22 March 2001

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UN calls meeting to decide on CTBT's future

GENEVA: United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan is calling an international meeting in New York to explore the possibility of getting the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) into force, even though the chances for that to happen appear to be slim.

The meeting, titled the "Second Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of CTBT," will be held September 25-27 at the UN headquarters in New York.

Under the provisions of the CTBT, the UN has to call a facilitating conference if the agreement does not enter into force three years after it was opened for signature in September 1996. Consequently, the first meeting was held in Vienna in 1999, but it did not result in any decision.

So far, 160 countries have signed the treaty, but only 75 of them have ratified it. Among the notable non-signatories are India, Pakistan and North Korea. India and Pakistan declared themselves nuclear weapons states after a series of nuclear tests in 1998.

Significantly, China and the U.S. are the only two nuclear weapon states that have signed, but not yet ratified, the CTBT.

Even though the Vienna-based Preparatory Commission for the CTBT Organisation (CTBTO) hopes delegates at the New York meeting will finally come to a decision about the future of the CTBT and dispel the sense of uncertainty hanging over the CTBTO, the chances of that happening are very slim, given that there has been no known progress in getting India, Pakistan and North Korea to ratify the treaty.

The Preparatory Commission says that the New York meeting will be attended by senior officials from both signatory and non-signatory states who would be provided "an excellent opportunity" to "take all possible steps to ensure the early entry into force of the CTBT and thus contribute to making the world safer and more secure."

The CTBTO, which will monitor the implementation of the CTBT, will have the "Preparatory Commission" prefix until the treaty enters into force after all 44 states that own a nuclear facility or are members of the Geneva-based UN Conference on Disarmament have ratified it.

During the tenure of former US president Bill Clinton, there were high-level talks between Washington and New Delhi to get the CTBT moving, but the current administration of President George Bush is less than enthusiastic about the treaty. Worse still, the Bush administration is in no mood to get even its own Senate to ratify the treaty.

There is little hope that the US administration or the Senate will take the initiative to ratify the treaty with the next two to three years, says Frank von Hippel, a disarmament specialist at the US-based Federation of American Scientists (FAS).

Von Hippel, a Princeton scholar, sees a possibility of that happening in three years time, after the next round of elections for the US Congress. He said that the current global climate is strictly against nuclear tests, and those nations that consider such blasts would be considered rogue states. "That deterrent will give us time to turn the situation in the US around," he said.

Even though a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the future of the CTBT and its implementation body, work is underway to complete the International Monitoring System (IMS).

The IMS is to be composed of 321 monitoring stations, mostly seismic but also some radionuclide and sonar listening facilities, and supported by 16 radionuclide laboratories around the world.

The stations will be connected via satellite to the International Data Centre (IDC), the heart of the monitoring system located in Vienna, which will analyse incoming data. According to Preparatory Commission officials, some 100 stations are already transmitting data to the IDC.

Should there be suspicious underground activity, the IDC will be able to ascertain whether the seismic data stemmed from a nuclear test or an earthquake. (IANS)


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