HIROSHIMA – The head of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization sees the expiration of the arms control pact between the United States and Russia earlier this month as an opportunity to create a new nuclear disarmament framework.
“The situation of the (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty) … proves once again that nothing is perfect. But one thing you should remember is that everything is perfectible,” Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the organization’s preparatory commission, said in a recent interview.
The INF, a landmark nuclear arms control pact signed in 1987 by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, banned the nations from fielding land-based missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 km. It came to an end on Aug. 2, raising fears of a new arms race.
The U.S. had long contended that Russia was breaching the pact, which Moscow denied. U.S. President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the pact in October last year.
Trump has called for holding talks on a new treaty that would involve China, although Beijing has remained reticent about such a pact.
“First thing is that we live in a world with a deficit of trust,” said Zerbo, a Burkina Faso native who visited Hiroshima to attend the memorial ceremony for the 74th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city.
“I wouldn’t take the limbo in a pessimistic way. I will take it still as an opportunity to re-create better conditions for disarmament for all,” he said, calling for diplomatic trust-building efforts by strengthening global monitoring of nuclear tests.
With more countries than the five officially recognized nuclear powers possessing atomic weapons, “there is the opportunity to bring all those countries” into a new multilateral agreement, said Zerbo, adding that a test-ban treaty could help bridge gaps.
Shifting the focus of disarmament talks to a multinational approach should also facilitate a treaty’s entry into force, he added.
With the collapse of the INF, the international community needs to “look at the international agreement that brings the majority of people to the table,” he said.
The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly and opened for signing in 1996. Of the 184 signatories, 168 have ratified it. For the treaty to come into effect, all 44 nuclear-capable states need to sign and ratify it, but some, including the U.S., China, India, Iran, Israel and Pakistan, have yet to do so. Japan ratified it in 1997.
“One thing that both the U.S. and Russia agree on is the solidity of scientific and technological know-how that the CTBT has created,” said Zerbo.
The treaty organization (CTBTO) runs the International Monitoring System, which uses seismic data, observation of radioactive particles, and other verification technologies to detect nuclear explosions. Zerbo says 92 percent of the IMS’s 337 facilities, including monitoring stations and laboratories around the world, are in operation and have collected important data for detecting nuclear tests in North Korea.
Referring to the U.S.-Iran standoff, Zerbo said Iran’s role in completing the monitoring network should benefit the country. The organization has a certified IMS facility in Tehran that used to transmit its data.
Iran signed the CTBT in 1996 but has not yet ratified it.
“The station is not transmitting data now, but we’re working closely with the Iranians to resume transmission of data,” Zerbo said.
While refraining from commenting on Iran’s nuclear activity, Zerbo said, “Any gesture that goes toward fulfilling the spirit of the treaty, that is signed by Iran, indeed will increase trust not only in the region but internationally.”
Regarding a more recently adopted treaty not yet signed by the nuclear powers, Zerbo spoke cautiously about its prospects for taking force.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adopted in July 2017 by 122 U.N. members, has not been ratified by the required 50 members yet.
Japan, despite being the only country to have suffered the devastation of an atomic bomb attack, refuses to sign it, along with other countries under the U.S. nuclear umbrella.
“The question has always been how we achieve a ban on nuclear weapons without the participation of the nuclear weapon countries. What we have to do is create the conditions for (those) countries to be part of this framework,” he said.