Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water

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Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water

(Limited Test Ban Treaty)


By: Governments of the United States of America, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

Date: August 5, 1963

Source: "Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space, and Under Water (Limited Test Ban Treaty)." August 5, 1963. Available online at 〈〉 (accessed February 20, 2006).

About the Author: The Governments of the United States of America, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics were the original parties to the Limited Test Ban Treaty.


World War II (1938–1941) saw the first use of the atomic bomb when the United States dropped two bombs over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The devastation was such that even at the turn of the twenty-first century, the survivors of the atomic bombing in Japan and their descendents suffer from long-term consequences of exposure to radioactivity.

At the end of the war, the United States and other nations, including China, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and Great Britain, began an era of atomic weapons testing. This involved exploding atomic bombs in the open environment. The United States conducted nearly 193 tests between 1945 and 1962 in the open atmosphere, while the USSR conducted nearly 142 such open-environment tests. Subsequently, throughout the world, there was increased concern over the frequency and nature of these tests, and many scientists and citizens feared that the world faced an unstoppable arms race that could end in the total destruction of the planet's ecosystem and its inhabitants.

At the height of the Cold War in 1962, the Cuban missile crisis accelerated the debate of a nuclear arms embargo, as U.S. naval ships blocked a convoy of Soviet ships delivering intermediate-range nuclear ballistic missiles to Cuba. The events that followed nearly brought the United States and the USSR to the brink of war.

In response to the general feeling of insecurity and the fear of total nuclear destruction of the world in a future war, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (NTBT) was formed on August 5, 1963, and took effect on October 10, 1963. The NTBT (also known as the Limited Test Ban Treaty) was a result of substantial arms control efforts taken by both the United States as well as the USSR. This treaty banned the testing of nuclear weapons over the ground, in air, and in water by member countries. However, the treaty did not ban nuclear testing underground.

The treaty also banned tests that could cause radioactive fallout to settle beyond the territorial limits of the country conducting the tests. Therefore, it set certain territorial limits for radioactive tests and banned countries from conducting those tests that affected regions beyond the specified territory limits. The treaty proclaimed its principal aim as the speedy end to the arms race and to stamp out incentives for nuclear weapons production and testing. The treaty also declared itself to be of unlimited duration. The ultimate aim of this treaty was to prevent nuclear testing aboveground in the future.


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The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty did not stop nuclear weapons testing completely. It simply moved the testing underground. Kennedy's hope for a more comprehensive test ban treaty was not realized, and subsequently, over one thousand nuclear tests of various yields have reportedly been conducted worldwide.

The NTBT did pave the way for future similar treaties to be formed. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that prevents the spread of nuclear weapons and nuclear technology was ratified in 1975. Signed by more than 180 countries, it remains the most acceptable arms reduction treaty signed between countries. Other treaties include the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) signed in 1972, and the strategic arms reduction treaties START-I and START-II, which pursued the reduction in the number of warheads owned by the USSR and the United States.

However, there were still serious concerns around the world about the need for a comprehensive treaty that banned nuclear testing completely. In 1991, signatory countries of the NTBT held a conference to discuss the possibility of expanding the reach of the NTBT to ban all nuclear weapon tests. Consequently, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was formulated in September 1996 and was signed by seventy-one countries. However, as of 2006, this treaty has yet to be signed by all countries, and thus has not come into force. If this happens, it could mean an end to nuclear testing globally.

There has been continuous public apprehension since the beginning of the era of atomic testing about potential exposure to radiation. A U.S. government report released in 1997 revealed that the fallout of radioactive iodine I-131 from the Nevada nuclear tests could have spread all across the United States, yielding devastating repercussions. The Institute for Environmental Energy and Research (IEER), in a press release in February 2002, reported that fallout from worldwide open-atmospheric atomic bomb testing contributed to cancer in about 80,000 people in the United States by the year 2000.

The five nuclear weapons states—the United States, Russia (formerly the USSR), the United Kingdom, France, and the People's Republic of China—collectively possess approximately 20,000 nuclear weapons. There are estimates of at least 10,000 more warheads in possession by other countries, such as India, Pakistan, and Israel. North Korea has also claimed to possess nuclear weapons, although this claim has not been verified by evidence of nuclear testing.


Web sites

CTBTO Preparatory Commission. 〈〉 (accessed February 20, 2006). "Nuclear Weapons." 〈〉 (accessed February 20, 2006).

Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. "About Eighty Thousand Cancers in the United States, More Than 15,000 of Them Fatal, Attributable to Fallout from Worldwide Atmospheric Nuclear Testing." 〈〉 (accessed February 20, 2006).

National Center for Environmental Health. "Report on the Feasibility of a Study of the Health Consequences to the American Population from Nuclear Weapons Tests Conducted by the United States and Other Nations." 〈〉 (accessed February 20, 2006).


Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water