1945-54: Early efforts to restrain nuclear testing

1945-54: Early efforts to restrain nuclear testing

1945: The Dawning of the Nuclear Age

The United States of America ushered in the age of nuclear weapons when it carried out its first nuclear test on 16 July 1945 at Alamogordo, New Mexico. One month later, it dropped two atomic bombs on Japan – on Hiroshima on 6 August and on Nagasaki on 9 August 1945. Japan surrendered on 15 August 1945, bringing an end to World War II. However, nuclear testing did not end. Instead, five decades (until the CTBT in 1996) of efforts to “put the nuclear genie back in the bottle” began.

The United States of America ushered in the age of nuclear
weapons when it carried out its first nuclear test on
16 July 1945. Once out, it took five decades to begin "putting
the nuclear genie back into the bottle" again.

1946:The United Nations Atomic Energy Commission

Signed on 26 June 1945, the United Nations Charter, accorded responsibility for disarmament and the establishment of a system for the regulation of armaments with the United Nations (Articles 11(1) and 26). In January 1946, the first session of the United Nations General Assembly approved the creation of an Atomic Energy Commission (UNAEC) to address problems associated with atomic energy and its uses.

1946: Acheson-Lilienthal Report and Baruch Plan

The US Acheson-Lilienthal Report of March 1946 proposed the creation of an international agency tasked with the control of nuclear weapons and materials. The report, authored by a committee tasked with setting forth US nuclear policy, suggested having the complete nuclear fuel cycle under international ownership. The process would be controlled by an agency to be called the Atomic Development Authority. This agency would regulate all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle and distribute fissile material to countries for the peaceful development of atomic energy.

Based on this report, the US Baruch Plan proposed nuclear disarmament with international control over all aspects of nuclear activities. The plan was named after Bernard Mannes Baruch, who achieved success as an American financier and stock market speculator in his earlier years. Baruch advised US Presidents on matters of war, finance and international affairs from World War I through the mid-1960s.

1946: Acheson-Lilienthal Report and Baruch Plan cont.

The Baruch Plan, presented to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission (UNAEC) on 14 June 1946, called for the establishment of an International Atomic Development Authority to control all fissile material production with enforcement provided by international inspections. Because the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Soviet Union) objected to the international control of fissile material production before achieving disarmament, the UNAEC indefinitely adjourned in 1949.

"Behind the black portent of the new atomic age
lies a hope which, seized upon with faith, can work our
salvation. If we fail, then we have damned every man
to be the slave of Fear. Let us not deceive ourselves:
We must elect World Peace or World Destruction."Baruch Plan Addressed to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, 1946

1946: The Gromyko Plan and Soviet Union
Nuclear Testing

In response to the Baruch Plan, the Soviet Union presented the Gromyko Plan, which called for the dismantlement of all nuclear weapons followed by guidelines for international inspections. The Plan was named after Andrei Gromyko, the then Soviet Union Representative to the United Nations, who would become the Soviet Foreign Minister for nearly thirty years (1957-1985). During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Gromyko played an instrumental role in the negotiations with the United States and met directly with President Kennedy.

The Soviet Union became the second country in the
world to test a nuclear weapon on 29 August 1949.

Later in life, Gromyko helped negotiate several arms control treaties, including the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT), the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, and the 1988 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The United States found the terms of the Gromyko Plan unacceptable and tested two weeks later at Bikini Atoll on July 1 1946. The Soviet Union felt compelled to enter the nuclear arms race and later became the second country in the world to test a nuclear weapon on 29 August 1949.

1954: Atoms for Peace

Alarmed at the prospect of nuclear technology proliferating around the world and the number of States with atomic bomb making capabilities increasing beyond US control, President Eisenhower proposed the Atoms for Peace programme in 1953. The US Atomic Energy Act, which prohibited the transfer of nuclear technology to other countries, regardless of where their alliances lay, was revised in 1954 to allow US exports of nuclear technology and material provided the recipient country agreed not to use the technology for military purposes. This programme not only supplied foreign countries with nuclear technology and material, but also facilitated construction projects and provided recipient countries with nuclear training.

The United Kingdom became the world's third Nuclear
Weapons State when it conducted its first nuclear test
on 3 October 1952.

The Lucky Dragon and the Disarmament Commission

International concern over nuclear testing intensified in the 1950s. The United Nations sought to address these issues in the Disarmament Commission that had been established in 1952. Established within this commission, the Sub-Committee of Five included Canada, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. However, this did not stop the United Kingdom from becoming the third Nuclear Weapon State when it conducted its first nuclear test on 3 October 1952.

Neither did it stop the United States and the Soviet Union from conducting tests of large-yield thermonuclear devices. Debris from a US test near the Marshall Islands in March 1954 in the Pacific Ocean exposed the crew of a Japanese fishing vessel, the Lucky Dragon. The thermonuclear device had produced a yield significantly higher than was expected and resulted in increased scrutiny of the effects of nuclear fallout.

India's Prime Minister Nehru was the first Head of State
to call for a "standstill agreement" to halt nuclear
testing in 1954.

1954: Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru

Concerned over the threat posed by the escalation of nuclear testing around the world and the increasing yields of these tests, the Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru advocated a “standstill agreement” on nuclear testing on April 2, 1954. This was the first initiative calling for a halt to nuclear testing while the United Nations worked towards a comprehensive disarmament agreement.


Next chapter:
1955-62: From peace movement to missile crisis