JFK signing test ban treaty in the treaty room

50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Limited Test Ban Treaty

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT) by President John F. Kennedy.  The treaty was signed by President Kennedy on October 7, 1963, and took effect on October 10, 1963.  The signing and implementation of the treaty came after many hearings and nearly three weeks of floor debate in the Senate, after which it passed with a vote of 80 to 19.  Since the three original signatories to the treaty – the United States, the United Kingdom and the USSR – ratified the treaty, 123 active nations have also ratified or acceded to the treaty. 

The LTBT was the first of many Cold War agreements on nuclear weapons.  The parties of the treaty agreed not to undertake “any nuclear weapon test explosions, or any other nuclear explosion” in the atmosphere, under water, in outer space, or in any other environment that would result in radioactive debris being present in any other state than the one conducting the test.  Essentially, the treaty allowed nuclear weapons testing to take place only if the test could be contained underground.  Because of its ability to stop the spread of radioactive nuclear material with its ban on atmospheric testing, the treaty was seen as a success.

So why do we take the time to remember the anniversary of this signing?  Our Jewish tradition teaches us that we not only have to love peace, but we also must actively pursue it.  The anniversary of the signing of the LTBT is an opportunity to reflect on our values as Reform Jews and to look for ways that we can continue to pursue peace.  The URJ and the CCAR have passed several resolutions advocating halting production and testing nuclear weapons with a goal of living in a nuclear weapons-free world.  Today, we can work toward that goal by urging our Senators to support the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which was opened for signature in 1996 but never ratified by the United States.  The CTBT would prevent the global community from conducting explosive nuclear tests and would create an extensive global array of monitoring stations, which would be able to detect nuclear explosions of significance.  “Testing begets testing,” editors at the Scientific American argue, and ratifying the CTBT would make the world a safer place.  The alternative is living in a world where countries can test at unlimited explosive yields and one nation’s interest in developing nuclear weapons can destabilize an entire region.

The prophet Micah offers a vision for a peaceful world when he says that “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; national shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war anymore” (Micah 4:3).  As we look back on 50 years of nuclear arms agreements, we should also look forward to and work for a world with fewer nuclear weapons.

Image courtesy of JFK Presidential Library and Museum

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Deborah Goldberg

About Deborah Goldberg

Deborah Goldberg is an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. She graduated in 2013 from Washington University in St. Louis and is originally from Deerfield, IL where she is a member of Congregation B'nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim.

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