Pope Francis’ call last week at the United Nations “to work for a world free of nuclear weapons” was a welcome reminder that, 70 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we still live in a dangerously weaponized era. A comprehensive and verifiable ban on nuclear testing is an essential element on the road toward achieving this nuclear-weapons-free world. Today, the testing ban is within reach, but it is at risk. This week at the U.N., nations met to determine the future of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). Their success or failure matters for the nuclear agenda and far beyond. Some supporters may be growing tired of the upward climb, but to give in to fatigue or frustration now would be a grave mistake.
Seventy years ago, the nuclear weapons era was triggered by the first nuclear test in the Alamogordo desert in the United States, and the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those blasts are forever imprinted on our collective consciousness, but they were not the last. Nuclear testing continued ferociously without concern for public health or the environment. Altogether, the yields of the nuclear tests conducted between 1945 and 1980 are equal to a Hiroshima-size bomb of 13 kilotons exploding every 11 hours for 35 years. A half-century passed before the world attempted to halt this process.
Opened for signature on Sept. 24, 1996, the CTBT is not only a unique global effort to put a stop to all nuclear explosions everywhere — by everyone, forever — but it’s also a meaningful mechanism for eliminating nuclear weapons altogether. Additionally, it is the only agreement to obligate nuclear-weapons possessors and nonpossessors alike to undertake concrete steps toward disarmament.