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In the early 1960s, U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev each expressed deep concern about the strength of their respective nations’ [ nuclear arms forces]. This concern led them to complete the first arms control agreement of the Cold War, the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963.
====Concerns about Nuclear Tests Grew====
This treaty did not have much practical effect on the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons, but it established an important precedent for future arms control. Both superpowers entered the 1960s determined to build or maintain nuclear superiority. The Soviet Union had led the way in the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles after its launch of the first man-made satellite, Sputnik, in 1957. In just a few years, it had developed an arsenal of long and medium-range missiles that had raised alarm in Washington. President Kennedy had even campaigned for office on a claim that President Dwight Eisenhower had allowed the Soviet Union too far out-produce the United States in nuclear technology, creating a “missile gap.” However, soon after he took office, the Kennedy Administration determined that the balance of nuclear power remained in favor of the United States.
With both sides working to develop new and better nuclear technology over the course of the late 1950s and early 1960s, each engaged in a series of test explosions. These nuclear tests received worldwide scrutiny, not only for what they meant for the arms race but also for what they meant for human life. Like the United States, the Soviet Union , and the United Kingdom tested new nuclear technologies in the earth’s atmosphere, concerns emerged worldwide about the potential effects of radioactive fallout on the people exposed to it. This led to the formation of activist groups and public discussion of the issue.
====Negotiations for a Test Ban began in 1958====
In 1961, Kennedy established an Arms Control and Disarmament Agency within the U.S. Department of State, and the new organization reopened talks with the Soviet Union. That year, however, neither side was ready to make major concessions. As long as it remained difficult to verify that the other side was not engaging in clandestine testing, there was little incentive to form an agreement.
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====China nuclear program and the Cuban Missile Crisis convinced US, USSR, and Great Britain to restart talks====
Over the course of the next year, however, the situation changed dramatically for a number of reasons. Concerns about nuclear proliferation increased interest in the testing ban, as France exploded its first weapon in 1960 and the People’s Republic of China appeared close to successfully building its own atom bomb. In 1961, the Soviet Union also tested Tsar Bomba, the largest nuclear test in history. The Tsar Bomba test had a blast yield of 58 Megatons TNT and represented a significant escalation of the arms race.
The Limited Test Ban Treaty was signed by the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain in 1963, and it banned all nuclear tests in the atmosphere, in space, or underwater. Because it stopped the spread of radioactive nuclear material through atmospheric testing and set the precedent for a new wave of arms control agreements, the Treaty was hailed as a success. The Treaty was the first of several Cold War agreements on nuclear arms, including the Non-Proliferation Treaty that was signed in 1968 and the SALT I agreements of 1972. In 1974, the Threshold Test Ban Treaty returned to the question of nuclear testing by limiting underground testing of bombs with a yield greater than 150 kilotons.
* Republished from [| Office of the Historian, United States Department of State]
* Article:[| The Limited Test Ban Treaty, 1963]
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