The Conference on Disarmament (CD) began its substantive negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty in January 1994 within the framework of an Ad Hoc Committee established for that purpose. Although the CD had long been involved with the issue of a test ban, only in 1982 did it establish a subsidiary body on the item. Disagreement over a mandate for that body blocked tangible progress for years.

After more than two years of intensive negotiations, the Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee, Ambassador Jaap Ramaker of the Netherlands, presented a final draft treaty to the CD in June 1996. An overwhelming majority of member states of the CD expressed their readiness to support the draft treaty. India, for its part, stated that it could not go along with a consensus on the draft text and its transmittal to the United Nations General Assembly. The main reasons for such a decision, as India pointed out, were related to its strong misgivings about the provision for the entry-into-force of the treaty, which it considered unprecedented in multilateral practice and running contrary to customary international law, and the failure of the treaty to include a commitment by the nuclear-weapon states to eliminate nuclear weapons within a time-bound framework.

As a result, Australia, on 22 August 1996, requested that the General Assembly resume the consideration of agenda item 65, entitled “Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty” as provided for in Resolution 50/65 of 12 December 1995. For that purpose, it also submitted the draft Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), identical to that negotiated in the CD, for adoption by the General Assembly.


The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 September 1996, bans all nuclear explosions in all environments, for military or civilian purposes. The Treaty was opened for signature in New York on 24 September 1996 when it was signed by 71 states, including five of the eight then nuclear-capable states. As of February 2012, 157 states have ratified the CTBT and another 25 states have signed but not ratified it. The treaty has, however, not entered into force as of May 2012.

In accordance with Article XIV of the treaty, it will enter into force 180 days after the 44 states listed in Annex 2 of the treaty have ratified it. These “Annex 2 states” are states that participated in the CTBT’s negotiations between 1994 and 1996 and possessed nuclear power reactors or research reactors at that time. As of 7 December 2011, eight Annex 2 states have not ratified the treaty: China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and the United States have signed but not ratified the Treaty; India, North Korea and Pakistan have not signed it. In 1998 India said it would only sign the treaty if the United States presented a schedule for eliminating its nuclear stockpile, a condition the United States rejected. As of early 2011, Indonesia has been signaling that it will soon ratify the treaty and following the US Senate’s ratification of New START, the Obama Administration has indicated that CTBT ratification will be next in line.


The treaty stipulates that 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.

Each state party undertakes, furthermore, to refrain from causing, encouraging or, in any way, participating in the carrying out of any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion.

The CTBT is intended to prohibit all nuclear weapon test explosions. It has achieved near universal adherence. However, Article XIV of the treaty requires ratification by 44 named states before the treaty can enter into force.

The CTBT remains a key piece of unfinished business of the nuclear age. As a growing number of governments and decision makers put forward ideas to move the world towards abolishing nuclear weapons, much can be learned from how the CTBT was fought for, opposed and finally negotiated between 1994 and 1996. The treaty’s necessity was underlined when the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea conducted a nuclear test explosion in 2006, but more than a decade of political and institutional obstacles have prevented the CTBT from entering into full legal effect.

Present Position

To date, over 2000 nuclear tests have been carried out at different locations all over the world. Arms control advocates had campaigned for the adoption of a treaty banning all nuclear explosions since the early 1950 s, when public concern was aroused as a result of radioactive fall-out from atmospheric nuclear tests and the escalating arms race. Over 50 nuclear explosions were registered between 16 July 1945, when the first nuclear explosive test was conducted by the United States at White Sands Missile Range near Alamogordo, New Mexico, and 31 December 1953.