NPT – The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons is a milestone international treaty whose objective is to avert the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the nonviolent uses of nuclear energy and to further the goal of attaining nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament. The Treaty represents the only binding commitment in a multilateral treaty to the goal of disarmament by the nuclear-weapon States. Opened for signature in 1968, the Treaty entered into force in 1970. On 11 May 1995, the Treaty was prolonged indefinitely. A total of 191 States have joined the Treaty, including the five nuclear-weapon States.
The bipolar world finished with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and after witnessing a unipolar world for around two decades. Now, the world is entering into a new epoch of multipolarity. The treaty reflects the political realities of the cold war and is of no relevance in today’s world branded by asymmetry. The other treaties between the two cold war giants like Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty are already obsolete and others like Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) are being challenged every day. Besides the factor of multipolarity, the danger of use of nuclear weapons by non-state actors is also relevant in the current era and the same is not covered under NPT.
But whatever the flaws in the treaty, the non-recognition of its accomplishments cannot be admissible. President Kennedy back in 1963, just few days before his assassination cautioned the world during his peace speech that at the speed with which the nuclear technology is advancing, 1975, there will be around 15-20 nations with nuclear weapons and the same concern was shared by the then Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
The treaty came into being when the world suffered the madness and danger of annihilation due to use of nuclear weapons by the two superpowers and history is eyewitness to some of the terrible events like the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and series of war games conducted by US and NATO allies in 1983. The two poles clashed politically and ideologically thus dividing the East and the West for around five decades. But even during these tough times, the Non-Proliferation Treaty witnessed 185 non-nuclear weapon signatories, formation of nuclear-weapons free zones thus leaving the entire Southern Hemisphere, a no-nuclear region and a whopping 85 per cent reduction in nuclear weapons stockpile. It has quite successfully averted the proliferation of nuclear weapons and only four countries have acquired nuclear weapons since 1970 after the treaty came into force, thus bringing the total number of nuclear weapon-possessing countries to 9. President Lyndon Johnson termed the treaty as historic and the most important treaty in the nuclear age.
The Treaty comprises of three elements- disarmament, non-proliferation and use of nuclear energy for peaceful means. The Treaty obliged the nuclear weapon-states to work on concerns of non-proliferation and disarmament and they were required to help the non-nuclear states in obtaining nuclear technology for peaceful means. And in exchange, the non-nuclear states were required to never work for a nuclear-weapons obtaining program. These provisions have also resulted into the treaty being criticized as prejudiced, unjust and derisory in providing security to non-nuclear states. From some perspectives, this might seem to be true because there is no clause in NPT guaranteeing security to the non-nuclear states that they will be given sufficient protection against any nuclear attack.
Although not fit for today’s multipolar world and lacking in numerous other aspects as mentioned earlier, but the treaty emerged out as a grundnorm against proliferation. It helped in creation of the nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and set the provisions of sanctions for violation of standards and obligations.
While, it is completely alright to extol the Treaty, it is not acceptable to turn a blind eye to the current state of political affairs when the tension between world powers is again high. Sino-U.S. and U.S.-Russia bilateral relations are sharply deteriorating with huge distrusts against one another. With the withdrawal of United States from 2015’s JCPOA agreement with Iran and INF Treaty with Russia, the world appears to be headed for another arms race. Without fulfilling terms of these agreements, the goals of NPT cannot be accomplished. With the contemporary tensions in the nuclear world, there is also a threat that the number of nuclear-weapons state may increase. The Saudis have already made it clear that they will be obtaining nuclear weapons in case their arch-rival Iran builds one.
North Korea and US relations are going through a logjam and negotiations have come to a halt raising concerns in entire Asia-Pacific. Russia has weakened the proposal of the United States to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) of 2010 intended to cover bilateral negotiations to cover all anxieties regarding nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles and conventional strike weapons.
The lax attitude of the nuclear states to fulfill their disarmament obligations and with the NPT’s purpose of complete disarmament in doldrums, irritated by this reckless attitude of the nuclear powers, 120 countries who are signatories to Non-Proliferation Treaty brought Treaty for Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in 2017 but the same was boycotted by the 9 nuclear states.
The NPT faces numerous challenges, including that of continued political relevance. The Nuclear as well as the Non-nuclear states have to comprehend that there is a need for negotiations on a holistic treaty which suits the demands of the ongoing and speedily changing world order.
You May Also Like: