In 1994 the Conference on Disarmament initiated the multilateral negotiation of a comprehensive nuclear-test ban, which was to contribute to the prevention of proliferation in all its aspects, to the process of nuclear disarmament and therefore to the enhancement of international peace and security. Following this was a another special meeting of the states parties to the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water, to review developments and assess the situation regarding a comprehensive test ban and to examine the feasibility of resuming the work of the Amendment Conference.
Desiring to reduce, progressively and systematically, the threat posed by nuclear weapons, the UN General Assembly in resolution 49/75 E of 1994 identified general areas for step-by-step reduction of the nuclear threat:
Area A, steps to counter, included: the acquisition and processing of special fissionable material for nuclear-weapon purposes, the manufacture and testing of nuclear warheads and their delivery vehicles, and the assembly and deployment of nuclear-weapon systems.
Area B, steps to actuate, included: the withdrawal from deployment and disassembly of nuclear-weapon systems, the secure storage and dismantlement of nuclear warheads and their delivery vehicles, and the elimination of special fissionable materials for nuclear-weapon purposes.
Area C, steps to prepare, under international auspices, included: an inventory of the nuclear arsenals, a reorientation of those facilities necessary to the task of implementing measures relating to Area B and the closure or conversion to peaceful purposes of all other such facilities in furtherance of measures relating to Area A.
The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was signed in New York in 1996. It bans all underground nuclear tests, as well as confirming bans on atmospheric and other nuclear tests that were outlawed in earlier accords. More than 150 countries have signed up to the CTBT. For the treaty to come into effect, the 44 nations that have the capacity to build nuclear devices are all required to ratify it. By October 1999, 26 had done so, including UK and France (two of the five declared nuclear weapons states). 18 had not (including Israel and Iran), and three of these – India, Pakistan and North Korea – have refused even to sign. Significantly the other three declared nuclear weapon states – USA, Russia and China – have not ratified. In 1999, the USA Senate voted against ratification and China was still conducting underground tests.
Nuclear weapons pose a continued threat to humanity. The combined destructive force of the Earth's nuclear weapons have the potential to destroy life on the planet several times over. Vast amounts of resources were allocated to the Cold War nuclear arms race, and vast amounts of resources will be needed again to effectively dismantle and dispose of nuclear weapons and nuclear wastes. Resources that could have been, and will not be spend, on the increasing urgency of sustainable development. The end of the Cold War has presented the opportunity to reduce our nuclear weapons legacy, and to prevent any further proliferation of nuclear weapons technology and arms. An effective nuclear weapons testing ban is therefore necessary. The recent decision by the French government to resume nuclear testing is thus widely regarded as highly untimely, irresponsible, and counter productive.
The positive momentum gained towards banning nuclear testing is periodically undermined by pressures on governments from factions interested in improving the quality of their weapons. This was the case in June 1995 when the French government announced its intention to resume nuclear testing in the Pacific in the near future, arguing that experts claimed that such tests had no proven negative environmental effects.