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Nuclear-weapon Non-proliferation and Global Order
by Rene Wadlow
2015-05-20 09:23:11
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The Review Conference on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) started at the United Nations in New York on 27 April and is planned to run until 22 May. (In 1980, the Review had run three extra days in the hope of being able to reach consensus on an agreed “outcome document” in which it failed. So, we always know when the Review starts but not when it ends.)  I had chaired the representatives of the  non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to the 1975 and 1980 Reviews, and participated in the  1985 and 1990 Reviews, after which the Review conferences moved from the UN in Geneva to New York.  In order to keep the articles to their usual length, I will structure the analysis into two separate articles: “The Framework” and “Evolution and Challenges”. I will write a final round up at the end of the Review.

“The Framework”

nuc01_400The concept of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons has from its inception been highly controversial, because it appears to legitimate the status quo of the division of States between the nuclear-weapon “have” and the “have nots”.  The need to halt the spread of nuclear weapons − and to abolish them if possible − has been evident to many people soon after their use on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 70 years ago. The very first UN General Assembly resolution in January 1946 envisaged the elimination of atomic weapons from national arsenals.  Also in 1946, the US Government proposed the Baruch Plan − the establishment  of an international authority to control all atomic energy activities “potentially dangerous to world security.”  However, the Cold War was starting, and the USSR reversed the sequence of steps proposed by the Baruch Plan.  The Soviet Union wanted the destruction of existing atomic weapons first, and an institution for control later.  As a result, none of the steps were taken.

Shortly after, the USSR (in 1949), the United Kingdom (in 1952), France (1960) and China (in 1964) all became nuclear-weapon States, now joined by India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel. The realization by government leaders and NGOs that a wider proliferation of nuclear weapons would pose a threat to world security had led to the creation in 1957 of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with its elaborate system of nuclear safeguards and inspections.  Continued fears and strong efforts of NGOs led to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, concluded in 1968 and coming into force in 1970.  As conditions in world politics can change relatively rapidly, it was decided that the Treaty should have an article (Article VIII) calling for a Review Conference at five-year intervals “to assuring that the purposes of the preamble and the provisions of the Treaty are being realised.”  Thus the first NPT Review was held in 1975 and each five years since.

The readiness of States to continue renouncing the development of nuclear weapons hinges on continuing efforts to create alternative security strategies such as nuclear-weapon-free zones.  There is a relationship between global and regional security policies on the one hand and non-proliferation on the other.  Thus the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan colored the 1980 NPT Review and the Iraq-Iran War the Review of 1985.  The current tensions and armed conflicts in the wider Middle East may influence the 2015 Review.

Negotiations leading to the NPT took 10 years in Geneva in the UN disarmament body − then called the Eighteen-Nations Committee on Disarmament which existed from 1962 to 1969. (1) In 1959 Ireland had introduced a resolution into the UN General Assembly calling for negotiations of a non-proliferation treaty.

The NPT has tree related pillars:

1. The non-proliferation of nuclear weapons beyond the original five: USA, USSR, UK, France, China.

2. In exchange for renouncing the development of nuclear weapons, the other Treaty members were to receive help with civilian, 'peaceful' nuclear technology.  As stated in the preamble “affirming the principle that the benefits of peaceful applications of nuclear technology, including any technological by-products which may be derived by nuclear-weapon States, from the development of nuclear explosive devices, should be available to peaceful purposes to all Parties of the Treaty ...all Parties to the Treaty are entitled to participate in the fullest possible exchange of scientific information for...the future development of the applications of atomic energy for peaceful purposes.”

3. The nuclear-weapon States in the Preamble and in Article VI pledge to “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against  the territorial integrity or political independence of any State or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” Specifically the nuclear-weapon States in Article VI are “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.”

It must be said that negotiations on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control must be being carried out in secret as they have escaped all notice, at least of this observer.  However, we will look in the follow up at the evolution of the NPT since the first Review in 1975 and at the challenges ahead.



1 For a blow by blow account of the negotiations leading to the NPT see M. I. Shaker. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: Origin and Implementation: 1959-1979. (London, Oceania, 1980).  M.I. Shaker had been an Egyptian diplomat during the negotiations and as the Ambassador of Egypt was President of the 1985 Review.


Rene Wadlow, President and a Representative to the United Nations, Geneva, Association of World Citizens.

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