Study Guide

Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) or Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT) Themes

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

  • National Identity

    Home, home on the (testing) range: the idea of "national identity" is present in a lot of different ways when it comes to the Partial Test Ban Treaty. First and foremost, national identity is linked to patriotism. All three of the original parties that authored the PTBT were busy at work developing nuclear weapons on their home turf in order to protect it. For each of them, protecting their respective countries from an attack by an outside force was the ultimate goal.

    Nuclear weapons are designed to hit your enemy where it hurts, and doing damage to another's homeland is an effective way to crumble that enemy's power. The PTBT recognizes this deadly arrangement as a motivation for why it was written. The PTBT also acknowledges that not everyone considers the national identities and homelands of others as important as their own, but it attempts to equally protect the nations of the whole world.

    Finally, we have the idea of the planet as being a universal place that includes all of humanity. Earth is home to everyone, regardless of national identity, so to poison even part of it with radioactive debris is to poison all of it. Along the same lines, to attack one population with nuclear weapons is to attack all people with nuclear weapons.

    Questions About National Identity

    1. Is it possible that the idea of national identity contributed to the international conflicts of the Cold War? Think about the role of national identity during World War II.
    2. How might the concept of "home" differ within capitalist and communist ideological contexts?
    3. Consider the UK's historical position as a major colonial empire. How does the idea of "home" change for the colonizers and the colonized?
    4. Is the ability to protect one's home worth the risk of destroying all other homes? How might this situation play out in the long run? Think about the long-term effects of complete isolation.

    Chew on This

    The concept of "home" is vastly different in Western and Soviet contexts because the two have vastly different ideas about private property, yet the original parties were able to agree upon an ideal notion of "home" for the benefit of humankind and the ratification of the PTBT.

    The notion of "homeland" leads to extreme nationalist thinking and unavoidable international political crises as is evidenced by the history of the 20th century, from 1939 (the beginning of World War II) until 1992 (the end of the Cold War).

  • Warfare

    Well, it was kind of an unavoidable discussion topic. The entire basis for the Partial Test Ban Treaty was a fear of extreme warfare (nuclear war) that was being nurtured in a climate of preparation for warfare (nuclear testing) that was born out of warfare (World War II). The world of the 1950s and 1960s found itself in a unique position. It was still recovering from the worst conflict in history, and it was positioned to possibly witness another conflict of unprecedented dimensions.

    Just because the Cold War was "cold" doesn't mean it wasn't going to switch to scorching hot at the flick of a switch...literally. The PTBT is a coming to terms with the diplomatic conflict that threatened unimaginable warfare, and it attempted to divert the potential destruction into a progressive de-escalation of tensions between the West and the Soviet world.

    Questions About Warfare

    1. Agree or disagree: by the 1960s, the world had become so used to warfare of some kind that it was accepted as the norm of 20th-century life. Explain your answer.
    2. Does the PTBT suggest that even the most powerful nations in the world realized warfare has its limitations?
    3. From a military defense standpoint, what are the pros and cons of a bomb as large as Castle Bravo or Tsar Bomba?
    4. What does the development of nuclear weapons during the Cold War say about the Soviet view of American capitalism? What does it say about the American view of Soviet communism?

    Chew on This

    The PTBT is an elaborate truce that keeps nuclear power in check while still recognizing the agreeing parties possess such power.

    By the 1960s, warfare was a standard part of everyday life for most of the world. Although the PTBT attempts to ease this situation, it actually just permits moderate-level "cold" warfare to continue on like business as usual.

  • Rules and Order

    There is a saying that a tidy home is the sign of a misspent life. Not only is that stupid, but it also makes for bad international relations, and with something like nuclear testing, you're going to need more than a diplomatic Roomba to clean things up.

    Whereas the atomic bomb represents all-out chaos, the Partial Test Ban Treaty represents the desire for order. It sets out rules for achieving, maintaining, and progressing that order perpetually. Think of the treaty as one major rule (as described in its official title, Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water) that is comprised of several smaller rules (the articles).

    A treaty is a very orderly method of initiating order, and the PTBT is no exception. In fact, it is exceptionally orderly given its importance.

    Questions About Rules and Order

    1. Do the rules set out by the PTBT sufficiently explain what is and is not allowed when it comes to nuclear weapons testing? Why or why not?
    2. Why doesn't the PTBT include a description of how a government might be punished if it violates the terms of the agreement? What are the options for other governments if one of the signing nations fails to comply with the treaty?
    3. Do you think a treaty, however legally and ethically binding it might be, is enough to contend with the magnitude of nuclear warfare? Why or why not?
    4. Do you think the terms of the PTBT hold up today? Does the PTBT endure as a strong diplomatic action, or does it need to be updated for the 21st century?

    Chew on This

    The PTBT does not need to explicitly state the condition of reprimand should a signing government violate the terms. The result could be, at best, the dissolution of the treaty. At worst, it would be nuclear war.

    The PTBT is an extraordinary document because, though small and brief, it functions as a safety net for the increase of nuclear arms throughout the world. It's like a tiny plug that holds back an enormous flood.