New Give for Non-proliferation? Part I

New Give for Non-proliferation? Part I

In May 2010, the eighth review conference (see facts) for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) kicks off. The agreement obliges the nuclear powers to disarm, and everyone else not to acquire nuclear weapons. The disarmament initiatives of President Obama have created expectations, but are also met with skepticism. The problems are big, especially in the Middle East.

  • Why is the NPT agreement (hereafter only NPT) so important?
  • What are the main pillars of the agreement?
  • Where are the key contradictions between the parties to the agreement?
  • In what direction is the non-proliferation regime going?

2: The Agreement

The agreement entered into force in 1970. It is based on three pillars:

  • non-proliferation,
  • disarmament and
  • peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Those who renounced the right to acquire nuclear weapons were to receive aid for the peaceful use of nuclear energy – nuclear power was on its way in – and all undertook to work for disarmament. The distinction between those who had and those who did not have nuclear weapons was to be gradually erased . Control of the peaceful use of nuclear energy was tightened and handed over to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna (IAEA) . If someone tries to use civilian programs for military purposes, the security check must be able to detect it.

A nuclear power was defined as a state that had tested nuclear weapons before January 1, 1967. There were five that had done so: the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, France, and China. The same people who had and still have a veto in the UN Security Council. Today, all countries in the NPT are as close as four – India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan. All four have nuclear weapons. The number of real nuclear powers has thus risen to nine, but that is less than feared when negotiations on the agreement began.

The NPT gradually became the backbone of an international regime that includes arms control agreements, nuclear-weapon-free zones, security guarantees for non-nuclear-weapon states, rules on trade in nuclear materials, equipment and technology, national regulations on export control and international security control. This is what is called the nuclear non-proliferation regime .

According to, North Korea is the only state to withdraw from the NPT. It happened in 2003. Since then, the country has conducted two nuclear tests. South Africa is the only one that has made nuclear weapons and then removed them. This happened in connection with the abolition of the apartheid policy around 1990 and the transition to majority rule.

The country signed the NPT in 1991. It is still hoped that North Korea will do the same to normalize relations with the outside world, receive financial assistance and conclude a peace agreement. It is almost 60 years since the Korean War ended, but the parties still have only a ceasefire agreement, no peace agreement.

The first half of the 1990s was a golden age for the NPT . The Cold War was over and nuclear arsenals were reduced. Russia became the sole heir to the Soviet Union’s nuclear forces: the nuclear weapons in Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus were transferred to Russia. Several countries joined the agreement, and when the supervisory conference in 1995 – which was also to decide on its extension – came together, a probation agreement (see facts) was in sight. It was signed the following year.

The conference therefore came on top of a period of good news for non-proliferation work, with the result that the NPT was extended indefinitely. The decision to make it permanent was made in the expectation that disarmament would continue, and perhaps also in the belief that non-proliferation was a winning thing.

3: The experiences after 1995

That’s not how it went. India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons in 1998 and North Korea in 2006 and 2009. After the turn of the millennium, several of the leading nuclear powers began to ignore Article VI of the agreement on the elimination of nuclear arsenals. At the same time, the leading industrialized countries sought to impose new restrictions on peaceful exploitation to prevent more countries from acquiring nuclear material, equipment and technology suitable for weapons purposes.

Many non-aligned states – there are a total of almost 120 of them – claim that this is contrary to Article IV on peaceful use, and they do so with considerable justification. Gradually, therefore, there was an increasingly serious imbalance in duties and rights that threatened to undermine the entire agreement structure. Had the conference in 1995 come a few years later, it would hardly have been possible to extend the NPT indefinitely. Many member states would then prefer an extension for a limited period, in order to exert stronger pressure on the nuclear powers.

When the parties meet in New York on May 3, it is therefore without illusions . Obama’s disarmament initiatives have created expectations, but are also met with critical voices. Some believe that his vision of a nuclear-weapon-free world will most likely boil down to a non-proliferation measure – disarmament to prevent further proliferation, while retaining smaller and modernized nuclear arsenals. To the extent that this succeeds and the NPT is strengthened, the next paragraph will be further restrictions on the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The non-aligned movement is hesitant and critical of the continuation.

The Security Council’s resolution from the summit on disarmament and non-proliferation in the autumn of 2009 also created expectations (the heads of state from all 15 member countries of the Security Council were present). The resolution largely confirms the basic agreement on which the NPT is based – the balance between non-proliferation, disarmament and peaceful exploitation. No one wants to rewrite the agreement, and now there is a greater willingness to stick to it. But the resolution says much more about non-proliferation than about disarmament.

The non-aligned countries were little involved in the negotiations and therefore do not know any ownership of it. The composition of the Security Council is more and more out of step with the population, economic and political shifts to the east and south, and favors the West. So too in this case.

Had President Bush’s policy been continued, it would have been a disaster for the treaty. Now the outlook is better, but without providing a basis for either optimism or pessimism. The expectations are somewhere in between.

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty 1