First essay from my revamped dissertation (1st third…)

This is a whistle-stop tour of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, what it means to the world, how it’s not working and the role of America…


The threat of nuclear proliferation is no longer being adequately contained by the original nuclear non-proliferation regime with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at its heart.

As of 2001, the United States (US) administration has adopted new measures to counteract the proliferation of nuclear weapons. This paper proposes that the new measures adopted by the US are not effective in ensuring security from nuclear proliferation or protecting against nuclear attack. In fact it is argued that the US approach is paradoxically driving nuclear proliferation and therefore increasing the security risk to the US, its measures acting to undermine the nuclear non-proliferation regime without replacing it with an improved regime.

It is proposed that the nuclear regime for all of its failings is a necessary bedrock for a world where nuclear non-proliferation is a norm. This regime, and the treaty, is reliant on multilateral buy-in. A constructive way forward would be to fix the NPT and then build new mechanisms to counter the new drivers affecting both demand and supply of nuclear weaponization.

The assumption – nuclear non-proliferation norm

This paper is predicated on the assumption that the norm of global nuclear non-proliferation should be upheld. The containment of nuclear weapons provides security to every nation; nuclear weapons should be contained and restricted as much as possible. The nuclear non-proliferation regime, with the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at its centre, is critical to containing the spread of nuclear weapons. For the purposes of a detailed health check of the current nuclear non-proliferation regime and related US policy other schools of thought will not be looked at in this paper.

In order to undertake a health check of the nuclear non-proliferation regime it is reviewed and evaluated. The review of the nuclear non-proliferation regime is divided into three parts, the treaty itself, the NPT; the watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors and verifies compliance; and the enforcement of the treaty. The review of the related US policy will be undertaken by identifying initiatives and polices of the US from 2001 to 2005, which are targeting nuclear non-proliferation and their effectiveness will be assessed. A summary of the impact of how the identified measures are impacting the nuclear non-proliferation regime and the resulting effect on the security of the US will be made and recommendations set-out for how the US can most effectively counter and enforce nuclear non-proliferation and protect national security.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: its failings and its future

The creation of the Atomic bomb club

This year (2005) commemorates sixty years since the atom bomb first became a viable weapon of war. The United States developed and tested the first atom bomb in the New Mexico Desert. The test showed the atomic bomb to be unmatched in its destructive capabilities. The same year atom bombs were used for the first and last time by America; dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The global response to this weapon was that the ‘nuke’ should never again be employed. Despite global rejection of the application of nuclear weapons four more states soon followed America’s precedent and developed an overt nuclear capability, by 1964 there were five nuclear powers: America, the Soviet Union, France, Britain and China. The strategy of nuclear deterrence, explaining why nuclear weapons were not used during the Cold War, could no longer provide the assurances against nuclear war in an increasingly unbalanced, multi-polar world. The benefits of acquiring a nuclear capability suggested that the countries that could, would develop nuclear weapons. Predictions of vertical proliferation between the most powerful states drove the need to create a non-proliferation regime. The general fear of nuclear proliferation was that it would make the world more insecure through the increased chances of nuclear warfare.[1]

The creation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was, and still is the most comprehensive, effective lever in place to counter the spread of nuclear weapons. The NPT was signed by Washington, London and Moscow on July 1, 1968 and came into force on March 5, 1970. The underlying aim of the treaty is to provide a legal backbone to the nuclear non-proliferation  norm. The treaty attempts to address vertical proliferation within those states with nuclear weapons and horizontal proliferation among those states. [CN1] There is essentially a deal that keeps the balance between capping and disarming Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) and ensuring that Non-Nuclear Weapon States (NNWS) do not become NWS. Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) agree to enter into nuclear disarmament talks ‘in good faith’ (article xxx of the NPT) and promise to share their nuclear technology for peaceful purposes with NNWS in a bid to allow those countries to benefit from nuclear technology without becoming weaponised. In return NNWS agree not to develop, seek or obtain nuclear weapons.

This is a system of incentives and sanctions to keep countries from going nuclear.

‘The NPT and its system of onsite inspections were unique in arms control for almost 20 years…The most remarkable aspect of the treaty is its division of the world into two kinds of states subject to two different sets of obligations…Such an unsymmetrical agreement was possible only because the nuclear weapons states had for many years almost exclusive control over access to nuclear technology.’[2]

The NPT’s effectiveness lies in its comprehensiveness, it includes almost all members of the United Nations and has sustained a norm of global nuclear non-proliferation. The treaty’s success in gaining ratified members is unprecedented with nearly one hundred and ninety countries by 2005. Countries that signed the treaty are subject to its law as well as their own sovereign laws. The near universal adoption of the treaty has been remarkable as it displays not only an unusually high level of agreement but also submission to a law that can be used to trump sovereign law. The interesting question this poses is around the popularity, the efficacy and therefore the validity of international law. Would the uptake of this treaty ever be put to the test?  If the perception that ratifying the NPT was like an ‘anti-nuclear’ accolade how would members react if the treaty was then enforced? [CN2] Unlike other the Kyoto Protocol or the International Criminal Court, the NPT has been an international legal agreement which the United States is comfortable signing-up to. The mettle of this treaty would be tested when and if the treaty failed to react to non-compliance.

The Nuclear non-proliferation regime arguably includes many different treaties and measures,  including the START treaty, xxxxxx, however the NPT is the umbrella treaty, encompassing nearly all countries, irrespective of the nuclear status. It is important not to forget that the regime is the sum of all these endeavours but for the purposes of this paper, the NPT and the accompanying IAEA are the primary subjects. The International Atomic Energy Agency is the body that monitors and verifies the compliance of member states to the NPT.(more information here)

The NPT honeymoon

The treaty proved to be largely successful in its efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons up until the 1990s. To begin with; South Africa, Brazil and Libya displayed the effectiveness of the NPT and the nuclear non-proliferation regime. South Africa was touted as a successful roll-back in the hands of the IAEA, with De Klerk admitting to a covert nuclear weapons programme and effectively handing it over to the IAEA. The end of the cold war in the 90s also proved a successful stage for the IAEA with post-soviet nations working to secure and reduce stores of nuclear weapons left behind by the retreating Russian Federation.

However cracks began to appear when certain renegade countries refused to join, in the form of India and Pakistan. And, what would be later discovered, the treaty could be easily undermined by determined countries who refused to comply with the treaty’s requirements; forcing the international community’s hand at detection and enforcement and showing up loopholes in the treaty and a lack of verification and enforcement mandate in the regime to ensure nuclear non-proliferation.

The treaty was successfully established during the Cold War and reflected the security environment of the five nuclear powers, manifested in international organisations and the global economy. The treaty was largely successful in its first two decades, effectively addressing countries considering nuclear development and retaining them within the non-proliferation regime. Countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Libya have renounced their nuclear programmes and the very fact that only three countries have since explicitly acquired nuclear weapons shows that John F Kennedy’s fear of twenty countries going nuclear by the 1970s was overblown. However in the past decade there has been a decline in the effectiveness of the treaty; more countries are acting contrary to the NPT and going down the path towards nuclear weaponization. The treaty and the regime is proving to be an easy obstacle to by-pass for any motivated state.

The Inertia of the NPT

The NPT was predicated on a 25 year review deadline; it was not envisioned to be a permanent, unchanging feature of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. It has surpassed expectations by remaining the key underpinning legal instrument of the non-proliferation regime.

The five-year review sessions were written into the treaty’s charter as a mechanism by which to discuss and update the treaty. However by the second session, conflicts between members disrupted the review session, few final documents have been agreed on. Out of the past four Review Conferences only one, in 1995, produced an agreed Final Document. In 1995 the NPT was up for indefinite renewal after twenty-five years and it was successfully passed. This renewal should have represented the success of the treaty however in the words of Dhanapala, the chairman of the conference, the renewal was an ‘indefinite but conditional extension’. The treaty was deemed to be flawed by many states, especially those that were not nuclear. The allegations come from both sides; non-nuclear members argued that they had successfully fulfilled their obligations in article six (nuclear disarmament) compared to the nuclear members, and nuclear states argued that really the problem was that the NPT is effectively carrying out verification and compliance. The extension of the treaty was agreed upon as part of a package along with two conditions for its renewal and repair. The two measures included in the package were: a document entitled ‘Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament’, and the reinforcement of the review mechanism of the NPT.[3]

Ten years later, the 2005 review session had failed yet again to resolve the problems plaguing the treaty. The failures of the treaty and review processes, encountered throughout the treaty’s history have still not been addressed. Relations between members were such that the agenda itself could not be agreed upon, according to El Baradei, “we are ending a month of rancour…and the same issues continue to stare us in the eyes”.[4] The two conditions of the 1995 indefinite renewal, updating the treaty and review process, have not been addressed.

Issues with the NPT and the nuclear non-proliferation regime

Disarming in good faith is one of underlying issues with the constitution of the treaty, as well as absentees from the treaty, including Israel, Pakistan and India. Issues of verification and enforcement of non-compliance are procedural problems with the implementation of the treaty, these include latent proliferation, second-tier proliferation and improper withdrawal from the treaty.

Procedural problems

Verification and enforcement procedures need be updated and repaired. Procedural failings will continue to challenge the treaty and test how effective it is in countering the new threats of nuclear proliferation.

One of the longest standing procedural problems of the treaty is that of latent proliferation. This is where non-nuclear weapon states, party to the treaty, are using the cover of membership to build a clandestine nuclear weapons programme. The treaty ensures a  civil nuclear exchange programme, and this can be turned to acquiring military nuclear technology due to the dual-use nature of much nuclear technology. The civil nuclear programme is one of the underlying premises (article four) and main incentives of the treaty to non-nuclear states, making the deal for Non-Nuclear Weapon states worthwhile. The key instrument countering the problem of latent proliferation is the IAEA, the agency of the treaty set up to monitor and verify that non-nuclear countries are not developing nuclear capabilities. Previously the agency has not had the jurisdiction to confront a suspected country; suspect countries could avoid identification until a country chose to announce their military nuclear programme. Furthermore when a nuclear weaponization programme has been announced, the international community has failed to impose sanctions due to lack of protocol and consensus. The Additional Protocol has been recently introduced to give the IAEA more authority, to target countries suspected and carry out comprehensive verification procedures. The Additional Protocol needs to be ratified by all members before it can strengthen the IAEA.[5] Currently both Iran and North Korea are accused of latent proliferation.

The second procedural problem is an addendum to latent proliferation; the problem of withdrawing from the treaty, exemplified by the withdrawal of North Korea from the NPT. This problem is on the rise and threatening to ruin the treaty and the nuclear non-proliferation regime with it. This refers to Article Ten in the NPT, the sovereign right to withdraw from the NPT; abiding by the treaty can be optional as commitment to the treaty is voluntary. There is a protocol to follow if a country withdraws however North Korea did not follow protocol and there were no repercussions for North Korea. It demonstrated how latent proliferators could  benefit from the civil nuclear program and develop a clandestine nuclear programme in contravention of the treaty and then avoid enforcement of the treaty by withdrawing. The impact of this is that it makes a mockery of the NPT where countries can use the treaty to build a nuclear weapons programme and then quit when they see fit. This affects all other members, Nuclear Weapons States and Non-Nuclear Weapon States undermining the treaty’s legitimacy.  This is a serious loophole of the treaty and highlights the need for more stringent withdrawal guidelines and stricter enforcement of article ten.

The third procedural problem is also potentially the biggest, newest problem facing the NPT. Second-tier, or black market, proliferation highlights the increasing mobility of technology and highlights the ineptness of current supply side policies that target the control of nuclear technology and materials between nuclear countries and beyond. The reality is that non-nuclear countries are increasingly finding it easier to gain access to the key resources required to developing a nuclear weapon; specific materials, including but not limited to fissile materials and scientific, technical know-how. The A.Q. Kahn network was monitored since the early nineties, not least by US intelligence, however the network was not officially uncovered until recently and even now it is not known whether the network is closed down or gone further underground. The A.Q. Kahn network highlighted the real threat posed by the mobility of nuclear technology in the hands of those outside the regime intending to help other non-nuclear states to proliferate. The supply and the intention are both aspects the creators of the NPT did not anticipate. This issue cannot be fully covered by just the state-orientated NPT, however large loop holes could be closed by dealing with the underlying issue of certain states remaining outside the NPT.

Underlying Problems

The underlying problems of the NPT are overwhelmingly those based in the separation and separate treatment of members according to the two types of membership, the NWS and NNWS, as well as the problem of absentees. The problem of the two groupings with different requirements is twofold. The fundamental issue is the line drawn between NWS and NNWS in the year 1967. There are two main issues with this distinction. One is the different treatment of the two groupings of countries; the treaty requires nuclear countries not to trade nuclear weaponization technology and to disarm, and non-nuclear countries not to develop a nuclear capability. NWS are monitored and verified by the IAEA, whereas the NWS are not. This distinction is under contention because it is argued that the treaty is prejudiced, it is argued that the IAEA should monitor all members.  The NPT is currently reflecting the distortions of the security environment of 1967 rather than the reality on the ground today; it allows the nuclear-five the special privilege of being nuclear whilst discriminating against non-nuclear countries.

‘They [N5] are also becoming increasingly controversial as international regimes like the NPT and the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions cause some states to see them as at best redundant and at worst a means for perpetuating discrimination in access to technology by the developed against the less developed countries.’[6]

The second issue is that the NWS have not fulfilled their key treaty requirement of disarmament. This is not monitored or up for review as the IAEA is not mandated to monitor and verify the nuclear programmes of the NWS. The counter argument is that the NWS, America in particular, are disarming. If this a true then the IAEA should be allowed to go in and verify. If complete and general disarmament is still far off, it is still argued that NWS have retained nuclear stockpiles at higher levels than necessary to deal with modern security challenges, at thousands of warheads, when tens would carry out the same capability. This two-fold problem has been described as constitutional because the distinction between groups is in the constitution of the treaty, and the procedure of disarmament is required by the treaty. The two groupings are accused of failing to live up to their treaty requirements and the treaty is charged with being anachronistic in today’s security environment.

The second problem is that of absentees. It is argued that due to the intrinsic disparity between members and the intransigence towards developing any military nuclear capability, certain countries have remained outside the treaty. These countries have stayed outside the treaty and thus freely developed nuclear weapons without the repercussions that would befall NPT members. This undermines the treaty and the norm of non-proliferation. Countries not signed to the treaty benefit as they develop nuclear weapons for whatever purposes and address their national security needs outside of the non-proliferation norm. India, Pakistan and Israel are not declared nuclear powers, but they are nuclear countries. It is an unsurprising coincidence that the world’s largest black market in nuclear weaponization technology had its roots in one of these countries.

Arguably it is the structural problems of the treaty that are bringing the treaty’s effectiveness into question. If the treaty is flawed in its construction and in its membership requirements, it follows that failures in enforcing the treaty cannot be dealt with effectively. New measures can be created and old ones repaired, but unless they are universally enforced by a fully supported treaty (all members in consensus) these measures will be useless. The crux of the matter is, why is there not consensus in the treaty and how can it be gained?


Despite initial successes of the NPT the treaty has been in contention since it was first established. The two-pronged approach, which was so effective in dealing with capping nuclear weaponisation, has become a large source of contention between members, with both sides, nuclear and non-nuclear accusing each other of not carrying out their obligations. America’s agenda at review conferences is that the NPT is unable to counter non-compliance due to its poor verification and compliance mechanisms. This failure to counter non-compliance has resulted in nuclear proliferation that is threatening American security, thus President George W. Bush has responded with a new approach to dealing with the security threat of nuclear proliferation. At review sessions it is argued that America is not doing enough to disarm, what this thesis proposes is that the Bush approach to countering nuclear proliferation is ensuring that the NPT cannot be effectively reformed.

In order to assess the effect of the Bush approach on the NPT, firstly the current US policy and rationale is outlined. Secondly arguments explaining how US policy undermines the NPT are examined. Thirdly the viability of an effective NPT is detailed. In conclusion, the two sides of the argument regarding US nuclear policy and the NPT are evaluated. Based on the outcome of the debate, policy suggestions are made with reference to US nuclear policy and the NPT.

[1] NPT (1970), ‘Believing that the proliferation of nuclear weapons would seriously enhance the danger of nuclear war.’

[2] Krass (1997) p.16-17

[3] Dhanapala (2005) p.3-4

[4] Wittner (2005) <>

[5] America did not show this during the Iraq war when it pulled the IAEA out of Iraq before it had finished making its inspections.

[6] Krass (1997) p.23

[CN1]Vertical/horizontal prolif – repetition elsewhere? Needs more explanation.

[CN2]Introduce later on (ie in face of non-compliance)

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