6th April – NPT

NPT @50 – The Genesis of a Flawed Bargain

March 5, 2020 marked the 50th 50th anniversary of the entry-into-force of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), a legal instrument treated as the cornerstone of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime.

About Non-Proliferation Treaty –

  • NPT institutionalised the non-proliferation norm by delegitimising ‘proliferation’ (production and transfer) of nuclear weapons, fissile materials and related technology by the non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) while the recognised five nuclear weapon states (NWS) — namely the US, Russia, the UK, France and China—have continued to expand their respective arsenals without any constraints.
  • It has attained a near-universal status with just four hold-outs — India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea (which exited from treaty in 2006)— among the 193 nation states.

A ‘Cold-War’ era relic –

  • Despite these accomplishments, the NPT is largely seen as a Cold War era instrument that has failed to fulfil the objective of creating a pathway towards a credible disarmament process. The NPT’s indefinite extension in 1995, while invoking its irreplaceability, also underlined the inability of states to formulate a stand-alone instrument towards that end-objective.
  • The treaty’s existential challenges began in the post-Cold War setting when the attempts by a few State Parties to break-out or gain nuclear latency led to numerous instances of non-compliance, violations and defiance.
  • The emergence of non-state actors with declared intent to access weapons of mass destruction and the detection of a global nuclear black-market, mentored by Pakistani nuclear scientist, A.Q. Khan, raised concerns on the limitations of the treaty to address the challenges thrown up by the new strategic milieu.

Authored by superpowers –

  • With the Limited/Partial Test Ban Treaty (LTBT/PTBT) being negotiated between the Soviets and the US in 1962 to ban all forms of nuclear testing, except underground tests, the Chinese nuclear tests of October 1964 veered the debate on the test ban, ending fissile materials productions and phased reductions proposals.
  • Consequently, the US and Soviet sides came up with individual drafts for a treaty to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. Both drafts talked about the means to prohibit transfer of nuclear weapons and technology or assisting any state in their manufacture.
  • An eight-nation memorandum was passed as Resolution 2028 at UNGA instructing principles for the Treaty to include the avoidance of loopholes, maintenance of mutual obligations and responsibilities, inclusion of means to disarmament, among others.
  • With the drafts of the superpowers evolved towards commonality by the end of 1967, it was becoming clear that their effort was to curtail the formation of new nuclear powers rather than commit to either a credible disarmament process or surrender their own development rights.

Lack of a clear mission –

  • Despite the posturing about the need to maintain balance between the three pillars of non-proliferation, disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy, the treaty was clearly about non-proliferation, and more importantly, the superpowers ’focus was on horizontal proliferation.
  • The preamble of the NPT does not set forth a single-point objective of either a world without nuclear weapons, total elimination or for delegitimising nuclear weapons.
  • The hurried formulation of a legal instrument favourable to its drafters stymied the scope for conceptual clarity on the objectives of the exercise, resulting in a multi-directional pursuit of perceived end-goals.

Conclusion –

That the 50th anniversary of the entry-into-force of the NPT has passed as a non-event is symbolic of the status-quoism associated with the treaty’s insupplantable existence.


QUESTION – Discuss the historical journey and limitations of ‘Non-Proliferation Treaty’ which marked its 50 years of coming into force, recently.

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