Are Nuclear Tests Banned? A Comprehensive Look

The Test Ban Treaty, signed in Moscow on August 5, 1963, was ratified by the United States Senate on September 24, 1963 and entered into force on October 10, 1963. This treaty prohibited the testing of nuclear weapons or any other nuclear explosion in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water. On July 25, 1963, after only 12 days of negotiations, the two nations agreed to ban tests in the atmosphere, in space and underwater. President Kennedy announced this agreement in a television speech the following day, emphasizing that a limited test ban was much safer for the United States than an unlimited nuclear arms race. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) bans all tests of nuclear explosions on Earth. For it to enter into force, it must be ratified by eight key countries and 44 members of the Conference on Disarmament who own nuclear reactors.

The CTBT and the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) are integral components of the nuclear control regime and provide the basis for possible nuclear disarmament. Signed by 71 nations, including those possessing nuclear weapons, the treaty banned all nuclear test explosions, including those carried out underground. This was a result of civil society and UN demands to end environment pollution by radioactive substances. The parties to the Treaty undertake not to conduct any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion in the atmosphere, under water or in outer space if it would cause radioactive waste outside the borders of the State conducting the explosion. On April 28th, CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo warned North Korea to refrain from conducting further nuclear tests, affirming the strength of the International Monitoring System in detecting such tests. A global ban on nuclear testing is necessary but insufficient in achieving nuclear disarmament.

Western countries were not convinced that existing technology for detecting nuclear explosions was adequate to monitor compliance. In 1996, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a draft treaty banning all nuclear weapon test explosions and all nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes. The resolution urges all States that have not yet signed or ratified the CTBT to do so immediately and maintain their moratoriums on nuclear weapons testing and nuclear explosions.

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