairperson. Of the nine remaining ambassadors, I was selected to the Chairmanship for several reasons, including my relatively long multilateral experience, my previous stint in the Conference on Disarmament, my having chaired one of the two Working Groups in 1995, and my competent staff  which included a number of experienced people from the Netherlands. That is how I came to assume the Chairmanship in that final and decisive year of 1996.

Q: What were your main achievements, challenges and problems?

Assuming my position as Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee in January of 1996, it was clear from the outset that we would be working under time pressure since the UN General Assembly had already passed a resolution calling for the Treaty to be ready for signature by September at the opening of its 51st session. So perhaps the most important achievement was that, by June of that year, my team and I were able to offer a draft text for conference delegates to take home to their governments for consideration in the inter-sessional period in July.

But there were substantial challenges. We had to turn the text inherited in January 1996 into a proper Treaty. The “rolling text” on the table contained 1,200 bracketed passages! It was pure fiction to think that eliminating the bracketed texts (i.e. the views of all individual delegations) would produce a consistent Treaty text conforming to the standards of a legal instrument.

Thus, two major challenges for me were: 1) to see if a clustering of problem texts was feasible; and then 2) to develop, step-by-step, a carefully structured, logically ordered Chairman’s compromise text that had internal consistency, reflected the results of negotiations up to that point, and would be acceptable to all negotiators.

One challenge was to develop, step-by-step, a carefully structured, logically ordered Chairman’s compromise text that had internal consistency, reflected the results of negotiations up to that point, and would be acceptable to all negotiators.

Another challenge, of course, was to ensure that the consensus process was not derailed. I needed a compromise text that would be generally acceptable, even if not ideal for all delegations. I needed a product that could be taken back home to the respective governments in the hope that everyone would understand that, in the world of international diplomacy, “you can’t always have it all”.

Q: Please elaborate on your different strategies during the negotiations.

I appointed “Friends of the Chair” to work out certain elements on my behalf. One particularly difficult task was the Entry into Force clause taken on by the Mexican Ambassador Antonio de Icaza.  The challenge on the one hand was to find a formulation whereby the Treaty would have a real effect and prevent further nuclear weapon test explosions. On the other hand, that formula would have to avoid the "hostage problem": that is, the problem that refusal by even one state to ratify would prevent the Treaty from entering into force.

The prohibition in the Treaty, it was felt, spoke for itself. A nuclear explosion is what it is: namely, a nuclear explosion.

That magic formula eluded us. As you know, eight states have no legal obligation not to possess nuclear weapons. I am referring to the five Nuclear Weapon States mentioned in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the three states—India, Israel and Pakistan—that were never States Parties to the NPT. Certain of these eight countries wanted certain others on board if they were to accept the Test Ban. So we ended up with a group of forty-four countries, including the eight just mentioned, that needed to ratify the Treaty for it to enter into force.

Reaching agreement on the "scope" of the Treaty was another challenge; that is, finding agreement on what the CTBT would actually be prohibiting. Originally, some wanted to have a treaty that would at least allow for low-yield nuclear explosions. But even when general agreement was reached that the CTBT was not going to be a threshold treaty but a real "zero-yield“ treaty, the question remained: what then actually constituted a nuclear explosion? For a long time negotiators felt that, in the absence of agreement amongst themselves, a Statement from the Chair (i.e. from me) should solve that problem. In the end that was not judged necessary. The prohibition in the Treaty, it was felt, spoke for itself. A nuclear explosion is what it is: namely, a nuclear explosion.

Q: And what about the end-game? What strategy did you employ during this?

Gradually my respective draft texts were refined, but the rolling text was still there. Delegates reminded me that “Whatever you do, keep in mind that this is your text, not ours.” But I believe everybody realized that the "rolling text" could never be made into a coherent treaty text and that my "Chairman's text" would be the only feasible alternative. Thus, on Tuesday 28 May, I introduced an 88-page Chairman’s text – a complete CTBT draft without any brackets – to try to point the way towards consensus.

From that moment on, especially during the second half of June, heads of delegations met more or less morning, noon and night in closed sessions, in order to end negotiations by 28 June, the end of that part of the session of the Conference on Disarmament. Only so would it be possible to transmit a Treaty text to the UN General Assembly in time for adoption there.

During the second half of June 1996, heads of delegations met more or less morning-noon-and-night in closed sessions in order to end negotiations by 28 June.

Some countries still objected that the nuclear weapons States were exerting too much influence. Thus, the negotiations reached a critical phase. Spurred on by the unanimous UN resolution adopted in September the year before (Editor’s Note: Resn. 50/56 of 12 December 1995), I presented the delegations with my own Treaty text on 28 June, saying that this was the maximum I could do and asking them to have their capitals study the draft. The text was then out of my hands.

Within 10-12 days the so-called “key States” expressed their consent in the following order: France first, then the US along with Russia, then China, the UK and others. It was also of critical importance that President Clinton came out publicly in support of the Treaty. After that, the text was on safe ground although we did not reach consensus on all aspects as such.

Within 10-12 days the so-called “key States” expressed their consent in the following order: France first, then the United States along with Russia, then China, the United Kingdom and others.

My strong sense was that we had reached, if not the desired consensus, then at least “the best attainable outcome” and that we should not let this unique opportunity to achieve a long-awaited milestone in the field of disarmament slip away.

Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India

Q: The history of the CTBT, with its political, technological and diplomatic complexities, is a long one, dating from the 1950s onwards. Who would you say were the “guiding lights” and visionary leaders of this process?
 
If there is any one person who stands out as a visionary, then it is Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India, who first advocated a ban on nuclear weapons testing in 1954. As for guiding lights, after the Cold War in the early 1990s, there was Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev who announced a moratorium on nuclear weapons test explosions, which was agreed to by then US President George H.W. Bush. Another “guiding light” was certainly US President Bill Clinton who decided to continue the moratorium and took the courageous step of coming out in favour of actual negotiations. That had never been the case before; it was decisive. We would never have had a Treaty had the US not been so actively supportive.

If there is any one person who stands out as a visionary, then it is Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India, who first advocated a ban on nuclear weapons testing in 1954.

Q: Which countries were most constructively involved in the negotiations?

I would point to the US, Russia and the UK who tried to point the way. Other countries, too, have been very constructively involved; for example, Sweden, Iran and Australia provided draft treaty texts even before the actual negotiations started.

Jaap Ramaker (left) at the 2007 Article XIV Conference in Vienna, Austria.

During the negotiations, Canada came up with the brilliant idea of convening, after a few years a conference of Ratifying Parties every couple of years – as we did in Vienna in September 2007 – to keep the Treaty high on the political agenda and in the media. There was also the idea of meetings of key foreign ministers in the alternating years between these Article XIV Conferences, an idea worked out by the Netherlands, Australia and Japan. After all, we all knew that, with the Entry into Force clause that we have in the Treaty, it was going to be a long time before the Treaty would take effect.

As for guiding lights, after the Cold War in the early 1990s, there was Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev who announced a moratorium on nuclear weapons test explosions

The period 1994 to 1996 marked the first time the five Nuclear Weapon States successfully negotiated nuclear issues amongst themselves. That is very often forgotten. Seen as a “trendsetter”, the headway they made was notable – and just what was needed at that point.

Q: In 2003, and again in 2005 and 2007, you were appointed as Special Representative to promote the CTBT ratification process. What does that involve?

My work involves establishing contacts with the governments of countries that have yet to sign or ratify the Treaty. I work on two levels: on the one hand, with some of the outstanding Annex 2 countries and, on the other, with any and all countries other than those Annex 2 countries that are not yet on board. After all, it is clear that the larger the number of signatures and ratifications, the stronger the norm against nuclear weapons testing that actually began to take hold the moment the Treaty was concluded. And, the stronger the norm, the stronger the reaction to violating that norm. For example, when India and Pakistan tested in 1998, there was worldwide condemnation. Similarly, when the DPRK attempted to test in October 2006, it was unanimously condemned by the Security Council and the world community.

Another “guiding light” was certainly US President Bill Clinton who decided to continue the moratorium and took the courageous step of coming out in favour of actual negotiations. We would never have had a Treaty had the US not been so actively supportive.

As for the remaining Annex 2 countries, I have paid in some cases bilateral visits; in other cases, that may still happen. With other non-signatory or non-ratifying States, I meet mostly in the context of international or regional conferences. The General Debate at the UN General Assembly or regional meetings, such as  the Pacific Islands Forum, CARICOM or regional conferences in Africa, provide useful opportunities for me to meet with the Foreign Ministers in question.

Q: How are your activities funded?

The Dutch Government pays my travel and hotel expenses but nothing else as I am a retired diplomat with a pension. The position was also the Dutch Government’s idea. They asked me if I would like to promote the Treaty after going into retirement. After some reflection, I concurred, and have been acting in this capacity since 2004.

Q: You have said that the CTBT constitutes “the last barrier against a nuclear programme turning into a nuclear weapons programme”. Could you elaborate?

Even for the nuclear weapons States, prohibiting nuclear weapon test explosions means it will be virtually impossible for them to develop new types of nuclear weapons. They could try, but an untested weapon would not be easily integrated into a NWS’s arsenal; the military, for one, wouldn’t allow it.

Countries that don’t yet have nuclear weapons might wish to construct a so-called “crude” nuclear weapon. But it would be large and heavy to hoist into a plane so that, practically speaking, it would be too difficult and too dangerous. To get a “usable” nuclear weapon that could be mounted as a missile warhead, for example, non-NWSs would have to test. Take the DPRK; it had a nuclear weapons programme. It wanted to test to obtain data to miniaturize the warhead, etc. so that it would be able to build up an arsenal of “deliverable nuclear weapons”.

But if nuclear weapons testing is prohibited in the first place, it will not be possible to develop that nuclear weapon.

In terms of nuclear programmes for peaceful purposes, countries can start by enriching uranium for peaceful purposes. But if it continues to be enriched, then it becomes weapons-grade fissile material for a warhead. Still the question remains: will the weapon work? Will it explode? This is where testing becomes imperative. But if nuclear weapons testing is prohibited in the first place, it will not be possible to develop that nuclear weapon.

Q: In which countries have your “good offices” made a difference when it comes to ratification in the last couple of years?

One cannot ascribe positive influence in this ratification process to any one person in particular. It is always a joint effort to which I continue to make my contribution.

Having said that, I might point to my visit to Annex 2 country Viet Nam towards the end of 2005. That was after other visits by several Foreign Ministers and former Executive Secretary Wolfgang Hoffmann. These all prepared the ground. My own visit was very thorough. There were meetings at the political level and with the Parliament. I met with the relevant interdepartmental working group tasked with preparing ratification, etc., sent documentation, kept in touch and followed up in New York. I also requested a number of other ambassadors to stay in touch with Viet Nam. Together, all these efforts brought about the very welcome decision by Viet Nam to deposit its instrument of ratification six months later, in March of 2006.

The Six Party Talks to solve the issues around the DPRK’s nuclear, and nuclear weapons, programme is ongoing. Once these issues have been solved, there would be no obstacle to prevent the DPRK from ratifying the Treaty.

There were at least six or seven other countries where I spoke with members of their governments and, in all cases, it helped. In fact, I’m not surprised to see that they have meanwhile ratified the Treaty because, often, when they explained their particular problem to me, I was able to help. A kind of “advance trouble-shooting”.

In other countries, it was not my doing; they were already in the process. The Executive Secretary may have been in contact with them or they were hosting an IMS station and valued the technical assistance. In one instance, the country promised to ratify within a month. The month went by and nothing happened, but after six months, they ratified. And that’s the main thing.

Q: Amongst the  so-called “hold-out” Annex 2 countries, whose ratification is mandatory for the Treaty to enter into force, which one(s) do you think are farthest from taking this critical step and why?

Farthest away are undoubtedly those three States that have not yet signed the Treaty – the DPRK, India and Pakistan. Here much remains to be done. Why? In the case of India, it rejects the concept of the Treaty as such, though it has promised “not to stand in the way” of its entry into force. Pakistan's position is linked to what India eventually decides to do. The Six Party Talks to solve the issues around the DPRK’s nuclear, and nuclear weapons, programme is ongoing. Once these issues have been solved, there would be no obstacle to prevent the DPRK from ratifying the Treaty.

Q: Which ones are closest to ratifying?

It’s difficult to say. Indonesia has no substantive reason not to ratify. It is also an NPT member in good standing. China is basically positively disposed; it’s just that progress there is slow. But perhaps, all of a sudden, they will ratify, who knows? In the Middle East, the good news is that Egypt, Israel and Iran have all signed the Treaty and therefore support its spirit.

Q: It has been said that the United States is a “flood-gate” country whose ratification would open the doors to a host of others. Do you agree with this analysis?

Some of the other remaining Annex 2 countries seem to look at the United States to take that step and reconsider its position. If it does, they might as well. If that is true, I want to add that I would rather see these countries to move before so as to add to the critical mass of States Signatories and Ratifiers. As you know, it was a great disappointment to many that in October 1999 the US Senate rejected the Treaty, overwhelmingly along party lines: 51 : 48 with only four Republicans voting with all the Democrats in favour.

In the Middle East, the good news is that Egypt, Israel and Iran have all signed the Treaty and therefore support its spirit.

What will it take for the US to reconsider? New political will at the highest levels and on a bi-partisan basis. Ideally, both Republicans and Democrats would need to agree to revisit the Treaty and arrive at the conclusion that the US would be “better off with the Treaty than without it” from a national security point of view and seen also in the wider context of a world with less and less nuclear weapons.

Lately, there are signs that the political tide in the United States may be turning more in favour of the Treaty. For example, the Wall Street Journal Op Ed pieces of 2007 and 2008 are positive on the CTBT. There were, all told, nearly 40 bipartisan authors, including former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, who collectively came out for a change in approach and said, “Let’s look at this question once again. We need to reconsider.”

Q: Looking forward, how do you see the prospects for bringing those last Annex 2 countries on board the Treaty before, or in the context of, the next Article XIV Conference, tentatively scheduled for September 2009 in New York?

Well, if we were to get all remaining Annex 2 countries to ratify before the Conference, then we wouldn’t need to convene it at all because the Treaty would have already entered into force or be about to enter into force! But there’s something in your question that leads me to believe you doubt that it will happen before September 2009, and I tend to agree with that. As discussed before, it’s a fairly lengthy process so that’s not, realistically speaking, likely.

Still, come the day when the US develops sufficient political will, we look forward to a new momentum in the overall Treaty ratification process.

Perhaps a few will take the step to ratify before 2009. This is conceivable. But getting all on board will be a longer process.

As for the United States, there will be a new Administration that will have to focus on this issue, but along with many other competing issues and priorities. That will necessitate policy reviews, also for arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. Even if they were to revisit the Treaty on a bipartisan basis, it would still take considerable time. Of course, a positive decision by the new Administration would already, in and of itself, have a positive effect, but it would still have to be brought before Congress. Still, come the day when the US develops sufficient political will, we look forward to a new momentum in the overall Treaty ratification process.