Saturday, July 26, 2014



Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) President John F. Kennedy announced on July 26, 1963, fifty-one years ago today, that an agreement had been reached in Moscow on a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty*.

The President, speaking to an evening national television audience, said:

"Yesterday a shaft of light cut into the darkness.  Negotiations were concluded in Moscow on a treaty that will ban all nuclear tests in the air, outer space and under water."

The President concluded with these words:

"Let us...step back from the shadows of war and seek out the way of peace.  And if that journey is a thousand miles, let history record, that we, in this land, at this time, took the first step."

JFK Announces Test Ban Agreement
July 26, 1963
JFK Library Photo

According to the JFK Library, work toward a nuclear test ban treaty began in May 1955 when the United Nations Disarmament Committee brought together Canada, France, UK, US, and USSR for discussions.

As a United States Senator, John F. Kennedy supported a nuclear test ban beginning in 1956.

After a moratorium on testing, the Soviet Union announced resumption and conducted 31 nuclear tests over the next 90 day period including the explosion of a 58 megaton hydrogen bomb, 4000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb.

Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept 25, 1961, President Kennedy said...

"The weapons of war must be abolished, before they abolish us."

JFK, who reluctantly approved resumption of atomic testing by the United States on April 25, 1962, was able to announce in his speech at American University on June 10, 1963 that a new round of negotiations with the Soviets had begun in Moscow.

JFK said...

"If we cannot end our least we can help make the world safe...for diversity."

The biggest snag in negotiations on limiting nuclear testing going back to 1955 was the reluctance of the Soviet Union to approve inspections to verify underground nuclear tests.

The American negotiation team in Moscow, led by Averell Harriman**, carefully avoided proposing a limitation on underground testing, thus removing previous objections by the USSR.

Although the treaty was "limited" JFK considered it his greatest achievement as President.  It has been ratified by most nations. 

*The Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed in Moscow on Aug 5, 1963, ratified by the US Senate on Sept 24, 1963, signed by JFK on Oct 7, 1963 and went into effect on Oct 10, 1963. It banned the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, outer space and under water.  

**W. Averell Harriman (1891-1986) was born in New York City.  He established a successful Wall Street banking business and became chairman of the Commerce Dept's Business Council. WAH served as an envoy for FDR in Europe during WWII and later as US ambassador to the USSR and Britain.  


"Nuclear Test Ban Treaty," John F. Kennedy Library and Museum,

JFK Signs Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
The White House, Treaty Room
October 7, 1963
Photo by Robert Knudsen
JFK Library Image