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'63 set stage for still unfinished business nuclear test bans

Joan Baez and Bob Dylan at the March on Washington; The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the same day, Aug. 28, 1963, delivers the "I Have a Dream Speech"; President John F. Kennedy addresses the nation on civil rights, June 11, 1963; Alabama Gov. Georg
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This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 24, 2013: A major effort to slow the arms race among superpowers occurred in 1963 when the United States, the Soviet Union, and Britain signed a Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The key players were Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, and British Foreign Secretary Alec Douglas-Home. France and China were urged to back the accord, but both refused.

As the Beacon draws attention to major events occurring 50 years ago, frequently connecting the dots to today, the issue of arms control and trying to put safeties on international triggers remain.

The accord came against the backdrop of concerns over radioactive fallout from thermonuclear weapon testing by the United States and the Soviet Union. Significant as it was, the treaty did not end testing, but it helped pave the way for the stronger Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty approved in 1968.

That accord was considered a major move toward permanent disarmament because it forbade non-nuclear countries to make or acquire these weapons. India, Israel and Pakistan rejected the accord, arguing that it didn’t limit the development of these weapons by the United States and other already classified as nuclear states.

Efforts started anew in 1976 when scientists from several nations, the so-called Group of Scientific Experts, began conducting research on methods to monitor and analyze a test ban. That work paid off at the end of the Cold War in 1991. Signatories to the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 had thrown their weight behind the discussion to convert the treaty into one banning all nuclear weapon tests. The idea got much support from the U.N. General Assembly, leading the Conference on Disarmament to negotiations, beginning in 1993, for a comprehensive test ban treaty.

In September of 1996, more than two-thirds of the General Assembly’s membership adopted the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Even so, India and Pakistan carried out separate tests in 1998, and North Korea has made recent threats of nuclear war.

At least 183 nations have signed the test ban accord, and 156 have ratified it. The United States has signed the document, but the U.S. Senate rejected ratification in 1999. Since that time, President Back Obama has pushed for ratification. In a speech in Prague in 2009, he declared that “After more than five decades of talks, it is time for the testing of nuclear weapons to finally be banned.”

During the next several months, the Beacon will look back and point to events today that have only a few degrees of separation from the big moments of 1963. It’s one way to help us connect the dots and understand how we got where we are.

Clockwise from top: Joan Baez and Bob Dylan at the March on Washington; The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the same day, Aug. 28, 1963, delivers the "I Have a Dream Speech"; President John F. Kennedy addresses the nation on civil rights, June 11, 1963; Alabama Gov. George Wallace, on the same day as the president's address, blocks the doorway at the University of Alabama. - all from Wikipedia

Robert Joiner has carved a niche in providing informed reporting about a range of medical issues. He won a Dennis A. Hunt Journalism Award for the Beacon’s "Worlds Apart" series on health-care disparities. His journalism experience includes working at the St. Louis American and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he was a beat reporter, wire editor, editorial writer, columnist, and member of the Washington bureau.

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