Why US, China must ratify the nuclear test ban treaty

10th Oct 2014 Security

In the early spring of 1995, I was appointed by former Chinese president Jiang Zemin as the ambassador for disarmament affairs in Geneva, and I became the chief Chinese negotiator for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The CTBT was finally concluded in 1996. Since then, and to this day, as a member of the Group of Eminent Persons, I have been working unremittingly for the early entry into force of the treaty.

What is the key to the treaty entering into force?

I think looking back and analyzing the history behind it can help us to find the answer.

As is well known, the United States and the Soviet Union were the major driving forces of the CTBT negotiations. In order to accelerate the process, the US forced the United Kingdom to halt its nuclear tests, supported global demonstrations against France for its nuclear testing in the South Pacific, and exerted great pressure upon China as well. If the US had followed the logic of this path, it should have become the most active country in seeking to ratify and promote the CTBT.

Protestors demonstrate outside the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) in Tokyo, Japan, March 11, 2013 [Xinhua]

However, after the CTBT was concluded and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council committed themselves to the moratorium on nuclear tests, the US Senate refused to ratify the treaty, and the George W. Bush administration went even further, declaring that it wouldn’t even seek ratification.

One should know that the US conducted 1,032 nuclear tests, more than half the world’s total number. France conducted 210 nuclear tests, while the UK and China each conducted 45 tests. Obviously, the real intention of the US was, and is, to ensure the overwhelming superiority of its nuclear arsenal, both in quantity and quality.

Naturally, the actions of the US triggered doubts among the international community, including China. Some have asked me why the National People’s Congress of China hesitates to ratify the CTBT. Personally I think it is because of US behavior. I firmly believe that, were the US to ratify the treaty, China would definitely follow.

My conviction is rooted in China’s consistent approach to international security issues. As President Xi Jinping reiterated recently, China firmly pursues the path of peaceful development, hegemony or militarism is simply not in the genes of the Chinese. For the sole purpose of self-defense, China developed nuclear weapons under compulsion at a certain point in history.

Over the 50 years since it first possessed nuclear weapons, China has consistently and continually advocated and promoted the complete prohibition and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons. China’s nuclear policy is in harmony with the goals and objectives of the CTBT, and its support for the CTBT will never change. In fact, the efforts and contributions made by China in promoting the entry into force of the treaty are no less than those of the ratified states.

Coming back to the present and looking forward to the future, I believe that the US holds the key that will open the door for the treaty entering into force. We should, as a priority, encourage the US to open the door, instead of staying out of a legally binding instrument.

First of all, the US should undertake its responsibility earnestly. The US has its own difficulties over ratification, which can be understood but cannot be used as an excuse. In recent years, the Barack Obama administration has made some positive commitments on ratification, but it is actions that count. Serious efforts should be made to encourage US lawmakers to change the idea of seeking absolute security at the cost of leaving all other countries feeling insecure, and then to support ratification of the treaty.

Second, joint international efforts should be made to push the US in this direction. The international community, when promoting the entry into force of the CTBT and wider global nuclear governance, should be aware that the stance of the US on the CTBT has an adverse effect on achieving common security. Clear and strong signals in support of early ratification should be sent to the US. The UK and France, as allies of the US, can play a special and important role here.

Third, China and the US could conduct dialogues on CTBT issues. As long as the US adopts a responsible stance, the CTBT can become an important part of promoting China-US strategic mutual trust and building a new model of major-country relations.

Meanwhile, I believe, in upholding the authority of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime and dealing with regional nuclear issues, both China and the US will benefit from the moral and systemic effect brought by the entry into force of the Treaty.

This article first appeared on, The Brics Post & is accessible here.