Uncertainty As Russia Exits Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

At the start of November, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill that revokes Russia’s ratification of a nuclear test ban. The nuclear test ban, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1996 (C.T.B.T.), is meant to stop the testing of nuclear weapons around the world. Given the ongoing war in Ukraine and other geopolitical events, such as those in Israel-occupied Palestine, the timing has the world wondering what Russia’s goals are. Is the de-ratification intended to intimidate the West out of aiding Ukraine? Whether or not this is the case, it raises questions regarding Russia’s motivations in withdrawing its initial ratification of the C.T.B.T.

In taking this step, which goes into immediate effect, Russian diplomats state that the move “is merely designed to bring Russia into line with the United States, which signed but never ratified the treaty. Russia will not resume nuclear testing unless Washington does,” according to Reuters.

The decision is “very disappointing and deeply regrettable,” said Robert Floyd, head of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban-Treaty Organization. A statement from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken adds that Russia’s move “represents a significant step in the wrong direction, taking us further from, not closer to, entry into force [of the treaty].”

The Associated Press reports that Putin stated, while “some [Russian] experts argue for the necessity of conducting nuclear tests … he [Putin himself] had not formed an opinion on the issue.”

With the exception of North Korea, no country has done tests with nuclear explosions since 1992. However, although withdrawing the ratification is concerning, several experts cited in a National Public Radio piece agree that there is uncertainty as to whether or not Russia is planning to test nuclear weapons. The rapidly shifting geopolitical environments involving Russia and the United States factor in additional uncertainty: China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, Iran, and Egypt are other countries that have not ratified the treaty. The United States and Russia have different relationships with these countries, some which are friendly, and others that are more confrontational. What the other countries do, such as China and Iran, may also play a role into Russia’s future plans.

A scenario involving nuclear tests from Russia, China, and Iran will raise alerts in the Western world, but the same would be true if the United States were to resume nuclear tests. Although the de-ratification will not alleviate the tense relationship Russia has with many Western countries, and assumptions that the move will lead to Russia conducting nuclear tests are not unfounded, we must proceed with caution. An effective response could be a meeting between the countries that were at the initial 1996 creation of the C.T.B.T. to outline steps to co-operatively enforce the treaty, instead of the current approach. Reassurances that the parties involved will not conduct nuclear tests will likely yield a more effective plan to not only persuade countries to sign on to the treaty, but to enforce it.