How social/political movements have influenced non-proliferation

The desire for nuclear non-proliferation by people within society has been prevalent since the first detonation of a nuclear weapon in 1945. However, this desire for non-proliferation increased throughout the latter half of the 1940’s and through to the 1950’s. In 1957 the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) was formed, this organisation advocates unilateral nuclear disarmament, as well as international nuclear disarmament and tighter international arms regulation through agreements such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The campaign was formed in response to widespread fear of nuclear conflict and effects of nuclear testing. During the early 1950’s Britain had become the third atomic power behind the United States and USSR, who had recently both tested hydrogen bombs. This showed to the world that nuclear capability was spreading, which led to campaigns for disarmament in Britain, as J.B. Priestly stated “Now Britain has told the world she has the H-bomb she should announce as early as possible that she has done with it, that she proposes to reject it”. These campaigns put pressure on the government to change their policies towards nuclear weapons and technology.

The desire for non-proliferation was arguably most common in the United States, the nation where the weapons had first been successfully detonated in 1945. The public arguably first became concerned about nuclear weapons in 1954 after there was extensive weapons testing in the Pacific. In 1958 Linus Pauling and his wife presented the United Nations with a petition signed by more than 11’000 scientists calling for the end to nuclear weapons testing. Therefore, showing that it wasn’t just regular people who wanted an end to nuclear weapons but it was also professionals who were experts in nuclear weapons.

However, the anti-nuclear campaigns really took hold during the 1960’s the height of the cold war; for example, in 1961 around 50’00 women took part in a “Women’s Strike for Peace” which marched in 60 cities across the United States demonstrating against nuclear weapons. Events like the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, which was the first and only time the world has ever come close to nuclear war, adding to this anti-nuclear feeling. Lawrence Wittner often praises the nuclear disarmament movement stating that “the global nuclear disarmament movement has never been properly credited for its contribution to the avoidance of full- scale superpower conflict for almost 50 years of Cold War”. The Cuban Missile Crisis did however highlight the dangers of nuclear weapons to the world, because of how close it nearly brought the world to nuclear war.

This anti-nuclear weapons and anti-Cold War feeling continued throughout the 1960’s, and increased due to events such as the wars in Korea and Vietnam. People began to view that nuclear weapons were responsible for the rivalry between the two Superpowers, the United States and Soviet Union and that they were a key reason for the continuation of the Cold War. This all meant that the movement gained more support, because with the potential of communism spreading to other countries came the worry that nuclear weapons could also spread to more countries throughout the world.

There was evidence that governments had begun to take notice of the public’s desire for an end to nuclear weapons; for instance, in 1963 the Test Ban Treaty was signed by President John F Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. This treaty was designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and lessen the nuclear threat. In the same year as the treaty being signed Linus Pauling won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work since 1946 against nuclear weapons.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament carried on throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, and manifested itself in different forms instead of campaigns it began to be shown in popular culture such as in films. The Mad Max films are a prime example of an anti-nuclear message in popular culture, as the film takes place in the future when the world has been destroyed by nuclear weapons. This would have played into the fears of the people at the time and would have added to the anti-nuclear feeling. There was also films such as the Manhattan Project of 1986 which added to the campaign.

There are also examples in art and music for instance during the 1960’s to 1980’s several bands and artists began to write songs that indirectly related to nuclear war, for example Pink Floyd produced a song called “Two Suns in the Sunset”, which indirectly references a nuclear attack. Therefore, people listening to these songs would be influenced without realising into having an anti-nuclear outlook. There were also examples in artwork, for instance, in 1965 Andy Warhol painted the Silkscreen Atomic Bomb; which again was an anti-nuclear message. All these examples led to the Disarmament Campaign gaining more support and people putting more pressure on the government to make changes. For example, President Nixon’s Detente policy in the 1970’s eased relations and the nuclear threat.

However, there are even still examples of anti-nuclear campaigns in the modern day; for instance, on April 24th 2014 the Republic of the Marshall Islands filed lawsuits against all nine Nuclear Weapons States in the International Court of Justice, and separately against the United States. This is due to the effects the islands have felt due to Nuclear weapons. Also the hashtag “#NuclearZero”, has become a popular hashtag used on social media particularly Twitter. This is another example of how the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has been able to keep their campaign going in the modern day, so they can continue to influence the government about nuclear non-proliferation.  

Olivia Darwen


J.B. Priestly, “Britain and the Nuclear Bombs”, New Statesman, November 1957 –

Lawrence S Wittner, “Confronting the Bomb: a Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement”, Stanford Nuclear Age Series, 2009 –

Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, “Committed to a World Free of Nuclear Weapons”


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