What it is: An agreement by states not to carry out nuclear weapons tests.

What it means: From the early 1950s, during the Cold War and the nuclear arms race that went with it, people grew increasingly anxious about the radioactive fall-out from nuclear weapons tests, and there were calls for arms control. In 1963 (by which time there had been 528 atmospheric nuclear tests) a Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) was drawn up. This banned nuclear testing in space, in the earth's atmosphere, and under the sea. Any testing could now only be underground. Three of the five nuclear weapons states (the USA, the UK and their opponent in the Cold War, the USSR) signed the PTBT, but France and China did not. (All five nuclear states did sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968.) Though the administrations in all the nuclear states fully understood nuclear dangers, they were determined not to give up their powerful weapons. Each thought that nuclear weapons were a deterrent, which would stop anyone actually carrying out a nuclear attack. (They had been used twice, when the USA dropped atomic bombs on Japan in 1945.) Not surprisingly, the governments of other states, such as Israel, decided that they wanted to develop their own nuclear weapons for the same reason. More and more countries had now built nuclear reactors for making electricity, and there was always a risk that one or more would divert nuclear materials for bomb-making. By the year 2000, 44 countries had nuclear reactors supplying electricity for use in homes and industries. After the Cold War ended, people looked again at the problem of arms control, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was created. It took three years to draft it. The CTBT bans all nuclear explosions anywhere. In 1996 it was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and signed by 71 states (176 had signed by 2005), including 44 states with nuclear technology had ratified it (a way of publicly firming up their commitment). In 2005 although a total of 125 states had ratified the treaty, these did not include China, USA and 9 others of the 44 essential states, three of whom (India, North Korea and Pakistan) had not even signed it. The CTBT was still waiting to come into force. 

Think about it:
Back in 1954, India's prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru saw the risks created by nuclear weapons and their development, and urged that all nuclear tests should be stopped. In 1998, India and Pakistan (neighbours often in conflict with each other) both carried out underground nuclear tests. Neither had signed the CTBT. In 1999, the USA senate voted against ratification of the CTBT. All three - the USA, India and Pakistan - clearly had problems with giving up military nuclear power.  Why might that be? What arguments could be suggested to persuade them to think differently?

(2) Despite the reluctance of nuclear weapon states to give up the weapons (and also the chance to invent new kinds of nuclear devices, as the USA announced in 2002), most of the world opposes the use of nuclear power in war. Nuclear weapons are weapons of mass destruction, and WMD are illegal. If nobody was campaigning for the abolition of nuclear weapons, there might be cause to give up hope - but governments, NGOs, and citizens round the world have been calling for an end to nuclear arsenals and the military nuclear technology that supplies them. Think how you could take part in the campaign to protect the future of the world, its people and planet Earth itself. (This also means thinking about all the non-nuclear weapons that are used to murder and maim in the world's conflict zones. They keep alive the fatal idea that weapons of all kinds are the way to solve disputes.)

(3) On a smaller scale, think about the problem of possessing weapons. If one group has them, it can hardly expect other groups not to think they need them too. If the other groups get them, it's not surprising if the first group starts developing more powerful weapons, or that other groups try to match them. What's the best way to break that lethal spiral?

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