50 Years Of The NPT: Lesson Learnt – OpEd


Global politics has never been the same since the advent of nuclear bomb. Nuclear weapons entirely changed the prospects of the global political system and since then a new era of politics has just begun termed as ‘Realpolitik’. Since the arrival of nuclear weapons, the primary objective of international society is to hamper the proliferation of nuclear arsenals. Nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) was one of the major outcomes of these efforts. NPT was opened for signature in 1968 and entered into force in 1970. This year marks 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the NPT. On May 1995, the treaty was extended indefinitely. Moreover, 191 states have joined the treaty, including the P5 (US, Russia, France, UK and China). 

The review conference of the treaty, held every five years, should have begun in April this year but postpone due the COVID-19 pandemic. The NPTs quinquennial review conference is held to evaluate whether the state parties to the treaty are in compliance with the obligations of the treaty. Ever since the indefinite extension of the treaty, these RevCons have been acting as a watchdog on the global efforts for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament by the regime. 

As nuclear non-proliferation treaty recognizes five legitimate states as a de jure nuclear weapon states. Additionally, besides NPT, other international treaties/regime are also working with the aim to stop the spread of nuclear weapons but the efforts seems to be adequately dealt with states aspiration to acquire nuclear weapons. States like India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea did acquire nuclear arsenals due to their inherited security coercion and became de facto nuclear weapons states.

Pakistan always supported nuclear disarmament related efforts but has never become a member of any nuclear non-proliferation treaty because of existing geo-strategic and geo-political factors. India’s first nuclear test in 1974 and its negative attitude to Pakistan’s proposal to make South Asia region as a nuclear weapon free zone (NWFZ), forced Islamabad to not join any nuclear non-proliferation treaty.  Moreover, India’s ambitious approach towards NPT, Indo-US nuclear deal, the consistent arms race in South Asia, the existing ambiguities within the treaty and the disenchanted role of the de jure nuclear weapon states provide sufficient justification for Pakistan to not become a part of any disarmament treaty. But Pakistan seems to shift its policy towards the nuclear non-proliferation agreements, demanding not only New Delhi to join it first but also secure de jure nuclear weapon state status before signing the treaty. 

Furthermore, the states who are member of NPT are obliged to follow the commitments of the treaty while non-NPT states are not legally liable to treaty. Similarly, de jure nuclear weapons states were agreed to irreversibly disarm their nuclear weapon which is the ultimate objective of the treaty but no productive results have been achieved so far. 

NPT which often considered as a cornerstone of disarmament efforts because it has more participants than any other nuclear disarmament treaty and it also successfully prevented the spread of nuclear weapons. But greatest challenge to nonproliferation efforts is how to effectively deal with the treaty violations such as in the case of Iran. Other challenges include inadequacy of measures took regarding the vertical proliferation of nuclear weapons, undeclared or clandestine nuclear programs, non-compliance, spread of sensitive nuclear technology and terrorism obscuring  issues of nuclear nonproliferation.  These challenges have negative impact on the peace and future prospect of nuclear disarmament. 

Furthermore, the demise of Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, progress of Russian nuclear capable hypersonic weapons and underwater drone, indefinite extension of New Strategic Arms Reduction treaty, the progress of Tactical nuclear weapons in the South Asian region and in the US (as stated in the 2018 US nuclear review posture) along with other swift modernization of nuclear weapons and up-gradation of advanced technologies by all states possessing nuclear arsenals are some of the latest developments having potential threat to heighten tension among these states. 

The inclusion of de facto nuclear weapons states and other aspirant such as Iran has forced policy maker and experts to reexamine and reevaluate the notion of nuclear nonproliferation.  Subsequently, nonproliferation efforts need to strengthen in order to stop the further incursion of nuclear weapons to others states, which are the aspirants of these lethal weapons. In fact, the article VI of the NPT, which was the crux of nuclear nonproliferation, still lacks solid foothold, since the objective of ‘zero nuclear weapon in the world’ is yet to achieve. The ‘more maybe better’ notion is the ghost which has bitterly followed by many states around the globe. Moreover, it has not only been inadequate in dealing with cases of proliferation but also undermined the purpose of Article IV of the NPT on exchange of nuclear technology for exclusively peaceful purposes. After 50 years of the inception of the NPT, the treaty still strives for complete nuclear disarmament of its member states, arms reduction, verified nuclear non-proliferation, and bringing three de facto nuclear weapon states (India, Pakistan and Israel) to sign the treaty.

Hence, the flowers of nonproliferation regimes and treaties are still need to be blossomed. The discriminatory attitudes in the nonproliferation regime, segregating states between haves and have not, coupled with aims of complete eradication of nuclear weapons, need international efforts to evaluate and rethink about the foundation of nonproliferation in order to make it capable enough to face the future challenges towards nuclear nonproliferation. As NPT is a bargain and all sides of it need to be upheld because it erosion is no one’s interest. There is need of time for global society to narrow down their differences, to develop innovative approaches and to show flexibility. This year marks 50 years of NPT entered into force but there is much international community needs to do in the coming years to secure the future prospects of the invaluable non-proliferation treaty. 

*Author is a honorary Research Associate of Eurasian Century Institute (ECI), Islamabad

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