Arriving in Geneva last summer for a conference hopefully leading to a nuclear test ban, U.S. delegates began laying out a sweeping proposal. The West would agree to an indefinite year-to-year suspension of all nuclear tests provided that the Russians would agree to a reasonable control system under which international teams of inspectors could check all suspicious nuclear-sized blasts.

The proposal soon ran into trouble for two reasons: 1) the Russians demanded veto power over the makeup and movements of inspection teams on Russian territory, thus rendering inspection worthless; 2) U.S. scientists discovered that they had seriously overestimated the ability of...

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