Politics, Advanced Technology, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

Date of Award

Spring 2002

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Graduate Program in International Studies

Committee Director

Regina Karp

Committee Member

Francis Adams

Committee Member

David Keyes


Analyzing the dynamics of politics behind the approval of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), this research investigates the reasons for the acquiescence of the nuclear weapon states (NWS) to this treaty when not one of them had any intention to eliminate its respective nuclear arsenal. As a result, this long sought after treaty which took over forty years to finally negotiate was rendered as a symbolic gesture rather than a step toward the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons. The treaty rather was considered a measure to stop proliferation of nuclear weapons while assuring the nuclear weapon states that they could retain their nuclear arsenals provided a substitute for the testing of these weapons could be developed to assure the safety and reliability of these arsenals. This substitute was the capability of advanced technology available to the nuclear weapons states in the 1990's. Together with the needed consensus among the nuclear weapons states for any value to be placed on the CTBT, advanced technology created a dichotomy in the approval of the Treaty. While the NWS agreed to the harnessment of their nuclear capability, the politics that transpired during the negotiations to gain consensus in the Conference on Disarmament favored the desires of the NWS to the detriment of the goal of the non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) to forge a path toward disarmament.

Once the Limited Test Ban Treaty had been achieved in 1963 outlawing the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, in the oceans, and in space, the three signatories, United States, Soviet Union, and Great Britain, had not anticipated that to achieve a comprehensive test ban it would take over forty years. They also did not have the foresight to realize the key role that advanced technology would play. Finally, they also had not seen that their respective national security interests together with those of the other two recognized nuclear weapon states would undermine the treaty.

Through investigating and analyzing the history of nuclear weapons, the nuclear arms race of the Cold War, the original attempts at a test ban and its ultimate achievement through the United Nations in 1996, this research tells the story of how the dynamics of politics, the existence of advanced technology, and the national security interests of the nuclear weapon states overshadowed a lofty goal which could have set the nuclear norms of the twenty-first century.





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