Treaties That Limit Nuclear Weapons

The threat of a nuclear war has hung over the world since the first military use of an atomic weapon in 1945. Each generation since has had to deal with the potential dangers of large scale nuclear conflict. While some feel that the continued stockpiling of nuclear weapons is the best way to prevent war, a growing movement exists that has 2 main goals:

  • Anti-Proliferation: to limit the expansion of nuclear weapons technology.
  • Nuclear Disarmament: to reduce the total number nuclear devices in existence, ideally down to zero.

Here are some key treaties and accords currently in place:

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  • Antarctic Treaty (1959): One of the first international weapons agreements, this treaty recognized the unique strategic danger that military installation and weapons sites in Antarctica would present. With emerging missile technology, nearly every other continent would have been in range of attacks from Antarctic based weapons. This treaty essentially demilitarized the entire continent, prohibiting any military exercises, troop emplacements, and the testing of or installation of weapons systems, both nuclear and conventional.

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  • Limited Test Ban Treaty (1969): This treaty recognizes and addresses that there is a danger to the world population not only from nuclear attacks, but from the side effects of the development and testing process itself. Studies had already shown that residual nuclear material from testing was making its way into the air, food and water supplies around the world, causing potential harm to men, women and children. Essentially, this treaty limited nuclear testing to underground sites, which reduced their impact on the environment.
  • Strategic Arms Limitations Treaties: Known as SALT I and SALT II, these treaties were crafted during talks between the then nuclear powers during the 1960’s and 1970’s. The idea was to address the rapid expansion of nuclear arsenals and stockpiles. Nicknamed ‘The Arms Race’, this accumulation of nuclear weapons was an attempt by both the US and the USSR to have a strategic advantage from the size of their arsenals, trying to maintain a condition of Mutually Assured Destruction.
  • Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (I and II): A set of treaties worked out in the latter part of the 200th century which tried to reduce the total number of nuclear weapons systems in use. The first treaty was forged when the USSR was still a world power, while the second was established after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
  • Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (1972): This controversial treaty tries to address one of the main issues behind the arms race, which is weakening the ability of one side to destroy the other, thus upsetting the balance of power.
  • International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005): This treaty was designed to address a new nuclear threat posed by the possibility of nuclear weapons or material coming into the possession of nations or organizations who engage in acts of terrorism on a regional or global basis. It allows nations to prosecute anyone planning, threatening, or attempting any act of terrorism using a nuclear device or radioactive materials, or involving acts of sabotage on any nuclear power plant or other nuclear facility.

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