Today, 5 March, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) entered into force 51 years ago. It opened for signature 1 July 1968 and entered into force 5 March 1970. The Treaty is described as the most important disarmament and arms control treaty of nuclear weapons.
The Non-Proliferation Treaty is of vital importance for international endeavors in nuclear disarmament. The Treaty was negotiated and adopted in a political climate characterized by the Cold War’s arms race, fear of proliferation and increased risk of use, and, thus, made the world a less safe place.
The Treaty recognizes the US, Russia, the UK, France and China as five Nuclear Weapons States. The states which have acquired nuclear weapons after 1968 are, hence, not recognized by the NPT as Nuclear Weapons Sates. In 1995, the NPT Review Conference, arranged every fifth year, extended the due date of the Treaty's objectives to indefinite – unlike the 25 years set in 1968.
The Non-Proliferation Treaty contains three pillars. These are non-proliferation, disarmament and the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy.
Non-Proliferation means that Nuclear Weapons States cannot transfer nuclear weapons, explosives or assist other states to acquire such weapons. Non-Nuclear Weapons States cannot acquire or control nuclear weapons or explosives or receive assistance to develop. In addition, the NPT refers to safeguards by the International Atomic Energy Agency to secure compliance. Thus, the Treaty is dual: States cannot give or receive nuclear weapons or knowledge of how to develop them.
Art. VI expects Nuclear Weapon States to, in good faith, work toward active measures for the disarmament of nuclear arms. This article represents the only binding obligation to nuclear disarmament Nuclear Weapons States have under international law.
The last pillar is the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy. Art. IV recognizes all states’ universal right to the development of nuclear energy, and to harvest goods of international cooperation in the realm. Without exceptions, this development must be done in compliance with the pillar of non-proliferation and safeguards by the IAEA.
CTBT and NPT: Complementary Treaties?
In 1996, 26 years after the NPT entered into force, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) was adopted by the UN General Assembly and opened for signature. The CTBT bans all nuclear tests and explosions and has over the years established a norm against testing – despite not having entered into force.
Member states of the NPT perceives the CTBT as a key contributor to the non-proliferation regime and an example of how international treaties and cooperation can move us toward a world without nuclear weapons. The test ban makes it more challenging for states with intentions to develop these weapons to do so and constrains the Nuclear Weapons States’ further development and modernization of current arsenals.
The CTBT is presented as an international treaty that continuously builds bridges between Nuclear Weapons States and Non-Nuclear Weapons States. The objective to find common ground between states was highlighted during the NPT Preparatory Committee in 2019. More than 75 NPT member states ascribed the CTBT to a bridge-builder role in their opening statements.
NPT in 2021
In 2021, the NPT has 191 States Signatories. India, Israel, Pakistan and South Sudan have not signed the treaty, whilst North Korea chose to withdraw in 2003.
The NPT Review Conference 2020 had to be postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is now announced that the conference will be held in August 2021 in New York or digitally.