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Russia plans to pull out of CTBT

  • Category
    International Relations
  • Published
    14th Oct, 2023


President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia's potential revocation of its ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) would not be for the purpose of resuming nuclear testing but rather to achieve parity with the United States.

What is Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)?

  • The CTBT is a multilateral treaty that bans all nuclear explosions, whether for military or peaceful purposes.
  • Although it was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1996, it’s still in the ratification stage — 18 countries are yet to ratify (the process by which a state indicates its consent to be bound to a treaty).
  • While Russiaratified the agreement in 2000, the US is still to do so.
  • Which key countries haven’t ratified CTBT? Notably, for the treaty to enter into force, it must be signed and ratified by 44 specific nuclear technology holder countries, eight of which have yet to ratify the agreement: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the United States.

How did CTBT come into being?

  • The United States conducted the world’s first successful nuclear weapons test in July 1945. Four years later, the Soviet Union tested their first nuclear weapon.
  • These tests triggered a decades-long arms race between the two superpowers.
  • Between 1945 and 1996, more than 2,000 nuclear tests were carried out — 1,032 of them by the United States and 715 of them by the Soviet Union.
  • Britain carried out 45 tests, France 210 and China 45.
  • The radioactive fallout from those tests drew criticism from around the globe. As a result, several attempts to curb the explosive tests were made.
    • Limited Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (LTBT): The 1963 LTBT prohibited nuclear testing in the atmosphere, outer space, and underwater, but underground tests were still permitted.
    • Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT): Six years later, the US and Soviet Union agreed to sign TTBT, which established a nuclear “threshold” by banning the two countries from conducting tests that would produce a yield exceeding 150 kilotons (equivalent to 150,000 tons of TNT).
    • Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT): After the Cold War ended around 1990 and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the geopolitical tensions simmered down. The UN took advantage of the situation and adopted the CTBT, which put a blanket ban on the explosive testing of nuclear weapons.

Did the CTBT stop nuclear testing?

  • Since the CTBT, 10 nuclear tests have taken place.
    • India conducted two in 1998, Pakistan also two in 1998, and North Korea conducted tests in 2006, 2009, 2013, 2016 (twice) and 2017.
  • The United States last tested in 1992, China and France in 1996 and the Soviet Union in 1990. Russia, which inherited most of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, has never conducted a nuclear test.

What if Russia withdraws?

  • Russia withdrawing could be a blow to the treaty since, like those eight states, Russia is one of the so-called “Annex 2” countries that must all have ratified the treaty for it to enter into force.

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