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What is the NPT: Non-Proliferation Treaty?
The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons – known as the “Non-Proliferation Treaty” and the “NPT”—opened for signature simultaneously in London, Moscow and Washington on 1 July 1968.
The NPT entered into force on 5 March 1970, after 40 States had signed and ratified the Treaty – including the Soviet Union, United Kingdom and the United States, which are the Depositary States for the NPT.
The NPT is nearly universally regarded as the “cornerstone” of the global architecture for nuclear arms control and disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
The NPT is the most widely adhered to and most successful internationally legally binding nuclear arms control treaty. The NPT has been signed and is being implemented by 191 States. Three States have rejected joining the NPT: India, Israel and Pakistan. North Korea was a party to the NPT but withdrew from the Treaty in January 2003 citing national security concerns. South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011 and has yet to sign the NPT.
The NPT defines “nuclear-weapon States” as those that had manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon before 1 January 1967. Thus, the NPT regards only China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States as “nuclear-weapon States”. These five States coincidentally also are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, but the UN Charter does not consider them as such as it was signed in 1946.
Under the NPT, the five nuclear-weapon States have a legal obligation “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 effective international control”.
At the 2000 NPT Review Conference, the five nuclear-weapon States agreed to “An unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament, to which all States parties are committed under article VI” of the Treaty.
The 186 non-nuclear-weapon States party to the NPT are obligated to accept safeguards (intrusive on-site inspections) by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “for the exclusive purpose of verification of … preventing diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices”.
The NPT recognizes “the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination … to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy … to the further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, especially … with due consideration for the needs of the developing areas of the world”.
Cooperation on peaceful uses of nuclear energy among States whether parties to the NPT or not, has been carried out since 1957 under the auspices of the IAEA and its Technical Cooperation, Nuclear Energy, Nuclear Safety and Security, and Nuclear Sciences and Applications Programmes. Today, the IAEA has more than 840 technical cooperation projects for peaceful uses of nuclear energy in more than 140 IAEA Member States. Such international cooperation on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy is independent of the NPT and not as a function of the Treaty.
Webinar: The Future of the NPT after 50 Years?, 04.11.2021
The Multilateral Dialogue of the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation in Vienna, together with Atomic Reporters, invites you to an online discussion on "The Future of the Non-Proliferation Treaty after 50 Years?". The NPT entered into force on 5 March 1970; it was extended indefinitely in force on 11 May 1995. The Treaty is the most successful and the most widely adhered to multilateral legally binding instrument governing nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament and cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy – the “three pillars” of the Treaty.
What are NPT Review Conferences?
Given the imbalance in the respective obligations of the nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon States, the NPT includes a provision to hold “Review Conferences” starting five years after its entry into force. Accordingly, review conferences have been held every five years from 1975 onwards.
The objectives of review conferences are to review the operation and implementation of the Treaty in the past five years, and to agree by consensus of all States parties in attendance on recommendations and actions for the next five years to strengthen the implementation of the NPT and promote its universality. In each of the three preceding years before a review conference, a Preparatory Committee meets for 10 working days respectively at IAEA headquarters in Vienna, and at UN Offices in Geneva and New York.
The review conferences of 1975, 1985, 1995, 2000 and 2010 were successful in producing consensus outcome or final documents. But the review conferences in 1980, 1990, 2005 and 2015 could not agree on a final document primarily due to unresolvable differences on nuclear disarmament (and the ones in 2005 and 2015 also on differences over establishing a zone free of nuclear weapons in the region of the Middle East).
The NPT stated that 25 years after entry into force, “a conference shall be convened to decide whether the Treaty shall continue in force indefinitely or shall be extended for an additional fixed period or periods. This decision shall be taken by a majority of the Parties to the Treaty”.
The 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference agreed to extend the Treaty indefinitely on the basis of an integrated and interlinked package of three decisions and a resolution. These were: (1) strengthening the NPT review process; (2) principles and objectives for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation; (3) indefinite extension of the NPT; and a resolution on a nuclear- and weapons of mass destruction free zone in the Middle East.
MultiPod: Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferatuion – Future of the NPT after 50 years
In this episode, we talk about the Future of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) that entered into force on 5 March 1970; it was extended indefinitely on 11 May 1995. The Treaty is the most successful and the most widely adhered to multilateral legally binding instrument governing nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament and cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy – the “three pillars” of the Treaty.
Tenth NPT Review Conference
The NPT Review Conference originally scheduled for April-May 2020 – the tenth review conference – had to be postponed to dates in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It finally will convene in New York from 4 to 28 January 2022. The President-designate is Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Gustavo Zlauvinen of Argentina. Information on the Secretariat of the conference can be found here.
The contentious issues before the 2022 NPT Review Conference include: (a) lack of progress on nuclear disarmament; (b) the relationship of the NPT to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons; (c) the Middle East; (d) Iran’s nuclear programme and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action of 2015; and (e) nuclear exports to States not party to the NPT. The conference will assess the contribution of nuclear energy to combating climate change; peaceful nuclear applications for cancer therapy, agriculture, water, and zoonotic diseases among others – these generally secure wide support of States.
In advance of the Review Conference, the five nuclear-weapon States have issued a joint statement – a practice they started in 2009 – in which they reiterated their “long-term efforts towards disarmament and the ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons with undiminished security for all”. While this is regarded as a positive development given deteriorating relations between the United States and China and Russia, the joint statement is devoid of any near term commitments regarding nuclear disarmament and negotiation of new treaties towards this end.
Given the onset of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus, there now is some uncertainty whether the conference can be held as scheduled. The UN Secretariat will make the determination about business continuity measures and inform accordingly.
Civil society participation at the Review Conference will be entirely virtually/online, as their physical access to the UN building in New York is excluded until the pandemic situation improves.
Media access to the conference rooms and media booths remains restricted. The UN Secretariat will update this guidance should these guidelines be revised ahead of or during the Review Conference.
The omens thus far remain bleak for the Review Conference agreeing by consensus on actions and commitments on reducing nuclear weapons and risks, and on making progress on establishing a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. On the other hand, given the evident fragility of human life in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic we could be surprised by delegates being conducive to making compromises and thus to agree on a few actions to be implemented in the period leading to the next review conference in 2025.
About this series
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