countries. Efforts to control nuclear weapons and seek their elimination began in the first session of the United Nations General Assembly in 1946. High profile plans were put forward by Bernard Baruch on behalf of the United States and Andrei Gromyko on behalf of the Soviet Union. The Baruch Plan sought agreed upon means of international verification prior to international control, while the Gromyko Plan provided for international control to precede national means of verification. The two countries could not agree, and in 1949 the Soviet Union tested its first nuclear weapon. The nuclear arms race between the two countries would continue for over four decades.
The first major arms control agreement was the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) signed by President John F. Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1963. This Treaty prohibited nuclear testing in the atmosphere, the oceans and outer space. In essence, it was an environmental treaty that disarmed an outraged public opinion, but allowed nuclear testing to continue underground. The Treaty contained a preambular promise to continue negotiations for an end to all nuclear test explosions, which would limit the ability of the nuclear weapons states to make qualitative improvements in their nuclear arsenals. A Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) would take more than three decades from the signing of the Partial Test Ban Treaty to be opened for signatures.
The next important arms control agreement was signed five years after the Partial Test Ban Treaty. This was the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The NPT, a Treaty put forward by the US, UK and USSR, was signed in 1968 and entered into force in 1970. The Treaty was built on the promise that non-nuclear weapons states would not acquire nuclear weapons. For their part of the bargain, the nuclear weapons states promised in Article VI "to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.." The Treaty described "research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes" as an "inalienable right," and promised assistance with nuclear energy to the less developed nations. The Treaty by its terms called for an amendment conference 25 years after its entry into force "to decide whether the Treaty shall continue in force indefinitely, or shall be extended for an additional fixed period or periods."
When the NPT Review and Extension Conference was held in 1995, the nuclear weapons states argued that the Treaty should be extended indefinitely. Other states, however, argued that this would not be wise since the nuclear weapons states had not fulfilled their Article VI promises for good faith negotiations on nuclear disarmament. In the end, the nuclear weapons states prevailed, and the Treaty was extended indefinitely. The non-nuclear weapons states did succeed, however, in attaching some non-binding "Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament." These included the completion of negotiations "on a universal and internationally and effectively verifiable Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty no later than 1996"; the immediate commencement of negotiations on a treaty banning production of fissile materials; and "a determined pursuit by the nuclear-weapon States of systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, with the ultimate goals of eliminating those weapons.."
The year following the indefinite extension of the NPT, a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was opened for signatures. As of 1999, it has been signed by over 150 countries. To enter into force it must be ratified by all 44 states with a nuclear capacity. By late 1999, it had been ratified by more than half of the 44 countries. Among the nuclear weapons states, only the UK and France had ratified the Treaty. Nuclear weapons states that had yet to ratify the Treaty were the United States, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Israel.
The key to the continued effectiveness of the NPT may prove to be the willingness of the nuclear weapons states to fulfill the promises they made in Article VI of that Treaty and those in the Principles and Objectives document agreed to at the time of the indefinite extension of the NPT. If the non-nuclear weapons states feel that these promises are not being kept, they may decide to exercise their right to withdraw from the Treaty in the "supreme interests" of their country. This would be a major setback to the nuclear arms control regime that has been created in the post World War II period.
Other key nuclear arms control treaties are the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties (SALT I and II agreements) and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (START I and II agreements). The 1972 ABM Treaty limited the anti-missile defenses that could be deployed by the United States and the Soviet Union. Each country was allowed to emplace anti-ballistic missile defenses at only two sites, its capital and one other site (later reduced to only one site). This Treaty, signed by President Richard Nixon for the US, and General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev for the Soviet Union, was considered important because it was designed to prevent a defensive arms race that would spur a further offensive nuclear arms race. It was considered essential in order to allow the US and USSR to move ahead on limiting the quantity of their nuclear warheads and delivery systems. Following the end of the Cold War, the US has sought to change the terms of the ABM Treaty to allow for the deployment of a National Missile Defense system, to counter perceived threats from countries such as North Korea.
The SALT I and II agreements put limitations for the first time on the number of nuclear weapons delivery systems that the US and USSR each could have. The first SALT accord was reached simultaneously with the ABM Treaty. The START agreements for the first time began to reduce the number of strategic nuclear weapons that each side could deploy. START I called for reductions to some 6,500 to 7,000 nuclear weapons on each side, and START II brought this number down to 3,000 to 3,500 strategic nuclear weapons on each side. It should be noted that the Russian Duma has still not ratified START II, and that neither the US nor the USSR has moved below START I levels as of the end of 1999, ten years after the end of the Cold War.
A few other nuclear arms control treaties deserve mention. The Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, signed in 1988 by Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev, eliminated a whole class of nuclear weapons (those with a range between 500 and 5,000km). There are also a number of treaties prohibiting nuclear weapons in certain geographic areas. These include the Antarctic Treaty (1959), the Outer Space Treaty (1967), the Latin American Nuclear-Free Zone Treaty (1968), the Seabed Arms Control Treaty (1972), the South Pacific Nuclear-Free Zone Treaty (1986) , the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Free Zone Treaty (1995), and the African Nuclear-Free Zone Treaty (1996). In effect, the Southern hemisphere is made up of nuclear weapons free zones. The countries of the Northern hemisphere, however, have failed to place geographic limitations on the emplacement of nuclear weapons on their territories.
In 1996 the International Court of Justice unanimously concluded that, due to Article VI of the NPT, "There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control." The Court has signaled that legal obligations under international law require that the era of nuclear arms control must give way to the era of complete nuclear disarmament.