The Limited Test Ban Treaty

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The Limited Test Ban Treaty (1963) prohibits all but underground nuclear weapons tests.It has been joined by most countries of the world.

Support for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons tests ballooned in 1954 during the Cold War, when radioactive fallout from U.S. nuclear tests above the South Pacific fell on a Japanese fishing boat, the Lucky Dragon, after it entered a zone that ships had been asked to avoid during testing. The fallout was thought to have caused the death of one fisherman and sickness for several others. India's Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru spoke for many when he called for a ban on all further testing.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev authorized talks that came close to producing a treaty banning tests and did produce a temporary suspension of testing from 1958 to 1961. But the United States insisted on on‐site inspections to verify that the Soviet Union was not testing, and the Soviet Union rejected such inspections as a form of espionage. Finally, after coming close to a nuclear exchange in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, Khrushchev and President John F. Kennedy compromised in 1963 on a treaty that banned all but underground tests. Onsite inspections were most important for these tests; by not including underground tests in the treaty, the inspection issue went away. The treaty did not deal with the nuclear missiles of the Cuban crisis but it symbolized the two leaders' desire to reduce tensions through negotiations to limit nuclear weapons.

Though the treaty was opposed by some responsible for designing nuclear weapons, it was welcomed around the world. Efforts since 1963 to extend its ban to underground tests produced 1996 agreement on a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. India, whose prime minister first called for an end to testing, refused to sign the treaty and set off underground nuclear weapon tests in May of 1998. Pakistan followed suit. The condemnation of both countries that followed was world‐wide; economic sanctions were imposed by the United States and a few others. While most countries of the world had signed the treaty, many delayed their ratification. India and Pakistan indicated they would sign the new treaty if sanctions were lifted and other demands were met. But, by the end of 1998, they had not signed and the new treaty could not go into effect without them or without several other countries that had signed but not ratified, including China, Russia, and the United States.
[See also Arms Control and Disarmament: Nuclear Arms Race; Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Treaty on the.]


Glenn T. Seaborg with and Benjamin Loeb , Kennedy, Krushchev and the Test Ban, 1981.
George Bunn , Arms Control by Committee: Managing Negotiations with the Russians, chaps. 2 and 3, 1992.
Rebecca Johnson , A Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: Signed but not Sealed, Acronym No. 10, 1997.

George Bunn