On October 18, the Russian parliament approved a bill to withdraw ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). Earlier, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Russia will continue to observe the moratorium on nuclear testing even if it withdraws its ratification of the treaty, and will abandon it only if the U.S. resumes testing.
As military expert Pavel Luzin told The Insider, the withdrawal of ratification itself does not harbor any immediate ramifications, but it is bad for the international security system in general in terms of mutual trust and arms control.
“Essentially, it is a blow against the nuclear non-proliferation regime as a whole. Other countries can see it cracking at the seams, seeing as how Russia, one of its guarantors, violated its guarantees to Ukraine back in 2014, is friends with Iran and the DPRK, has suspended its participation in the New START Treaty, is withdrawing CTBT ratification, and constantly threatens other states with nuclear weapons through its state-funded propagandists and experts. What incentive do potential or actual violators have to comply with this regime in general? There is no such incentive.”
Pavel Podvig, a research associate at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research, told The Insider that after the withdrawal of ratification, Russia will still retain its status as a CTBT signatory with corresponding obligations.
“The countries that signed the treaty are taking part in the Preparatory Commission in Vienna. The Commission is building an international monitoring system that will verify compliance with the treaty once it enters into force. The monitoring system includes more than a hundred different stations, including seismic stations that detect radionuclides, infrasound, and so on. It's an extensive network. Russia also hosts a number of such stations on its territory. Furthermore, signatory countries contribute to the organization's budget. The U.S. participates in the Commission too, along with China and Israel. Only India, Pakistan, and North Korea have yet to sign the treaty.
There is also the so-called Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which Russia also signed and follows, as far as I can tell. Essentially, the Vienna Convention says that if you sign a contract, you are committing yourself not to do anything that would be contrary to the purposes of that contract. The moratorium on nuclear testing to which Russia adheres follows this commitment. Granted, a signature can also be withdrawn, and the Vienna Convention provides for this mechanism, but this has to be a separate step.”
Podvig sees the withdrawal of CTBT ratification as a political move.
“The Kremlin decided to draw attention to Russia's nuclear arsenal. The Russian leadership has a strong focus on ensuring parity with the United States. Thus, we can hear [State Duma Chairman Vyachslev] Volodin say: “See, the U.S. has not ratified the treaty for 23 years. We can't take it anymore.” How come we put up with it for 23 years? What's changed?
The current U.S. administration has stated the United States has no plans to resume testing. I think the U.S. is afraid that if they suddenly start testing, China will want to follow suit. Russia doesn't concern them as much.”
The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty is a multilateral international treaty aimed at banning nuclear weapon test explosions and any other nuclear explosions for civilian or military purposes. It was opened for signature in 1996.