Controlling Nuclear Testing: 1954-1980
Early on in the nuclear age, policy makers and arms control negotiators recognized the critical link between nuclear weapons testing and the nascent arms race. Constraining the ability of the adversary to test new weapons was seen by both sides as a potential means to slow, if not halt, their ability to compete. For the Soviet Union, striving to catch up, a test ban would at worst freeze the military balance before it deteriorated further. At best, an agreement to end testing would allow the Soviet military to improve its position over time, perhaps through clandestine violations of the ban. For the United States, as the leader in the arms race, a test ban could potentially preserve the margin of superiority enjoyed and dampen the need to sustain an expanding nuclear weapons program.
Thus, suggestions for a ban on nuclear weapons testing were part of disarmament proposals as early as 1952, in which they were linked to general disarmament measures by both East and West. 1 Tentative proposals for a separate test ban agreement were first presented by the Soviet Union in the comprehensive disarmament negotiations in 1956.
In August 1957 American proposals for comprehensive disarmament contained a ten-month testing moratorium to precede a full test ban agreement. They also allowed that a test ban could precede a cut-off of the production of fissionable materials (one of the other measures on the table at the time). U.S. policy, however, demanded the establishment of a reliable verification and monitoring system in advance of all disarmament actions. Although Soviet negotiators generally sought a test ban agreement that did not depend on the creation of an international control system, in 1957 they agreed in principle to some kind of monitoring mechanism on Soviet territory.
In January 1958 President Dwight Eisenhower suggested a technical study of various test ban proposals, "without commitment to the ultimate acceptance" of