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Tibor Tóth

KAZAKHSTAN - Diplomacy

Play It Safe

Executive Secretary, Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization

Bio

Ambassador Tibor Tóth has been the Executive Secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) since 2005. From 1990 to 1993 and from 2003 to 2005, he was the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Hungary to the United Nations in Geneva. From 1997 to 2001 he served in the same capacity to the United Nations in Vienna. From 1992 to 2004, he chaired the Biological Weapons Convention negotiations on an implementation and verification regime.

In an increasingly globalized world, a lack of rules can have the gravest of consequences. Unchecked emissions of greenhouse gases cause global warming, flooding, and storms. Overfishing irreparably harms ocean […]

In an increasingly globalized world, a lack of rules can have the gravest of consequences. Unchecked emissions of greenhouse gases cause global warming, flooding, and storms. Overfishing irreparably harms ocean ecosystems that billions depend on for food and income. Unbridled financial speculation over recent years has triggered the collapse of the global financial system.

Yet there is one other issue where the absence of regulations holds more destructive potential than anywhere else: nuclear weapons. There are already a number of treaties and norms addressing the possession and testing of nuclear weapons. They are admittedly not a cure for everything, particularly since not all states abide by these rules. But without them, a global and regional arms race could quickly spiral out of control. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) is a crucial building block in this protective architecture. Its verifiable and all-encompassing ban on nuclear testing provides the final barrier for any country trying to acquire nuclear-weapon capability.

Kazakhstan has shown an extraordinary commitment to the cause of ending nuclear tests. Few other countries have suffered so severely from the recklessness of Cold War nuclear testing. Over 450 blasts irradiated the Semipalatinsk Test Site and its region, causing untold human loss and suffering lingering on into the present. I have visited Semipalatinsk repeatedly and felt its oppressive nuclear legacy, which will continue to haunt the people of the region for many generations to come: plutonium-239, one of the isotopes released into the atmosphere by a nuclear explosion, takes 23,000 years to lose just half of its radioactivity. The CTBT, adopted in 1996, is the tool that can put an end to this once and for all. The treaty bans nuclear testing in every respect, but has yet to become global law. Its stringent entry-into-force provision requires that all 44 nuclear-capable countries identified at the time of the CTBT’s negotiation in the 1990s formalize their adherence through ratification, as Kazakhstan did in 2002.

Through its initiative to create a UN day against nuclear testing on August 29, which marks both the first Soviet nuclear test in 1949 at the Semipalatinsk Test Site and also its closure in 1991, Kazakhstan is renowned for repudiating nuclear weapons. While attending the ceremony this year commemorating the 20th anniversary of the closure of the test site at Semey, I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the Kazakhstani people for the cause of nuclear disarmament.

However, until the CTBT enters into force, the door to renewed nuclear testing remains open. Securing the consent of the eight remaining countries for its entry into force—China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Egypt, India, Israel, Iran, Pakistan and the US—is a daunting challenge. Some observers have even diagnosed a “debilitating, circular dynamic in which no one state will ratify unless others do so first.” Nonetheless, I see room for cautious optimism. Firstly, with the decision by Indonesia’s parliament to ratify the CTBT on December 6, 2011, the political momentum for entry into force has been renewed. Each additional ratification increases the pressure on the remaining holdouts. Secondly, despite not yet having entered into force, the CTBT has already created a normative and moral global consensus against nuclear testing. The only country to have conducted nuclear weapon tests this century is the DPRK, which was met with universal condemnation and unanimously adopted UN Security Council resolutions. Thirdly, 153 countries have already ratified the CTBT, including the nuclear weapon possessors Russia, France, and the UK. This clearly demonstrates the conviction that national security interests are better served by a global, verifiable ban on nuclear explosions than by resuming testing themselves. They realize that the latter would only trigger testing elsewhere, thus eroding global security in the long run.

However, my largest source of inspiration is the resounding support for the CTBT from countries such as Kazakhstan, which have consistently made political, technical, and financial investments in the treaty and its verification regime, even in difficult political and economic times. In addition, Kazakhstan generously hosted a major exercise in 2008 that helped to improve the CTBT’s on-site inspection capabilities. Five of the 337 facilities making up the CTBT’s International Monitoring System (IMS) are also located on Kazakhstani territory, and help to ensure that no nuclear test goes undetected, thus deterring would-be testers.

Thanks to the help of countries such as Kazakhstan, the world is a little bit safer from the devastating threat posed by nuclear weapons.

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