Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)

The NPT is a multilateral treaty aimed at limiting the spread of nuclear weapons including three elements: (1) non-proliferation, (2) disarmament, and (3) peaceful use of nuclear energy. These elements constitute a “grand bargain” between the five nuclear-weapon states and the non-nuclear-weapon states. 

1. States without nuclear weapons will not acquire them; 

2. States with nuclear weapons will pursue disarmament; 

3. All states can access nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, under safeguards. 

Provisions 

Nuclear & Non-Nuclear Weapon States 

(Article IX): The Treaty defines nuclear weapon states (NWS) as those that had manufactured and detonated a nuclear explosive device prior to 1 January 1967. All the other states are therefore considered non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS). The five nuclear-weapon states are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. 

Nonproliferation 

(Articles I, II, III): Nuclear weapon states are not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons and not to assist, encourage, or induce any NNWS to manufacture or otherwise acquire them. Non-nuclear weapons states are not to receive nuclear weapons from any transferor and are not to manufacture or acquire them. NNWS must accept the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards on all nuclear materials on their territories or under their control. 

Disarmament 

(Articles VI): All Parties must pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control. 

Peaceful Use 

(Article IV): The Treaty does not affect the right of state parties to develop, produce, and use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, provided such activities are in conformity with Articles I  and II. All state parties undertake to facilitate and have a right to participate, in the exchange of equipment, materials, and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

What is the Non-Proliferation Treaty? 

  • The treaty was drawn, drafted and negotiated by the Eighteen Nation Committee on  Disarmament, an UN-sponsored organisation based in Switzerland. 
  • On August 6th and 9th,1945, the twin Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed by the United States with a powerful and terrible weapon – The Atom Bomb. The act brought about the end of World War 2, but with a terrible price. Total casualties amounted between 129,000 to 226,000 between the two cities, with countless other injured and suffering from radiation sickness.
  • The after-effects of the bombings were a serious cause of concern among world powers, along with potential misuse of the weapon. This concern led to calls for a safeguard to ensure a Nuclear Arms Control was in place. Thus it was in 1961, a U.N resolution called for a treaty to prevent an arms race for nuclear weapons. This treaty would go on to become the Non-Proliferation Treaty. 

Key provisions: 

  • The Treaty defines nuclear weapon states (NWS) as those that had manufactured and detonated a nuclear explosive device prior to 1 January 1967. All the other states are therefore considered non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS). 
  • The five nuclear-weapon states are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the  United States. 
  • The Treaty does not affect the right of state parties to develop, produce, and use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Role of states: 

  • Nuclear weapon states are not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons and not to assist, encourage, or induce any NNWS to manufacture or otherwise acquire them. 
  • Non-nuclear weapons states are not to receive nuclear weapons from any transferor and are not to manufacture or acquire them. 
  • NNWS must accept the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards on all nuclear materials on their territories or under their control. 

Who has signed the Non-Proliferation treaty? 

  • Ever since it came into effect since 1970 after it was opened for signing in 1968, the  Non-Proliferation Treaty has 187 nations who are a party to it – more than any other arms limitation treaty. 
  • The Non-Proliferation Treaty prohibits the nations who don’t have nuclear weapons from acquiring them, at the same time prohibiting the nuclear states from helping others in acquiring the weapons. At the same time working towards total disarmament.  The International Atomic Energy Agency, which is the successor of the United Nations  Atomic Energy Commission verifies the compliance with the treaty. The compliance, in turn, is enforced by the United Nations Security Council. 
  • There are a total of nine nations who possess nuclear weapons. 
  • Five of the nations namely – US, UK, France, Russia and China have signed the treaty.  The remaining four nations namely – India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea have not signed the treaty and thus not a party to the treaty. 

Why did India never sign the treaty? 

  • As per the stance of the Indian Government, the treaty in its current form is unfair as it,  virtually, states that the 5 victorious nations of World War II have the right to possess nuclear weapons while condemning the rest of the nations who don’t have the weapons, to be subservient to the whims and fancies of the nations who do. In short,  the treaty divides the world into nuclear ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. 
  • India’s traditional position has always been that either the five nations denuclearize or everyone has the same rights as those who possess them. Also escalation of tensions by one of its nuclear-armed neighbours i.e. China was the primary reason why India conducted its own nuclear tests in the first place. It is this same escalation by India that prompted Pakistan to conduct its own nuclear test in order to act as a deterrent to what is perceived as “India’s naked aggression. 
  • The NPT is an international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to foster the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of disarmament.
  • It represents the only binding commitment in a multilateral treaty to the goal of disarmament by the nuclear-weapon States. 
  • Nuclear-weapon states parties under the NPT are defined as those that manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or another nuclear explosive device before January 1,  1967
  • India did not sign it as the treaty was discriminatory. India argued that treaties like NPT  were selectively applicable to only non-nuclear powers and legitimized the monopoly of nuclear power by a few. 
  • Consequently, India conducted a nuclear explosion test in May 1974, all along maintaining that it was committed to the peaceful use of atomic energy
  • In 1998, India again conducted nuclear explosion tests and acquired the capacity to use nuclear energy for military purposes
  • To alleviate the fears of a world community, India formulated a comprehensive nuclear doctrine. The major tenets of this doctrine are:  

o Maintenance of a credible minimum nuclear deterrence

o Professes no first use policy

o Commitment to global veritable and non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament leading to a nuclear-weapons-free world. 

  • India has abided by both NPT and Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) even though it is a non-signatory. This along with its commitments on nuclear non-proliferation under NSG waiver in 2008 provides India with a strong basis for membership in NSG. 

What are the drawbacks of the treaty? 

  • The main drawbacks of the treaty are that it never held accountable the 5 nations who possessed nuclear weapons at the time when the treaty was signed. At the same time,  the enforcement of the treaty is also a serious cause for concern. Despite the threat of economic sanctions and other serious consequences, North Korea detonated its first bomb in 2006. Now even Iran is poised to go down the same route. 
  • The treaty even has serious loopholes which can be exploited by other nations in order to have their own nuclear weapons program. 
  • Regardless, It’s clear that the world is a better place because of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It was predicted that about 25 nations will possess nuclear weapons. But the mere presence of it has reduced it to 9. 
  • The NPT was not the only reason for this, but the mere presence of the safeguard can at least promise an era of peace, and if the current loopholes are fixed, it will fulfil such a  promise. 

Failure of Disarmament Process 

  • The NPT is largely seen as a Cold War-era instrument that has failed to fulfil the objective of creating a pathway towards a credible disarmament process.
  • Treaty proposes no tangible disarmament roadmap, no reference to testing ban or to the freezing of production of either fissile materials or nuclear weapons, and omitted provisions for reductions and elimination. 
  • It instead allowed sustenance and expansion of arsenals by stipulating January 1, 1967, as the cut-off date to determine the NWS. 

System of Nuclear ‘Haves’ and ‘Have-Nots’ 

  • NNWS criticizes the treaty to be discriminatory as it focuses on preventing only horizontal proliferation while there is no limit for vertical proliferation. 
  • In this context, NNWS groupings demand that the NWS should renounce their arsenals and further production in return for a commitment of NNWS not to produce them. 
  • Apart from it, other reasons for a tussle between NWS and NNWS. 
  • NNWS held that Articles I & II of the treaty (prohibition of possessing nuclear weapons) did not prohibit nuclear weapons on the allied territory of NWS. For example, NATO countries for the US. 
  • NWWS also feels that the restrictions on Peaceful Nuclear Explosion (PNE) technology are one-sided. 
  • Under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) protocols of nuclear safety, the  NWS allowed maintaining ‘voluntary’ safeguards while the rest were subjected to comprehensive safeguards, which seemed intrusive and discriminatory to the  NNWS. 
  • Due to this tussle, most of the quadrennial Review Conferences (RevCon), the forum that reviews the health and functioning of the treaty, has remained largely inconclusive since 1995.

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Blog Post written by:
Anurag Trivedi
UPSC Mentor