Skip to content
Commentary | 27 August 2014

The Entry into Force of the CTBT: The Chinese Perspective

Image of Sha Zukang

Sha Zukang |Former United Nations Under Secretary General, Department of Economic and Social Affairs

Arms Control China CTBT International Law Nuclear Arms Control Nuclear Weapons United States Global Security

I am deeply attached to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. In early spring of 1995, I was appointed by then Chinese President Jiang Zemin as Ambassador for Disarmament Affairs in Geneva, and became the chief Chinese negotiator for the Treaty. With the joint efforts of other colleagues, the CTBT was finally concluded in 1996. Since then, 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’s entry into force? I think looking back and analyzing the history can help us to find the answer.

As is well known, the United States and the former Soviet Union are the major driving forces of the CTBT negotiation. In order to accelerate the process, the U.S. 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. If the U.S. had followed the logic of this path it should have become the most active country in terms of ratifying and promoting the Treaty. However, after the CTBT was concluded and the P5 committed themselves to the moratorium on nuclear tests, the U.S. 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 also acknowledge that the U.S. had conducted 1,032 nuclear tests, making up over half of the total number. In contrast, France had tested 210 times. The U.K. and China had tested 45 times respectively. Clearly, the real intention of the U.S. was and is to ensure the overwhelming superiority of its nuclear arsenal, both in quantity and quality.

Naturally, such actions by the U.S. 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 U.S. behaviour. I firmly believe that, were the U.S. 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 put it, 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 50 years since the first day that China acquired nuclear weapons, it has been advocating and promoting 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, 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 U.S. holds the key that opens the door for the entry into force of the Treaty. We should, as a priority, encourage the U.S. to open the door, instead of staying out of a legally binding instrument.

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

Second, joint international efforts should be made to push the U.S. 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 U.S. on the CTBT has an adverse effect on achieving common security. Clear and strong signals of support of early ratification should be sent to the U.S. The U.K. and France, as allies of the U.S., can play a special and important role here.

Third, China and the U.S. could engage in dialogue on CTBT issues. As long as the U.S. adopts a responsible stance, the CTBT can become an important part in promoting China-U.S. 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 U.S. will benefit from the moral and systemic effect brought by the entry into force of the Treaty.

All in all, it is up to the country that tied the knot to untie it. I hope U.S. politicians show some vision and make an effective political decision by working together with the international community to promote the early entry into force of the CTBT.


The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security challenges of our time.