Study Guide

Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) or Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT) Main Idea

By the governments of the United States of America, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

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  • Main Idea

    If You Play With Fire...

    You can think of the PTBT as a big no-no finger wagging back and forth in protest.

    The basic gist is pretty cut and dry: you have a nuclear bomb you want to test? Too bad, you can't do it. At least, not in the air, in outer space, or underwater because nuclear energy is wily and, like, super deadly.

    With a force so unpredictable, the risks are great. As they say, if you play with fire, you're gonna get burned. Or maybe 21 miles of urban civilization will get burned. Regardless, it's a bad scene. The health and safety of people, animals, and the planet are at grave risk, so everyone needs to agree to behave and put the atomic measuring sticks away.

    Questions About Main Idea

    1. Does the language of the treaty adequately convey the urgency of the nuclear issue? Do you think it convincingly paints a dire-enough picture of atomic dangers?
    2. Can you identify any sections of the treaty that specifically try to ease the diplomatic competition between the U.S. and the USSR?
    3. Is this treaty a document of peace? Why or why not?
    4. In what sections of the treaty can you identify specific examples related to the idea of responsibility and the dangers of messing with nuclear power? Try to find three.

    Chew on This

    The PTBT is the result of careful and deliberate diplomacy carried out by the U.S. and the USSR, which paved the way for the beginning of the end of the Cold War standoff.

    The PTBT was simply another insurance policy to maintain the diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and the USSR. It is a perfect example of how MAD infiltrated every level of Western society, both domestically and internationally.

  • Brief Summary


    The Setup

    The U.S. and the USSR become overly enthusiastic about detonating atomic bombs in competitive pursuit of increasingly powerful weapons. Along with poisoning the ground and the atmosphere, they scare the living daylights out of everyone. The rest of the world tells them to get a grip and put the brakes on nuclear testing.

    The Text

    The treaty acknowledges that the U.S., the U.K., and the USSR all have a vested interest in the further development of atomic weapons, but they agree to halt nuclear testing of certain types with the intention of eventually halting nuclear weapons development entirely.

    It also invites any other nation that might be interested in joining the treaty agreement to do so (because, let's face it, you can't just move to a different town if nuclear war breaks out). However, no single nation is obligated to remain in the treaty agreement, especially if another signatory breaks its promise, i.e., runs a restricted nuclear test after signing.


    Nuclear testing is bad because it leads to nuclear weapons, which lead to nuclear war, which leads to the end of basically everything.

  • Questions

    1. Can the PTBT be interpreted as a document in support of optimism for the future? If so, how? Why might such a document be important for society at the height of the Cold War?
    2. In what way is the rhetoric of the treaty used to both prohibit and permit various types of nuclear weapons testing?
    3. Could the PTBT be revised to include biological weapons of mass destruction, or does that enter into entirely different moral territory? Why?
    4. Why was it important to include an "exit" clause in the treaty? If nuclear war did break out, would anyone really be concerned about the stipulations of an international agreement?
    5. What does it say about our values system concerning nuclear weapons that world powers could only agree upon a partial test ban, knowing full well how dangerous nuclear weapons are?
    6. Are we still affected by the radioactive fallout from Castle Bravo and Tsar Bomba today?
    7. What happens if a nuclear weapon accidentally explodes? Who is ethically responsible, and how can that be prevented?
    8. Do you agree or disagree that North Korea's nuclear weapons program has jump-started a new type of Cold War situation?
    9. Why can't we all just get along?
    10. Will you ever sleep soundly again?
    11. Who needs a break?

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