Lecture Notes on Nonproliferation


The Growth of Nuclear Powers  (identified by a publicly acknowledged nuclear test)

1945:  The United States
1949:  the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
1952:  Great Britain
1960:  France
1964:  The People's Republic of China
1974:  India
1998:  Pakistan
2006: North Korea

South Africa also tested a nuclear weapon, but has terminated its nuclear weapons program.  See the chronology of South Africa's nuclear weapons program outlined by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

Israel is widely believed to possess between 100-200 nuclear weapons, but has never tested a nuclear bomb.  Its policy of studied ambiguity is reviewed by the Center for Nonproliferation studies.

The Non-Proliferation Regime

The Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed on 1 July 1968, but there were many efforts prior to that date to address the issue of proliferation.  Its intent was to prevent an increase in the number of states possessing nuclear weapons (at the time, there were five nuclear states).  The assumption that the spread of these weapons was dangerous and destabilizing.  That assumption was widely shared, but not universally.  Kenneth Waltz wrote an important essay that argued that, under certain conditions, proliferation was desirable (Kenneth Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Better, Adelphi Papers, Number 171, London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1981).

There were three major issues raised by the Treaty:  Safeguards, Balanced Obligations, and Security Assurances.

Safeguards:  Plutonium and weapons-grade uranium can be produced in peaceful nuclear reactors and the NPT Treaty sought to prevent the diversion of these materials from peaceful uses to military purposes.  The Treaty gave authority to the International Atomic Energy Agency of the United Nations to inspect peaceful nuclear reactors to deter such diversions.  The nuclear states, however, did not extend the IAEA's authority to military facilities raising a serious question of unequal treatment.

The difficulties associated with safeguards are best illustrated by the ongoing negotiations between the United States and North Korea over the Korean nuclear energy program.  In 1994, the US promised peaceful nuclear energy assistance to Korea in return for a freeze in the Korean weapons program.  For a chronology of these negotiations, see the information provided by the Arms Control Association.

Balanced Obligations Signatory states to the NPT are obligated to not contribute to the spread of nuclear weapons, but Article VI of the Treaty obligates the already nuclear states to commit themselves ultimately to disarmament.  The Article stipulates that: "Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes 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."  Many non-nuclear states argue that the nuclear countries have not honored this clause of the Treaty and that the insistence that non-nuclear states remain non-nuclear constitutes a double-standard of adherence.  For a good statement of the Indian position on this matter see: Jaswant Singh, "Against Nuclear Apartheid," Foreign Affairs, September/October 1998.  For an American response to this criticism, see: U.S. Commitment to NPT Article VI: The Record from May 1995 to April 2000, Fact Sheet Released by the Bureau of Nonproliferation, April 1, 2000, Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of State 

Security Assurances:  States that forgo the development of nuclear weapons voluntarily leave themselves vulnerable to nuclear threats.  The nuclear states have tried to offer security assurances to the non-nuclear states to reduce the incentive to develop nuclear weapons.  These efforts have failed because no nuclear state wishes to commit itself automatically to the defense of another state, particularly when nuclear weapons are involved.  The best formulation of a security guarantee so far has been a negative assurance that some of the nuclear states will never use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear signatory to the NPT.

Current Status of the NPT

Several nations have not signed the NPT, the most important of which are Cuba, India, Israel, and Pakistan.  A list of signatories as of 3 December 1998 is available from the U.S. Department of State.  In addition, some nations, specifically Iran and North Korea (North Korea withdrew from the Treaty in 2003) have signed the Treaty but are believed to have worked, or are working on, a nuclear weapons program.

A review conference on the status of the NPT was held in 1995, as required by the Treaty.  The Treaty was extended indefinitely at the conference.  Considerable concern about Article VI was voiced, however.  In recent years, these concerns have been amplified by the US and China's refusal to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and US activities in the area of ballistic missile defense that threaten the integrity of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The Treaty suffered a serious setback in 1998 when both India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons, although no other state has yet followed suit.  The introduction of nuclear weapons into the region is potentially destabilizing and dangerous.  However, the actions of India and Pakistan underscore the fragility of the NPT.  The decision to develop and build nuclear weapons still remains a unilateral one for states that believe their security threatened.  The inability of the international community to alleviate these fears or to counterbalance these insecurities through meaningful and effective sanctions remains the essential weakness of the Treaty.

The most recent review of the NPT occurred in 2005. There was no final consensus report issued after the review, and the review was widely regarded as a failure. In addition, the nuclear agreement between the US and India seems to be at significant variance with the NPT. See: Emily Wax and Rama Lakshmi, "Dissent Threatens U.S.-India Nuclear Cooperation Deal: Delhi Parties Say Pact Limits Sovereignty,"Washington Post, August 26, 2007


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