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From peace movement to missile crisis

1961: Prospects for an atmospheric test ban

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev initiated the Tsar Bomba project on 10 July 1961.

Disagreement between the Soviet Union and the United States continued in 1961 over the number and nature of on-site inspections. The Soviet Union wanted fewer inspections than the number proposed by the United States and the United Kingdom. The procedural specifications of inspections also remained highly contentious. Stating that France’s nuclear test and growing international tensions had fundamentally altered the global security environment, the Soviet Union resumed nuclear testing on 1 September 1961. Disagreement over an atmospheric test ban continued and two weeks after the test the United States once again began underground nuclear testing.

President Kennedy in a Cabinet Room during the Cuban Missile Crisis

On 31 October 1961 in the atmosphere over Novaya Zemlya, the Soviet Union tested the largest, most powerful nuclear weapon (Tsar Bomba) ever detonated, having a yield of about fifty megatons (50Mt). In response, the United States and the United Kingdom proposed an atmospheric test ban that required no on-site inspections. The Soviet Union provided its own draft in which only after signature of the treaty verification procedures could be decided, but the United States and the United Kingdom found this plan unacceptable.

The Cuban missile crisis in October 1962 again raised international concern over proliferation and threat of nuclear weapons.

1962: United Nations Eighteen Nation Committee
on Disarmament (ENDC)

Reconnaissance photograph of Cuba, 8 October 1962

In early 1962, the trilateral discussions (the United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union) on disarmament adjourned indefinitely and the stage was moved to the United Nations Eighteen Nation Committee on Disarmament (ENDC) in Geneva. The United Kingdom and the United States submitted two drafts of a comprehensive test ban treaty in August. The UK draft called for seismic monitoring and on-site inspections. The US draft proposed a ban on atmospheric and underwater testing without OSI. The Soviet Union objected to the OSI in the UK draft, and to the permissibility of further nuclear weapons development underground in the US draft. 

1962: The Cuban Missile Crisis

The United Nations General Assembly, November 1962

The Cuban missile crisis in October 1962 again raised international concern over proliferation and threat of nuclear weapons. The United Nations General Assembly passed resolutions calling for a halt of nuclear testing and for negotiations towards a comprehensive test ban treaty. 


Next chapter: 1963-77: Limits on nuclear testing