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17:52 9 March 2017

OPINION: Nuclear test ban facing new challenge on Trump's watch

By Masakatsu Ota
TOKYO, March 9, Kyodo

Recent tweets and comments about nuclear weapons by U.S. President Donald Trump have created a series of shockwaves among his allies, including Japan, and potential foes, like North Korea.

It would be "a dream" if no country had nuclear weapons, "but if countries are going to have nukes, we're going to be the top of the pack," Trump told Reuters last month. This comment immediately deepened public concern in Japan, which 72 years ago became the sole nation to come under nuclear attack.

Also in a tweet at the beginning of this year, Trump derided the claim by North Korea's Kim Jong Un that preparations were in the final stage, saying: "It won't happen."

Besides these stakeholders, one of the keenest observers of the seemingly constant flow of messages from Trump is Lassina Zerbo, the executive secretary of the preparatory commission of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization.

"Withdrawing from a signature that has been endorsed by a decent and respected country like the United States would be a huge surprise and a huge blow," Zerbo said during a recent interview with this author.

The CTBTO is an organization for implementing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty or CTBT, once it is taken into force.

But, its future has become more uncertain since Trump came to the highest office of the U.S. government. The entry into force of the CTBT requires ratification by eight nations including the United States, China, India, Pakistan and Israel -- all of which possess nuclear reactors.

The U.S. Republican Party which Trump represents is widely known for its skepticism or outright negativity toward the CTBT. The party elites have suspected that other nuclear weapon states, like Russia and China, might cheat the treaty by circumventing the International Monitoring System provided by the CTBTO. And some of them do not want to exclude the future possibility of testing to maintain its status as a nuclear super-power.

IMS is a worldwide system that detects nuclear explosions by collecting seismic data and radioactive particles. So far, Zerbo's organization has established and certified more than 80 percent of 337 facilities to be operated all over the world.

Just recently, Republican congressional members introduced new legislation to restrict the U.S. budgetary contribution to the CTBTO, which heightened the concerns of the international disarmament community, which fears that Trump might withdraw from the CTBT in the future. The U.S. government signed the treaty in 1996.

But if this is the case, the United States will have to face an impasse on its own security interest.

"Today, the U.S. is the country that uses the most data from the IMS," Zerbo said. "The U.S. has a tradition for monitoring the globe, for their own national security, and then for the leadership role that they have been playing for so many years, in making sure that international peace and stability prevail," he continued.

During the first summit meeting with Trump in Washington last month, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had strategic success by reaffirming "the U.S. commitment to defend Japan through full range of U.S. military capabilities, both nuclear and conventional," according to their joint statement.

Japan has been a leading ally of the United States in Asia, as well as a leading advocate for nuclear disarmament based on its unique historical experience. Recently, the Japanese Foreign Ministry announced that it decided to make an extra financial contribution to the CTBTO by providing $2.43 million for strengthening a range of verification-related activities.

"They've come with a significant contribution," Zerbo said, praising the additional contribution made by Japan which has been the second largest contributor to annual budget of the CTBTO after the United States. This extra funding will be used to newly introduce a mobile radioactive detector in Japan which has real sense of threat caused by North Korea's nuclear development.

Taking advantage of its unique position on the world stage -- as a strong ally of the United States and a key advocate of nuclear disarmament -- Japan ought to do its utmost to alleviate the concerns of Zerbo and the international community.

(Masakatsu Ota is a senior/editorial writer of Kyodo News in Tokyo)

==Kyodo

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