Context: Recently, the United States State Department raised concerns that China might be conducting nuclear tests with low yields at its Lop Nur test site, in violation of its Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) undertakings.

More on news:

  • The U.S. report named “Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments (Compliance Report)” also claims that Russia has conducted nuclear weapons experiments that produced a nuclear yield and were inconsistent with ‘zero yield’ understanding underlying the CTBT.
  • Russia and China have rejected the U.S. claims.

Significance: With growing rivalry among major powers the report may start a new nuclear arms race which would also mark the demise of the Comprehensive Test ban Treaty (CTBT) that came into being in 1996 but has failed to enter into force even after a quarter century.

  • The key change from the 1990s is that the U.S.’s unipolar moment and it now identifies Russia and China as ‘rivals’.

Timeline of Nuclear Disarmament efforts

  • The United Nations General Assembly’s first ever resolution – adopted on 24 January 1946 – set forth the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons and other weapons “adaptable to mass destruction.”
  • The Cold War rivalry was already visible when the nuclear arms race began in the 1950s. 
  • At its first Special Session on Disarmament in 1978, the General Assembly declared “general and complete disarmament” the international community’s “ultimate objective,” and proclaimed nuclear disarmament its “highest priority.”
  • The Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) was signed by the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom in August 1963, which banned underwater and atmospheric tests but this only encouraged the underground testing. 
  • The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which entered into force in March 1970, inhibited the spread of nuclear weapons.
  • The CTBT negotiations began in Geneva in 1994. The Cold War had ended and the nuclear arms race was over. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the USSR, had broken up and its principal testing site, Semipalatinsk, was in Kazakhstan (Russia still had access to Novaya Zemlya near the Arctic circle). 
  • Eventually, the U.S. came up with the idea of defining the “comprehensive test ban” as a “zero yield” test ban that would prohibit supercritical hydro-nuclear tests but not sub-critical hydrodynamic nuclear tests.
  • In 1996, the CTBT was adopted by a majority vote and opened for signature.
  • India bitterly opposed Article 14 of CTBT which states that the treaty will not enter into force unless all countries with significant nuclear facilities listed in a special annex (the list of Annex 2 countries’) sign and ratify. 
  • Failure of CTBT: Of the 44 listed countries, to date only 36 have ratified the treaty. China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and the U.S. have signed but not ratified. 
    • Eight of the 44 Annex 2 countries have yet to do so: the United States, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, Iran, Egypt and North Korea.
    • Accordingly, the CTBT prohibits all parties from carrying out “any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion”; these terms are neither defined nor elaborated.

Concerns: New rivalries have already emerged. Resumption of nuclear testing may signal the demise of the ill-fated CTBT, marking the beginnings of a new nuclear arms race.

  • USA’s nuclear plan: The Trump administration has embarked on a 30-year American nuclear arsenal modernisation plan with a price tag of $1.2 trillion, which could go up over the years. 
  • Technological race in missile defence: Russia is exploring hypersonic delivery systems and theatre systems while China has embarked on a modernisation programme to enhance the survivability of its arsenal which is considerably smaller. In addition, both countries are also investing heavily in offensive cyber capabilities.
  • The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) limits U.S. and Russian arsenals but will expire in 2021 and U.S. President Donald Trump has already indicated that he does not plan to extend it. 
  • The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which banned the United States and Russia from fielding land-based missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, is no more. 
  • Tensions with China are already high with trade and technology disputes, militarisation in the South China Sea and most recently, with the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

India & CTBT

  • India demands a series of reciprocal activities” from the P-5 nations: namely to refrain from conducting future tests under the guise of safety purposes, and to preclude all horizontal and vertical proliferation.
  • India recognises the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament‟-(CD) as the single multilateral disarmament negotiation forum.
  • India protested that the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, professes unequal obligations between the nuclear-haves and have-nots, but it also did not mandate the original Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) to adopt equal obligations towards universal nuclear disarmament.

About CTBT: 

  • The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) is the Treaty banning all nuclear explosions – everywhere, by everyone. 
    • The Treaty was negotiated at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. It opened for signature on 24 September 1996.
    • It is a multilateral treaty that bans all nuclear explosions, for both civilian and military purposes, in all environments. 
  • According to CTBT each State Party undertakes not to carry out any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion, and to prohibit and prevent any such nuclear explosion at any place under its jurisdiction or control.
  • The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) runs an elaborate verification system built around a network of over 325 seismic, radionuclide, infrasound and hydroacoustic (underwater) monitoring stations.

About NPT

  • It is the only legally binding nuclear disarmament treaty.
  • Its 190 (191 with North Korea*) states-parties are classified in two categories: nuclear-weapon states (NWS)—consisting of the United States, Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom—and non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS)
  • Under the treaty, the five NWS commit to pursue general and complete disarmament, while the NNWS agree to forgo developing or acquiring nuclear weapons.
  • Currently only five countries have not signed NPT which are, India, Pakistan, Israel, South Sudan and North Korea.


  • START I (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) was a bilateral treaty between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) on the reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms. 
  • The treaty was signed on 31 July 1991 and entered into force on 5 December 1994. 
  • The treaty barred its signatories from deploying more than 6,000 nuclear warheads atop a total of 1,600 inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and bombers.
  • New START treaty: New START replaced the Treaty of Moscow (SORT).  Under terms of the treaty, the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers will be reduced by half. 
    • It was signed on 8 April 2010 in Prague,and after ratification entered into force on 5 February 2011.
    • This treaty is formally known as Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms.