What Next for the NPT?

Facing the Moment of Truth

by Roland Timerbaev

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For over 30 years, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has been the center and foundation of an interlocking network of agreements, organizations and international arrangements. They were designed to slow down, if not effectively bring to an end, the further spread of nuclear weapons. The regime was intended to include all the nations of the world - those that had nuclear weapons and those that might wish to acquire them in future.

Though this goal has never been fully achieved, the NPT, over the years, has been a reasonable success. If there had been no NPT, the total number of nuclear-weapon States (NWS) might have reached 30 or 40 by now. But today we have only eight, with one or two still trying to reach nuclear-weapon status. Since the conclusion of the NPT many more countries have given up nuclear weapon programs than have started them. There are fewer nuclear weapons in the world and fewer States with nuclear weapons programs than there were twenty or thirty years ago.

If there had been no NPT, the total number of nuclear-weapon states might have reached 30 or 40 by now.

The single most significant factor in producing this result has been the global non-proliferation legal norm established by the NPT, as well as the incentives for remaining non-nuclear States that the NPT helped initiate and provide. So, NPT achievements are indisputable. The treaty has gained an almost universal adherence. Only three nations have chosen not to join it - India, Pakistan and Israel - and one State, North Korea, has decided to withdraw from the treaty.

This unquestionable success could never have been achieved without long-term cooperation among many States, and primarily between the United States and the Russian Federation. Both nations, as co-chairs of the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee, initiated, back in the 1960s, the negotiation of the NPT, and, with the support of many other countries, the treaty was successfully concluded.

Since then, the international treaty regime has been consistently improved, updated and extended. To name only a few additional non-proliferation measures, one should mention the IAEA comprehensive system of safeguards (INFCIRC/153); the Zangger Committee; the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG); the Tlatelolco, Rarotonga, Bangkok and Pelindaba Treaties establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones in their respective regions of the world; the Brazil-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC); and the IAEA additional protocol to comprehensive safeguards agreements of 1997 (INFCIRC/540).

Among the most recent additions to the regime are the global partnership against the spread of weapons and materials of mass destruction agreed among the G-8 nations in 2002; the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) to interdict illegal transfers of weapons and materials; the Security Council Resolution 1540(2004) requiring States to increase security for weapons and materials and enact stricter export controls and laws to criminalize proliferation activities by individuals and corporations; the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), jointly coordinated by the United States and Russia, which seeks to identify and secure dangerous materials at nuclear research reactors in many States.

Thus, we have been witnessing increased international cooperation in combating the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the spread of dangerous materials, and the responsible nations would certainly continue to seek new and more effective antidotes against this enduring evil. However, one has to admit that this continuous struggle is becoming more and more complex and demanding. Despite major non-proliferation successes, the spread and potential use of nuclear weapons, radiological dispersion devices (RDD), or so-called "dirty bombs," remain all too real.

The nations that created the world's nuclear regime could not force all countries to join the NPT. Nor have the treaty members consistently adhered to their own solemn commitments. Problems now exist that threaten the world community both by the use of nuclear weapons and by the collapse of international non-proliferation restraints.

Moscow, 1 July 1968

Signing of the NPT

Signing of the NPT. On behalf of Austria, the Treaty is signed by the Austrian Ambassador to the USSR, Mr. Walter Wodak.

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