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Definition: Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty from The Macquarie Dictionary

an international treaty aimed at the general reduction of weapons by the nuclear countries and encouraging non-nuclear nations to refrain from developing such weapons; signed in 1968 by many countries including the US, Britain and the Soviet Union and becoming effective in 1970 for 25 years; France and China signed in 1992; in 1995 the UN voted to continue the treaty indefinitely.

From Encyclopedia of United States National Security

Treaty intended to halt the spread of nuclear weapons that obliges nonnuclear weapons member-states to agree not to manufacture, control, or receive the transfer of nuclear weapons. Nonnuclear weapons states also agree to accept certain safeguards to verify that nuclear materials are not being diverted from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons. In exchange, nuclear weapons state signatories with advanced nuclear technology pledge to assist them in developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) entered into force on March 5, 1970, and as of 2005, it has been signed and ratified by 189 countries.

The testing of nuclear weapons by France in 1960 and China four years later gave impetus to the formation of a nuclear nonproliferation treaty regime. Both countries had independently developed their nuclear weapons, which raised concerns that other industrial countries might also attempt to develop nuclear weapons. Reasoning that nuclear proliferation increases the risk of nuclear war, a treaty regime intended to prevent the further spread of nuclear weapons was proposed at the United Nations. After a decade of intense negotiations, primarily between the Soviet Union and the United States, the UN endorsed the treaty and opened it for signature in 1968.

The most significant feature of the NPT is the separation of all potential parties into two groups—states that manufactured and detonated a nuclear weapon prior to January 1, 1967, and those that had not. Under the terms of the treaty, nuclear weapons states—namely the United States, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, France, and China—are permitted to keep their nuclear arsenals, provided that they do not transfer nuclear weapons to nonnuclear weapons states or assist them in developing nuclear weapons.

In addition, under Article VI of the treaty, the nuclear weapons states pledge to pursue negotiations in good faith to end the nuclear arms race and achieve complete nuclear disarmament. However, little progress has been made toward reducing nuclear arsenals, prompting controversy that the nuclear-weapons states are not meeting their obligations under Article VI. Nonnuclear weapons states argue that failure to meet these obligations is discriminatory because they bear the majority of the costs and responsibilities under the treaty, whereas the nuclear weapons states maintain a monopoly over the transfer and control of nuclear weapons.

A key element of honoring the NPT is the verification of compliance with its terms through the implementation of safeguards. The international organization responsible for verifying compliance is the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Founded in 1957 and headquartered in Vienna, Austria, the IAEA is an independent organization, not a UN agency. It conducts audits of declared nuclear materials and on-site inspections in nonnuclear weapons states. The IAEA cannot conduct inspections on undeclared or indigenously developed nuclear facilities, however.

The discovery of clandestine nuclear activities during the 1980s and 1990s in Iraq and North Korea revealed the ineffectiveness of the verification system. It demonstrated the IAEA’s inability to provide credible assurances against prohibited nuclear activity occurring within a member-state. To resolve these shortcomings, the Additional Protocols, which would allow for more intrusive inspections of nuclear facilities, were proposed in 1997. However, NPT member-states remain reluctant to ratify the Additional Protocols, mainly because of concerns for the security of sensitive nuclear technology and increased discrimination against nonnuclear weapons states.

Article X of the NPT gives member-states the right to withdrawal from the treaty provided a state gives three months notice. North Korea is the only member-state to have exercised this right. It announced its intentions to withdraw immediately from the treaty on January 10, 2003, stating that its previous announcement to withdraw in 1993 was never suspended, so it was not required to give three months’ advanced notice to the security council and other NPT parties. Although issues remain as to whether North Korea’s withdrawal should be recognized, it no longer considers itself bound by the treaty.

North Korea’s withdrawal from the NPT further damages the treaty’s effectiveness in stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. Its refusal to comply with IAEA safeguards and eventual expulsion of IAEA inspectors implies that North Korea had an advanced nuclear program prior to its withdrawal from the treaty. Although the IAEA Board of Governors referred the North Korea issue to the UN Security Council, it has yet to decide on the matter. North Korea’s withdrawal without consequences reveals the limited capability of the regime to respond to those who breach the treaty, lending further uncertainty to the legitimacy of the NPT.

The NPT’s lack of universality and its inability to control nuclear weapons outside of the treaty are its most serious challenges. The ambiguous status of North Korea and the three de facto nuclear weapons states—Israel, India, and Pakistan—pose an uncontrolled threat to the international community. It is unlikely that these nations will be persuaded to join the NPT as nonnuclear states, citing the discriminatory features of the treaty and prevailing security concerns. Granting these states any special status within the NPT, however, might assign value to the possession of nuclear weapons.

Because of gaps in the NPT, many member-states have called for strong reforms of the treaty and the IAEA verification system. Without reforms, they argue, the legitimacy of the NPT regime will continue to be jeopardized and never achieve its original objective of stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. Despite its weaknesses, though, the NPT continues to have a prominent role in maintaining the security of its member-states and the international community.

    See also
  • Arms Control; Arms Race; Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (1996–); International Atomic Energy Agency; Limited Test Ban Treaty (1963); Non- and Counterproliferation; Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty; Nuclear Weapons; Verification

Further Reading
  • Dunn, L. Controlling the Bomb. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1982.
  • Muller, Harald; David Fischer; Wolfgang Kotter. Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Global Order. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
  • Spector, L. Going Nuclear. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger, 1987.
  • Copyright © 2006 by Sage Publications, Inc.

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