Sunday, July 26, 2015



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

The President, speaking to a 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."

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.

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

According to the National Security Archive, "pressure for testing on both sides of the Cold War line ended the moratorium and shaped the Limited Test Ban Treaty."

JFK, who reluctantly approved resumption of atomic testing by the United States on April 25, 1962, announced at American University on June 10, 1963 the resumption of negotiations.

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 had been the reluctance of the USSR 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.

The National Security Archive argues that while the limited treaty "eased global anxiety over fallout from nuclear tests and suggested the possibility of a new era in U.S.-Soviet relations," it signified  "a deeper failure" to curb proliferation of nuclear weapons and to provide a "check on U.S.-Soviet arms competition."

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,

"The Making of the Limited Test Ban Treaty, 1958-1963," William Burr and Hector L. Montford, editors, August 8, 2003, The National Security Archive,

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