Nuclear non-proliferation, still an age old problem

    • By,
      Dharmesh Bansal- Student, Kautilya

The Treaty on Nuclear Non-Proliferation (NPT) was signed in 1968 and entered into force on 5 March 1970. On 11 May 1995, the Treaty was extended indefinitely. With 191 states as signatories to the treaty it is the most significant treaty to stop the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. However, some nuclear states like India, Pakistan, Israel and the newly formed state of South Sudan are not signatories to the NPT.

With only five nuclear weapon states having signed the treaty, it is at the centre of a lot of international politics. China, France, Russia, U.K and the U.S.A are the only countries recognized by the treaty as Nuclear weapon states. They also happen to be the P5 or the Permanent Five at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

At the heart of this dispute is how the treaty defines a nuclear weapons state and differentiates it from a non-nuclear weapons state thus dividing the world into nuclear haves and have-nots. A Nuclear-weapon state is defined as those that manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device before 1 January 1967. Articles 2 and 4 of the treaty requires countries to give up any present or future plans to build nuclear weapons in return for access to peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

These clauses were enough to keep countries like India away from signing the treaty in 1968. India opposed it, calling it a discriminative disarmament policy and called for the complete ban of nuclear weapons. However, a complete ban was unacceptable to the already nuclear armed nations who were in the midst of an arms race post the Second World War nuclear disasters in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.

One of the original signatories to the NPT in 1970 was Iran. But soon the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which is tasked with the implementation of the treaty reported that Iran was not complying with the Agreement and had started its weaponization program in 2003 including a secret project to enrich uranium. Soon the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed between Iran ad six world powers where Iran agreed to inspection in return for sanctions relief. With U.S.A withdrawing from the JCPOA in 2018 Iran warned that it will leave the NPT and started to enrich its uranium.

Another case is of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) or North Korea which had ratified the NPT in 1985 but announced in 2003 that it would no longer be bound by the treaty. We see everyday reports of Kim Jung Un overseeing the testing of nuclear missiles which are aimed at Seoul. North Korea’s withdrawal constitutes a significant challenge to the NPT as it has been the first and only country to withdraw from the NPT. No amount of sanctions by the international comunity is able to deter it from the path to becoming a nuclear-weapon state.

The NPT rests on the three pillars of – disarmament, non-proliferation and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. But disarmament has been one of its biggest failures. There is also no progress in including the remaining nuclear weapons possessors, India, Pakistan and Isreal into the treaty. The peaceful use of nuclear energy is also easier said than done. The world has seen plenty of nuclear accidents post the signing of the treaty like Fukushima (2011), Chernobyl (1986), Three Mile Island (1979). It is argued that to reduce global warming, the world needs more non-carbon emitting nuclear energy, and the IAEA and the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) of the OECD project a major increase in nuclear energy use as a result of concerns over global warming.

The peaceful use of nuclear energy can also pose risks like cancer, meltdown risk, weapons proliferation risk, toxic nuclear waste, nuclear accidents, etc. Hence we can safely say that the original demand made by India that nuclear weapons should be completely banned, is one of the most foolproof ways in which we can prevent disasters and save humanity. Treaties like the NPT which have been designed for the comfort of few nuclear armed nations to lord over the developing and less developed nations need to be completely revamped and this kind of discrimination should be brought to a halt.

*The Kautilya School of Public Policy (KSPP) takes no institutional positions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or positions of KSPP.