Foreign Policy Short Form

The Failure of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is a toothless tiger – a seemingly stringent regime against nuclear weapons but without any real enforcement capacity. The three stated goals of the NPT are as follows: preventing non-nuclear weapons states from acquiring nuclear weapons, disallowing nuclear weapons states from assisting non-nuclear weapons states in acquiring nuclear weapons and moving towards disarmament, and finally granting access to civilian nuclear technology to non-nuclear weapons states. Not only has the NPT failed to accomplish any of these goals but in its current form may be counterproductive in reaching them – its dissolution and replacement with a more modern and enforceable treaty is preferable.

            First, the NPT has been unable to prevent non-nuclear weapon states from acquiring the bomb. Nations that have developed nuclear capabilities since the NPT’s inception in 1968 have simply not signed the treaty or withdrawn from it. India first tested its weapon in 1974, Israel is suspected to have developed weapons in the late 60s and Pakistan formally tested their weapons in 1998 – none of the three were signatories to the NPT and to this day are not. North Korea simply withdrew from the treaty in 2003 and proceeded to develop nuclear weapons. Rather than deterring countries from pursuing nuclear capabilities, the NPT has alienated non-nuclear weapons states and subject them to arbitrary oversight from nuclear countries. This tension was in part the reason India not only refused to sign the NPT, but developed weapons as a result. During a visit to Tokyo in 2007, India’s External Affairs Minister Mukherjee said of the NPT that it “created a club of ‘nuclear haves’ and ‘nuclear have-nots’…and is a flawed treaty which did not recognize the need for universal, non-discriminatory verification and treatment” (Times of India). India’s refusal to accede to the NPT did not impede its ability to access civilian nuclear technology however. In 2005, India signed a 123 Agreement with the United States to achieve full nuclear energy cooperation (Kerr). The US Congress allowed the President to waive provisions of the Atomic Energy Act which prevented the direct export of civilian nuclear technology to non-NPT states (Kerr). Thus the NPT has also failed in preventing non-member and non-nuclear weapon states from garnering access to civilian technology.

            Second, the NPT has not been able to push nuclear-weapon states to total disarmament or even come close. The five legally recognized nuclear states – United States, Russia, China, France and UK – are either currently deploying nuclear weapons systems or plan to do so (World Nuclear Forces). Instead of the rate of disarmament increasing over time, it has actually been decreasing. In the last five years, the US arsenal has only decreased by 309 warheads as compared to a decrease of 3,287 warheads in the five years before that (Bulletin of Atomic Scientists). Russia has similarly retired only about 1,000 warheads in the past five years compared to 2,500 in the preceding five years. The UK has not disarmed any weapons since 2010, France since 2008 and China since 2004 (Bulletin of Atomic Scientists). As of 2014, almost 5 decades after the NPT went into effect; the nine nuclear armed states possess around 16,400 warheads – enough to arm every country on Earth with roughly the size of Israel’s arsenal (Bulletin of Atomic Scientists). The fault with the NPT in failing to reach its goal is clear – there is no binding mechanism in the treaty that can enforce disarmament.

            Rather than letting the status quo of failed nuclear control continue, it is time to replace the NPT with an NPT 2.0. This new NPT should have all treaty members bolster the IAEA’s scope and budget to allow for more thorough nuclear monitoring and set timetables for disarmament progress with legitimate punishments for failure to adhere. There should be firm penalties for violations in treaty commitments as well as withdrawal. Finally any state that tests a nuclear weapon be denied any form of nuclear trade. If the NPT is given some bite, it can be an effective tool in making the world a safer place.

Works Cited

Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. “Slowing nuclear weapon reductions and endless nuclear weapon modernizations: A challenge to the NPT”, Jul2014, Vol. 70 Issue 4, p94-107. 14p. 2 Charts, 1 Graph

Kerr, Paul. “U.S. Nuclear Cooperation with India: Issues for Congress” Congressional Research Service, June 26, 2012,

The Times of India. “India dismisses NPT as ‘flawed’ treaty”, March 23rd, 2007,

World nuclear forces, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2013 Annual Yearbook,

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