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Arms Control Association: Major Proposals to Strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

Author: Cole Harvey
March 1, 2010


Forty years ago, the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) set into place one of the most important international security bargains of all time: states without nuclear weapons pledged not to acquire them, while nuclear-armed states committed to eventually give them up. At the same time, the NPT allowed for the peaceful use of nuclear technology by nonnuclear-weapon states under strict and verifiable control. The NPT is a good deal that must be honored and strengthened.

Since its inception, the NPT has helped to limit the number of nuclear-weapon states to the five with nuclear weapons at the time of its entry into force (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and the four other known nuclear-weapon states (India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan), which are not party to the treaty. Dozens of other states might have the bomb today if not for the NPT and associated measures. Over the years, the NPT security framework, combined with effective diplomacy, has led states such as Argentina, Brazil, Sweden, and Libya to abandon their nuclear weapons ambitions. Belarus, Kazakhstan, South Africa, and Ukraine gave up their nuclear weapons and joined the NPT in the 1990s.

The NPT also makes it far more difficult for nonnuclear- weapon states to acquire the material and technology needed to build such weapons and, if they do, to do so without detection. Intrusive international inspections and safeguards against diversion of nuclear technology and material for weapons purposes are now standard practice.

The NPT process and sustained nongovernmental pressure have encouraged the United States and Russia to take action on several nuclear arms control and arms reduction initiatives, from strategic nuclear weapons reductions to a halt on nuclear weapons testing and the negotiation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). These arms control agreements have reduced U.S.-Russian nuclear arms competition and increased transparency, thereby fostering greater stability and predictability.

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