The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Q1: What is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty?

A1: 1. What is the NPT? The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty entered into force in 1970 and is considered to be the “cornerstone” of the nonproliferation regime. The three pillars of the treaty include nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear disarmament, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The five states recognized by the Treaty as nuclear-weapon States (United States, Russian Federation, China, France and United Kingdom) undertake not to transfer nuclear weapons and the non-nuclear weapon states are not to acquire nuclear weapons. Article VI has been the one most debated over the years, as it calls on parties to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and international control.” The treaty provides the right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Parties are to accept safeguards with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to prevent diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons. Almost 100 states have also concluded an Additional Protocol that expands the IAEA access to nuclear-related sites.

Q2: How many countries belong?

A2: TThe Treaty has 189 States Parties, which is the largest number of any arms control agreement. However, India, Israel and Pakistan have not signed the NPT. North Korea announced its withdrawal in 2003, and further announced that it had conducted an underground nuclear explosion in 2006 and 2009.

Q3: What happens at the review conferences of the NPT?

A3: Every five years the States Parties gather to review the operation of the articles of the Treaty. The eighth such conference is taking place May 3-28 in New York, and this Conference is seen to be particularly important because the Treaty is seen to be under duress due to the increased number of countries acquiring nuclear technology and the perceived lack of compliance with a number of its provisions. Although the goal of the Review Conferences has generally been to produce a consensus final document at the end, this has proven elusive roughly half of the time. Most often there is a substantial amount of text on which Parties agree, but disagreement has typically erupted over issues involving article VI, such as the amount of disarmament that the nuclear-weapon States have achieved, including in particular the entry into force of a comprehensive nuclear test-ban treaty (CTBT), the establishment of a zone free of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, and assurances to non-nuclear weapon States that nuclear weapons would not be used against them. This year questions about compliance (regarding Iran and North Korea), conditions for withdrawal and the establishment of international fuel banks for nuclear energy may also enter the contentious category. The disagreements at the review conferences usually occur between the nuclear-weapon states and their allies versus the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which comprises 118 states.

A number of countries believe that Iran is developing a nuclear bomb and might withdraw from the NPT, as provided in the article on withdrawal. Iran states that its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes. Some countries propose strengthening the IAEA and its inspections, as well as imposing strong sanctions on countries that withdraw from the NPT under suspicious circumstances. A number of the NAM that have fulfilled their obligations under the Treaty do not think that more obligations should be imposed until the nuclear-weapon states fulfill their obligations.

During the first week of the Conference high level Government officials from States Parties present speeches on the issues in the Treaty of concern to them. This year 109 statements were made, many of which were presented by senior or foreign ministers, and President Ahmedinejad of Iran spoke at the first day of the Conference.

Q4: How long does the NPT stay in force?

A4: As provided in the Treaty, twenty-five years after it entered into force, in 1995, the States Parties agreed to extend the Treaty indefinitely. Since then, the countries of the NAM claim that they have not been granted the disarmament conditions that were included in the agreement to extend the treaty, in particular regarding a nuclear-weapon free zone in the Middle East and the entry into force of the CTBT. The nuclear weapon States contend that they have taken large strides towards disarmament by dismantling nuclear weapons, concluding the recently concluded New START agreement, the removal of excess highly enriched uranium and plutonium, and other measures.

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Jenifer Mackby