Background

The 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly declared 29 August the International Day against Nuclear Tests through the unanimous adoption of its resolution 64/35 on 2 December 2009. The Preamble of the resolution emphasizes that "every effort should be made to end nuclear tests in order to avert devastating and harmful effects on the lives and health of people" and that "the end of nuclear tests is one of the key means of achieving the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.”

The main mechanism for eradicating nuclear weapons testing is the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). It was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 September 1996. To date, 183 countries have signed the treaty and 166 have ratified it. For the Treaty to enter into Force, it must be ratified by several of the States with significant nuclear capabilities.

While the general consensus within the international community is that nuclear weapons tests pose life-threatening risks, there still exists to some degree a mindset of one-upmanship among States and a lingering suspicion of the possibility of clandestine nuclear weapons testing. There is also a concern that if nuclear weapons cannot be tested their reliability may be in jeopardy. However, over the years, science and technology have advanced, exponentially boosting the capacity to monitor and verify compliance mechanisms and nuclear weapons proliferation detection. These activities and tracking tools have been initiated and developed by the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) Preparatory Commission. Despite the stalled entry-into-force, an increasingly robust public advocacy, including activities and events undertaken on the International Day against Nuclear Tests, is exerting pressure on the powers-that-be to move forward on the ratification of the treaty with a view towards the ultimate eradication of nuclear weapons testing.  

There have been visible signs of progress on various fronts by Member States – acting on a multilateral level, bilaterally and through unilateral actions – scientific institutes, civil society and grass roots organizations. The latter two have been driving the momentum to pressure their own Governments and others on rethinking the validity of possessing nuclear weapons.

Nuclear disarmament, which the former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described as a “global public good of the highest order” holds the key to peace and security. The International Day against Nuclear Tests speaks to this important concept. Indeed, the significance of “global public good’ is apparent while reflecting on the threat of nuclear tests and nuclear weapons, and in recent years, the threat of nuclear terrorism. Several international commissions, as well as countless General Assembly resolutions, have endorsed this view, while underscoring the horrific effects of any such use—for humanity, for the world’s economies, and for our natural environment.

One of the most critical contributions to current thinking was provided by the Final Document of the 2010 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) which expressed deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and reaffirmed the need for all States at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law.

The Preparatory Commission of the CTBTO and its 166 ratifying States vigorously continue to push for the Treaty’s entry into force. The CTBTO’s unique monitoring system, already encompassing nearly 90 per cent of States, provides confidence that no nuclear explosion will escape detection.

However, nothing can play as crucial a role in avoiding a nuclear war or nuclear terrorist threat as the total elimination of nuclear weapons. Bringing an irreversible end to nuclear explosions will prevent the further development of nuclear weapons. Various activities to commemorate International Day against Nuclear Tests, as well as efforts throughout the year by nations and civil society build the momentum towards a safe and secure world.