Civil Society

From the beginning of the nuclear age, civil society has played a prominent role in the effort to permanently halt testing of nuclear weapons. Physicists, seismologists, and other scientists; physicians and lawyers; women’s organizations; research institutes and disarmament NGOs; mayors and parliamentarians; “downwinders” exposed to radioactive contaminants resulting from atmospheric testing and the hibakusha, the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and the wider public - all have been involved.

Some highlights from the decades of activities:

  • In the 1950s, physicians and women’s groups raised awareness of the health effects of atmospheric testing, including the presence of radioisotopes in children’s teeth. This campaign helped lead to the Partial Test Ban Treaty, which prohibits testing under water, in the atmosphere and outer space – but not underground.
  • In the 1980s, US and Russian scientists conducted joint experiments to demonstrate the feasibility of verifying a ban on underground testing.
  • Also in the 1980s, US groups conducted mass protests at the Nevada Test Site in the United States, and a powerful anti-testing campaign, known as the Nevada-Semipalatinsk Movement, emerged in Kazakhstan, home to the principal Soviet test site at Semipalatinsk. Well-publicized actions and Campaigns were also directed at the French test site at Mururoa in the Pacific in the 1980s and again in the 1990s.
  • Beginning in 1985, NGOs lobbied in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review process for a commitment to achieve a Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). It was first adopted in connection with the 1995 decision to extend the treaty and reaffirmed at the 2000 and 2010 review conferences. Especially since the end of the Cold War, civil society has vigorously advocated, in growing numbers, for NPT review conferences to commit to steps leading to the elimination of nuclear weapons, including the CTBT, and the 2000 and 2010 conferences in fact have done so.
  • In the 1990s, NGOs and parliamentarians sparked the convening of a 1991 conference on amending the Partial Test Ban Treaty to make it comprehensive, a process which helped to lay the groundwork for CTBT negotiations.
  • Non-governmental researchers developed understanding of verification techniques.
  • Non-governmental research and advocacy groups monitored the negotiations that led to the 1996 adoption of the CTBT.
  • NGOs campaigned to persuade their governments to negotiate, then ratify, the CTBT. Some also critiqued experimental and supercomputing facilities intended to replace nuclear explosive testing.

Over the decades, and especially in recent years, civil society efforts in support of a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing for the most part have been connected to the larger enterprise of achieving the total elimination of nuclear weapons. To help bring the CTBT into force, NGOs, civil society and members of the public, especially in those countries that must ratify the Treaty for it to enter into force, can urge their – and other - governments and parliaments to sign and ratify the treaty. They can also urge their governments to endorse the Secretary-General’s Five Point Proposal for Nuclear Disarmament, which includes bringing the CTBT into force and consideration of negotiating a nuclear weapons convention, backed by a strong system of verification, as has long been proposed at the United Nations.

Many entities, such as research institutes, academic institutions and NGOs, are engaged in disarmament-related work, including in relation to the CTBT.