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Definition: Test Ban Treaty from Philip's Encyclopedia

(1963) Agreement signed in Moscow by the Soviet Union, the USA, and Britain to cease most tests of nuclear weapons. Nearly 100 other states eventually signed the treaty, although France and China continued to conduct tests in the atmosphere and underwater.

From Encyclopedia of United States National Security

International agreement that aims to ban all types of nuclear explosions under any conditions in any location. The treaty was opened for signing on September 24, 1996, and by 2005 had been signed by a total of 71 nations.

Signatories to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) agree not to undertake any type of nuclear weapons test explosion or any other type of nuclear explosion, as well as to prohibit such explosions from taking place on any territory under their jurisdiction. Moreover, signing parties agree to refrain from causing, encouraging, provoking, or in any way taking part in or having anything to do with any type of nuclear testing involving an explosion for any purpose, including weapons development.

The CTBT was preceded by the 1963 Partial Test-Ban Treaty, which prohibited nuclear tests in the atmosphere, under water, and in outer space. However, neither China nor France, both of whom possessed nuclear weapons, signed the Partial Test-Ban Treaty. By contrast, both joined the three other nuclear powers (the United States, Great Britain, and Russia) in signing the CTBT.

The desire to ban nuclear weapons was expressed from the start of the arms race in the late 1940s and early 1950s. This reflected fears concerning not only nuclear war but also the potential environmental damage caused by repeated nuclear tests. The issue was first raised by Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1954, but mutual U.S.-Soviet paranoia during the Cold War made the problem of verification insurmountable.

The policy of the United States with regard to nuclear warfare in the 1950s was massive retaliation, also known as Nuclear Utilization Theory (NUT). This meant the United States was prepared to fight a nuclear war and considered the use of nuclear weapons a legitimate response to threats to national security. The primary site for nuclear testing by the United States at this time was the Marshall Islands. These South Pacific islands were the location of 67 U.S. atmospheric nuclear tests between 1946 and 1958.

It was only in the 1960s that the policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD) became the centerpiece of U.S. nuclear policy. MAD was based upon the recognition that both the United States and the Soviet Union already possessed more than enough weapons to destroy one another many times over. During this time, the question of proliferation attracted international attention, resulting in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968. However, weapons development continued, and the issue of testing remained unresolved.

During the 1970s, the United States and the Soviet Union held repeated talks meant to defuse the arms race by lowering the number of nuclear weapons possessed by both sides. These included Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START), the Antiballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty (SORT), and others. Agreements such as the Hotline Agreements and Treaty at Sea Agreements were intended to reduce the risk of accidental nuclear war by improving emergency communication on both sides.

An important precursor to the CTBT was the Threshold Test-Ban Treaty, also known as the Treaty on the Limitation of Underground Nuclear Weapon Tests, which opened for signing in July 1974. The treaty established a threshold of 150 kilotons for nuclear test explosions. Neither the United States nor the Soviet Union signed the treaty immediately, but in 1976 both announced their intentions to abide by it. Additional provisions and protocols were added, and the agreement entered into force in December 1990.

Even so, problems of mistrust and verification remain, even after the Cold War. In 1997, the United States accused Russia of having violated the treaty based upon seismographic data received from a location near a Russian test site. The earth tremors, however, turned out to have been the result of a small earthquake. The United States Senate rejected the CTBT in 1999, adding it to the list of nuclear powers that have refused to sign: India, Pakistan, and North Korea. China has signed the CTBT but has yet to ratify it. The nonparticipation of so many nuclear states seriously compromises the effectiveness of the CTBT.

    See also
  • Arms Control; Disarmament; International Atomic Energy Agency; Non- and Counterproliferation; North Korea Crises (1994–); Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT); Nuclear Proliferation; Treaties

Further Reading
  • Oliver, Kendrick. Kennedy, Macmillan, and the Nuclear Test-Ban Debate, 1961-63. New York: St. Martin’s, 1997.
  • Renaker, John. Dr. Strangelove and the Hideous Epoch: Deterrence in the Nuclear Age. Claremont, CA: Regina Books, 2000.
  • Copyright © 2006 by Sage Publications, Inc.

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