1977-94: Renewed test-ban commitments

More Attempts at a Comprehensive Test Ban

President Jimmy Carter, along with the United Kingdom, proposed a test ban treaty lasting for three years.

Trilateral negotiations on a nuclear test ban between the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States commenced once again in late 1977. The treaty would include a seismic monitoring station, but only On-site Inspections (OSI) of a voluntary nature. The Soviet Union objected to the unlimited duration of the treaty as proposed by the other two parties, noting that non-signatory states could continue to improve their nuclear arsenals. In response, US President Carter, along with the United Kingdom, proposed a treaty lasting for three years. Questions then arose about the practicality of establishing an extensive monitoring system for a treaty that might only last for a limited duration of time. Furthermore, it would likely be difficult politically to conclude a new treaty after the initial three-year period. The Conference on Disarmament (CD) received regular progress reports from negotiators involved in the continuing trilateral talks. Disagreements over OSI did not appear to be an issue. Nonetheless, the parties opted not to release the draft text.

National Security Interests vs. On-site Inspections (OSI)

An OSI excercise in 2007. National sovereignty was always a contentious issue whenever parties discussed the protocols of an OSI.

National sovereignty was always a contentious issue whenever parties discussed the protocols of an OSI. A Swedish draft treaty in 1983 called for a group of experts selected from parties to the treaty to conduct the OSI on a purely fact-finding basis. Experts were prohibited from analyzing or speculating about the cause of the event. In 1991, Sweden advanced this issue by issuing a draft treaty calling for the establishment of a board of governors to authorize an OSI request from a state party to the treaty. This compromise aimed at reconciling the differences between parties over the voluntary vs. mandatory nature of OSI.

1985: NPT Review Conference

Under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union declared two moratoriums on nuclear testing from 1985 to 1987 and in 1991.

The Soviet Union declared a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev between August 1985 and February 1987. During the 1985 NPT Review Conference, a CTBT was called for, along with the resumption of the trilateral talks.  The efforts to revive trilateral talks proved futile. In 1988, six States Parties to the PTBT (i.e. Indonesia, Mexico, Peru, Sri Lanka, Venezuela and Yugoslavia) proposed enlarging the scope of the PTBT to include all environments, i.e., underground nuclear testing. This would effectively transform the PTBT into a CTBT.

 

1985: Treaty of Rarotonga

The world’s second Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone underwent its final phases of negotiations in 1985/86. The Treaty of Rarotonga encompasses 13 of the South Pacific States as of March 2008, and prohibits the testing, manufacture, acquiring, and stationing of nuclear explosive devices in any member’s territory.

The Soviet Union declared an 18 month unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev from 1985-87.

To read more about the Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones, see the Treaties of Tlatelolco, Rarotonga, Pelindaba, and Bangkok, as well as the zones for Mongolia and Central Asia, and the Treaties for Antarctica, the Seabed, the Moon and Outer Space. All these Treaties include prohibitions on nuclear testing.

1988: Joint Verification Experiment

Aerial view of Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan

By 1988, the US level of confidence in the verification methods outlined in the TTBT and PNET remained unsatisfactory. In order to establish a higher degree of confidence in the verification system, the Soviet Union and the United States conducted the Joint Verification Experiment in 1988. The experiment consisted of evaluating measurement systems during two nuclear explosions, one at the Nevada Test Site by the United States, and the other in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan, by the Soviet Union. This experiment proved crucial in demonstrating that in-country measurements were possible without compromising national security interests.

The 1988 Joint Verification Experiment proved crucial in demonstrating that in-country measurements were possible without compromising national security interests.

1991: PTBT Amendment Conference

PTBT Conference President, Indonesia's Foreign Minister Ali Alatas

Although the 1990 NPT Review Conference would not produce a successful agreement on a CTBT, the 1991 PTBT Amendment Conference held in New York provided another opportunity to advance the cause. Over sixty states at the Conference were in favour of initiating CTBT negotiations. A draft Protocol of Amendment to the PTBT called for the establishment of a global monitoring network of stations coupled with on-site inspections upon request by a State Party or the secretariat of the verification organization. By a vote of 74 in favor to 2 against (United Kingdom, United States) and 19 abstentions, the Conference called for its President, Indonesia's Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, to conduct further consultations on the Treaty and resume the work of the Conference at "an appropriate time." Opposition from the United States and the United Kingdom prevented a consensus on the amendment, with these countries arguing that such an amendment was not suitable for the PTBT and its States Signatories.

1991: PTBT Amendment Conference cont.

President Bill Clinton was committed to a comprehensive nuclear test ban.

Although the United States and the United Kingdom were adamantly opposed to amending the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT), Parliamentarians for Global Action and NGOs working in concert with NNWS successfully lobbied one third of the PTBT depository governments to support a proposal to amend the Treaty. Therefore, the United Kingdom and the United States were obligated to convene the 1991 PTBT Amendment Conference. Moreover, during the conference, key representatives from several NGOs, as well as representatives of indigenous people directly affected by nuclear testing from around the world, addressed the delegates on the hazards of nuclear testing.

Prospects for negotiating the CTBT increased significantly in the 1990s as the Russian Federation, the United States and the United Kingdom all had a moratorium on nuclear testing in place.

Final Nuclear Tests

One of the US atmospheric tests, Operation Plumbbob, Fizeau Event, 14 September 1957, Nevada. The United States announced its commitment to concluding a CTBT early in 1993.

The Soviet Union declared a moratorium on nuclear testing in 1991, which was followed by US legislation that imposed a moratorium until 1993 and subsequently through 1994, provided no other country tested. The US Clinton Administration announced its commitment to concluding a CTBT early in 1993. The prospects for negotiating a CTBT increased significantly during this time as the Russian Federation, the United States and the United Kingdom all had a moratorium on nuclear testing in place.

 

Next chapter:
1993-95: Prelude and formal negotiations