The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, adopted in 1996 and known as the CTBT, bans all nuclear explosions anywhere in the world, although it has never fully entered into force. It was signed by both the Russian and U.S. presidents but was never ratified by the U.S. Putin said that Moscow could consider rescinding its 2000 decision to ratify the bill.

Apparently Russia in good faith agreed, signed and ratified the treaty. The U.S. on the other hand apparently has signed but not ratified the treaty. So by international law what happens in this case? Why after 23 years is a mystery but that would be a question for another day. My information came from Reuters or the Associated Press in case anyone is interested where I get my information.


3 Answers 3


It depends on the treaty.

For bilateral treaties, the treaty would not come into effect until both parties had ratified it; either immediately, or after some time as specified by the treaty.

For multilateral treaties they can come into effect immediately for all parties that have ratified the treaty -- for example a military alliance might come into effect right away for each country as they ratify. Or there might be a clause in the treaty that states the conditions under which it comes into effect. It might state "This treaty will come into effect when 50% of the signing states have ratified it" or something similar.

Finally a country may abide by the terms of a treaty that it has signed without formal ratification. Treaties are only pieces of paper, and ratification doesn't magically make the promises in a treaty unbreakable, nor does a failure to ratify mean that a country does not intend to honour the treaty. They can get judged on their actions as much as their words.

A treaty can contain clauses on how it is to be applied provisionally (or retrospectivly) prior to ratification.


I suspect this is due to the narrow way in which some press presented the matter, but regarding the CTBT in particular: it is a multilateral treaty that needs quite a few ratifications for [formal] entry into force. The list of countries that must ratify for that to happen is in Annex 2 of CTBT. As Wikipedia mentions, the US is hardly the only Annex 2 signatory that hasn't ratified:

As of 2016, eight Annex 2 states have not ratified the treaty: China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and the United States have signed but not ratified the Treaty.

Also, Annex 2 includes some states that haven't even signed, according to Wikipedia. Those would be India and Pakistan, at least.

So the treaty is technically not in force. OTOH, the treaty did establish that prior to ratification there would be a Preparatory Commission, which seems to have quite a bit of activity (like setting up a sensor network). Joining said commission only requires a country to be a signatory. I can't tell you exactly how Russia just withdrawing ratification would impact that. I've not been able to find a good discussion of that insofar. I suspect it matters more what Russia would do exactly, in practice, after that, which is probably not known at this time. But the press reports I've seen insofar (e.g.) only mention a Russian plan to unratify but not also unsign the treaty. So, they'd still be members in the Commission, AFAICT. (Some Western observers have thus dismissed the Russian move as a "gimmick".)

Speaking of provisional application, which according to the Vienna convention may be enacted even by agreements outside the treaty proper, the Arm Control Association notes that

In 2016, Russia joined the United States, China, and other members of the UN Security Council in support of Resolution 2310, which reaffirms support for the CTBT, and Russia joined a statement from its permanent five members pledging they would not take any action that would “defeat the object or purpose of the treaty.”

Resolution 2310 also took note of a Sept. 15, 2016, joint statement by the five permanent Security Council members recognizing that “a nuclear-weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion would defeat the object and purpose of the CTBT.” By endorsing this language, the resolution affirmed the view of these five states that even before the treaty enters into force, all CTBT signatories have an existing obligation not to conduct nuclear test explosions.

TBH, I'm not sure that constitutes a legal instrument that enacts provisional application in some sense ("they would not take any action that would “defeat the object or purpose of the treaty”") or if it's [more] dismissible as a mere political declaration.


If they don't ratify it, it doesn't apply.

The decision makers of the country are rarely available for meetings with foreign diplomats. Remember, it's a republic, so they would all have to be present and agree on the terms, not just one or two of them. Instead treaties are signed by diplomats, who do not have the authority to decide what the country will do.

Instead the diplomats can promise to convince their decision makers to agree to the treaty. That is what signing is, a pinky promise. Of course usually diplomats aren't just acting on their own volition, they communicate with the decision makers to get a good idea of what treaties and terms they'd be okay with and not.

  • @gomennathan...thank you good point by the way.:)
    – Sedumjoy
    Oct 13, 2023 at 14:30

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