The Green Cross Environmental Security and Sustainability Programme organized and hosted a discussion on the 50th anniversary of the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT) in Washington DC on 12 September, 2013. Co-hosts were the Embassy of Kazakhstan and the Arms Control Association, and the event took place at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Concluded by Presidents John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev only months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the LTBT was an historic first step toward reining in the U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms race. The treaty, which banned nuclear test explosions above ground, underwater, and in space, led to the end of the most visible and strongly opposed aspects of the Cold War arms race: hundreds of open-air nuclear explosions that spewed dangerous levels of radioactive contamination far beyond the test sites of the nuclear powers.
Nuclear weapons testing continued after the signing and ratification in September, 1963 of the LTBT, but all Soviet and US tests thereafter took place underground. By 1990, the Soviet Union unilaterally stopped all nuclear weapons testing, including underground testing, and was followed in the next two years by the United Kingdom (1991) and the United States (1992). France and China stopped testing in 1996, and both India and Pakistan in 1998. he only country to test a nuclear explosive device in the last 15 years has been North Korea who tested three times in 2006, 2009, and 2013. The total number of nuclear weapons tests since the 1945 Trinity test of the United States is estimated at 2,045.
The panel discussion on the Limited Test Ban Treaty was introduced by Ambassador Kairat Umarov, the Kazakh Ambassador to the United States, who underlined the importance of the 1989 Nevada-Semipalatinsk Movement against nuclear testing to the current de facto testing moratorium of the last two decades.
Dr. Paul F. Walker, Green Cross Director of Environmental Security and Sustainability, pointed out that the political challenges for US Senate ratification of the LTBT in 1963 very much reflect the current hurdles today for Senate ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
The panel included Thomas Putnam, Director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum; Ambassador James Goodby, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and former LTBT negotiator; and Dr. Timothy Naftali, former Director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum and author of several books on President Kennedy.
A second panel discussion was held on the 1996 CTBT which has not yet entered into force. This treaty, voted on September 10, 1996 by 158 nations in the United Nations General Assembly, bans all nuclear testing including underground tests. It has since been ratified by 157 countries and signed by 189 countries, but will not come into force until the 44 nuclear-capable countries sign and ratify it. Of these 44, eight still remain outside the treaty – China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States. The US Senate rejected ratification in 1999 by a vote of 51-48, but US President Barack Obama has made CTBT ratification one of his major arms control goals.
The second panel was chaired by Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association, and included Karipbek Kuyukov, an artist and victim of radioactive fallout from the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, and also Kazakhstan’s Ambassador for the ATOM (Abolish Testing Our Mission) Project; Ambassador-at-Large Roman Vassilenko of Kazakhstan; Dr. Linton Brooks, member of the Committee on “Technical Issues Related to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty,” National Academy of Sciences; and Anita Friedt, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nuclear and Strategic Policy, U.S. Department of State.