Analysis: The NPT at 50 — Perish or Survive?

The following text is an excerpt from the article published in Vol. 50: March 2020 of Arms Control Today.

On March 5, the three depositaries of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)—Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—will mark the 50th anniversary of the treaty’s entry into force. The treaty’s 191 states-parties will gather in New York from April 27 to May 22 to hold the treaty’s 10th review conference, which will be presided over by Argentine diplomat Gustavo Zlauvinen. The effectiveness of the treaty for the next 50 years will depend on reconciling two schools of thought on the treaty’s goals: Is it a nonproliferation treaty or a disarmament treaty?

For the five NPT-recognized nuclear-weapon states and the 26 non-nuclear-weapon states that rely on nuclear weapons through extended deterrence arrangements with the United States, the success of the treaty over the past five decades relates to slowing the spread of nuclear weapons to additional states and facilitating cooperation in the peaceful applications of nuclear technology. For this group, the NPT is a nonproliferation treaty.

A different view is held by 160 of the 186 non-nuclear-weapon states party to the treaty. Their interest is in reducing the number of nuclear weapons, leading eventually to their elimination, and in enjoying the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

The chasm made by these divergent interests has been deepening, resulting in a loss of civility in NPT forums and in mutual recriminations. Together with the collapsing nuclear arms control architecture, the divide has brought the NPT to an inflection point.

A more significant anniversary will fall on May 11, exactly 25 years after NPT parties agreed without a vote to extend the NPT indefinitely under a framework of strengthening the review process, establishing benchmarks for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, and approving a resolution on setting up a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East.1 This framework is under threat.

Source: Arms Control Today