JFK Signs Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
On October 7, 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with the Soviet Union and United Kingdom.
The dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan ended World War II but began the nuclear age. The U.S., Great Britain, and the Soviet Union continued to develop and test more powerful weapons.
In 1959, radioactive elements were found in milk and wheat in parts of the United States. Soon experts became aware of the health risks of radioactive fallout and began calling for testing regulations. The United Nations Disarmament Commission brought together representatives from the three countries involved in testing, plus France and Canada, to negotiate an end to testing.
The U.S. and USSR agreed to stop tests during the talks. In spite of their promise, the Soviets resumed their testing in 1961, including exploding the largest nuclear bomb in history. America began testing again the following April.
During the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the U.S. and Soviet Union came very close to nuclear war. President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev decided to reopen negotiations. As President Kennedy said, “It is insane that two men, sitting on opposite ends of the world, should be able to decide to bring an end to civilization.” Kennedy and Soviet Premier Khrushchev then discussed a nuclear test ban in a series of private letters.
Official negotiations began on July 15, 1963, and an agreement was reached 10 days later. Both nations agreed to the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which forbid testing in the atmosphere, in space, and underwater. Though it came short of banning nuclear weapons, it was a first step. Those signing the treaty agreed to work to end the nuclear weapons race with a final goal of complete disarmament.
The next day, President Kennedy delivered a 26-minute televised address on the agreement, which you can view here. On August 5, 1963, representatives from the United Kingdom, Soviet Union, and the US signed the final agreement.
Next the agreement went to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. It was eventually approved by the Senate on September 24 and the Soviet Union the next day. President Kennedy then signed the treaty on October 7 before it went into effect three days later on October 10, 1963. Click here to see a photo of President Kennedy signing the agreement.
Thirty-three years later, the UN adopted the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Prohibiting all nuclear tests, it was signed by 71 nations but never ratified by the U.S.
Click here to read the full text of the treaty.
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