What is the nuclear test ban treaty and why has Russia revoked its ratification?


The Russian parliament has voted to revoke the country's ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Here is what we know:


The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, adopted in 1996, is the first international treaty adopted to ban all nuclear tests. It has 187 states which have signed, and 178 which have ratified, but has not entered into force yet because of the failure of eight states, upon whose ratification the entry into force of the treaty depends: China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the United States. Having revoked its ratification, Russia has returned to signatory status.


On 6 October, President Putin stated the rationale for this decision when he said that in regards to the CTBT he sees it fit to “mirror the manner of the United States,” which has signed but not ratified the treaty, and revoke Russia’s ratification. He added that “this is a question for the State Duma [lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia] deputies. In theory, this ratification could be revoked.”  


On 9 October, the Duma’s Committee on International Affairs was instructed to contact the Russian Foreign Ministry to look into the issue of withdrawing the ratification of the CTBT. According to the State Duma’s press service, the conclusions must be presented by 18 October, 2023. On 10 October, Russian media reported that the Foreign Ministry was drafting a bill for Russia to revoke Article 1 of the 2000 law through which Russia ratified the CTBT, while retaining Russia’s cooperation with the International Monitoring System and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization which verifies compliance with the accord.  The draft bill was first introduced to the Duma on 17 October, passing a unanimous vote on its first reading, by 412 to zero with no abstentions. This was followed by two unanimous votes on the second and third readings of the bill on 18 October and the upper house will now formally approve it to make it law. 


Russia weakening its commitment to the CTBT is senseless and irresponsible behaviour, and is  part of a pattern of Russia using nuclear weapons to intimidate opponents of its invasion of Ukraine. International treaties, including the CTBT and the TPNW, are critical to making sure nuclear testing that has harmed people’s health and spread lasting radioactive contamination is not resumed.


Russia’s action undermines the global norm against nuclear testing, which all states – except for North Korea – have upheld for a quarter of a century. The erosion of this norm is in no state’s interests.


Russia has a responsibility to re-ratify the treaty, and those outliers that have not yet signed or ratified the CTBT or TPNW need to get on board.