Decade: 1960

The 1960s saw rapid build up of both American and Soviet nuclear arsenals. Nuclear-armed submarines and more robust satellite technology came online, and nuclear weapons themselves grew in number and in sophistication. In this decade, innovation was focused on boosting their deadliness and reliability. But public awareness of the threats posed by testing these weapons (from radiation sickness to environmental contamination) was also growing. By the end of the decade, after the near-miss of the Cuban Missile Crisis and accidents from fallout, new rules—and the tools to enforce them—emerged.

1968: THE NPT

By the mid-1960s there were nearly 70,000 nuclear bombs. Global concerns about the worsening nuclear arms race sparked international talks about stopping its spread. In 1968, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty committed nations without nuclear weapons to never acquiring them—and the five states that possessed them to work toward elimination. The NPT was innovative in its structure and incentives, providing non-weapons states with access to peaceful nuclear technology. LEARN MORE


After several nuclear tests led to unexpected levels of radioactive fallout, international nuclear test ban discussions began, faltered, then began again. Ratified in 1963, the Limited Test Ban Treaty prohibited all nuclear testing in the air, the ocean, or space, with only underground testing permitted. New bureaucratic organizations were formed within the UN to support nuclear arms control, and the US created its own Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. Remote sensing devices to measure seismic activity were also developed, as well as parameters for onsite inspections. LEARN MORE


In the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis, US President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev established an emergency hotline enabling faster direct communication between Washington and Moscow. The hotline utilized the latest communications and cryptography tools to allow messages to be sent and received in minutes.  LEARN MORE