Japan, Kazakhstan urged to lead push for global nuclear test ban



Japan and Kazakhstan should leverage their experience as atomic bomb and nuclear testing victims when they co-chair an upcoming conference aimed at pressing eight key countries to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, a U.N. official said recently.

“Japan has a moral responsibility, Kazakhstan has a moral responsibility with regard to leading the CTBT closer to its entry into force,” Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, said in a one-on-one interview in New York.

“This is a golden opportunity for Japan and Kazakhstan to do more than what has been done for the past 18 years,” he said.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Kazakhstan Foreign Minister Erland Idrissov will co-chair the Sept. 29 conference in New York to facilitate the CTBT’s entry into force. It will be held on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

Zerbo pointed out that many people are aware that Japan was hit by the world’s first two atomic bombs shortly before the end of World War II in 1945. But far fewer know that more than 400 nuclear and thermonuclear tests were carried out in Kazakhstan by the Soviet Union during the Cold War from 1949 to 1989.

The executive secretary also sees the timing as opportune. In addition to the focus on the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the 20th anniversary of the CTBT is also approaching.

“For 70 years we haven’t banned nuclear weapons. My question to everybody is, can we achieve ridding the world of nuclear weapons if we don’t deal with the low-hanging fruit that is the CTBT?” he asked. “It is a process that leads to the development of nuclear weapons.”

Adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1996, the CTBT aims to establish a verifiable permanent global ban on all types of nuclear explosive tests. As of August, it had been signed by 183 countries and ratified by 164.

To enter into force, it must be signed and ratified by the 44 countries with nuclear capabilities. Eight of those states — the United States, China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, North Korea, India and Pakistan — have yet to ratify it.

Given recent developments on the Iran front, where negotiations with Tehran and six major powers led to a historic agreement in which Iran will not acquire nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of sanctions — Zerbo believes it makes sense for Iran to ratify the CTBT.

“The ratification by Iran will be another assurance with teeth that Iran is indeed engaging not only for the 15 years, but forever in that pursuit of peaceful use of nuclear energy only,” he said. It could also allay the fears of some who worry about future developments beyond the 15-year span during which Iran is banned from engaging in uranium enrichment and other activities under the accord.

Iran’s ratification “creates the condition of trust and confidence in the U.S. context as well” and could also encourage more countries in the region to follow suit, potentially impacting the Middle East as a whole, he said.

“2016 is an important year for the CTBT and as you know, anniversaries are a time for reflecting and stepping back (to gauge progress),” Zerbo said, adding that momentum must be kept up to avoid “treaty fatigue.”