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Prospects for a comprehensive test ban

This is the title of a paper: by Lord Zuckerman in Nature, volume 361, pp 392 – 396, 4 February 1993.

Lord Zuckerman reviews the efforts that have been made to control nuclear arms from the partial test-ban treaty of 1963 (in the negotiation of which he played an important role) to the agreement between Bush and Yeltsin to drastically cut the number of warheads held by the United States and the former Soviet Union. Ratification of this treaty will be a lengthy process, particularly since of the four of the successor republics of the former Soviet Union that possess nuclear weapons (Russia, Kazakhstan, Byelorussia and the Ukraine) only Russia has acceded to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968. However in his view the agreement signals “a recognition that the nuclear arms race has long since passed the point where it made any political, strategic, or even military sense”.

Some countries, including the United Kingdom, argue that some testing may be required to ensure the safety of new weapons. There is however a substantial body of expert opinion that considers further tests to be unnecessary. Another obstacle to a CTBT is the difficulty of securing agreement on the establishment of a network of seismic stations to detect underground explosions. There may also be reluctance on the part of some countries to accept the principle of on-site inspections following suspicious seismic events. A further difficulty may arise in deciding what body should collect seismic data and organize inspections. In Lord Zuckerman’s view it would be better if this would be the already existing International Atomic Energy Agency rather than some new body created for the purpose.

The end of the cold war has, if anything, made the need for a comprehensive test ban treaty (CTBT) more pressing. The distortion in manufacturing industries by military interests since the end of the Second World War has led to serious economic problems and to an enormous increase in the international arms trade. If this trade should extend to illicit traffic in nuclear, materials or technology there is an extreme danger that nuclear weapons Might fall into the hands of people. Who would not be inhibited from using them. The existence of a comprehensive test ban would greatly lessen this danger.

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