At some point, the world agreed to ban the development and testing of nuclear weapons. But only partially.
In 1963, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty, that banned the testing of all nuclear weapons everywhere except for testing underground. Since then, 123 other states have become party to the treaty
The reason? Testing nuclear weapons on air, land and in space could easily be monitored by other countries. Underground testing was hard to detect, and therefore, a ban on underground testing would be hard to enforce.
This treaty was expected to slow-down the development and testing of nuclear weapons. However, the testing merely went ‘underground’. From 1963, 1,500 nuclear bombs were detonated – that is roughly one a week, for 30 years. The thinking was if you only tested underground, you better test extensively, so as to not fall behind other nuclear powers.
Notice how the number of detonations multiplied after the test ban treaty. By the mid-1980s, 70,000 nuclear warheads had been developed.
It is true that the Partial Test Ban Treaty helped the world by substantially reducing the concentration of radioactive particles in the atmosphere. However, its partial nature also catalysed the proliferation of nuclear war-heads to astronomical levels.
While a half-measure seem like a good compromise, they often leave the back-door open for unintended consequences that can leave us all worse off.