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Nuclear Proliferation

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

What is Nuclear Proliferation?

Nuclear proliferation is the spread of nuclear weapons, nuclear technology, fissionable material and nuclear weapons-making information to the countries that do not possess these. The nuclear non-proliferation treaty has recognised the countries that have nuclear weapons as “Nuclear Weapon States (NWS)” and those that do not possess nuclear weapons as “Non- Nuclear Weapon States (NNWS)”. Hence, nuclear proliferation takes place when the NWS pass their nuclear weapons and technology to the NNWS.

-  Nuclear Proliferation makes the information on nuclear weapons, technology and material available to Non-Nuclear Weapons States.
-  The Non-Proliferation Treaty that came into force in March 1970 is legally binding.
- There are 190 Non-Nuclear Weapon States and 5 Nuclear Weapon States; US, Russia, UK, China and France.
-  In 1993 North Korea became the only State to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Nuclear Proliferation (And Nonproliferation) Explained

What is the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty?

The Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is a legally binding international treaty signed on 1st July 1968 and came into force in March 1970. The treaty's three main goals are to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and technology, encourage the achievement of complete and general disarmament, and promote the cooperation for peaceful use of nuclear energy. These goals are the three pillars of the non-proliferation regime: non-proliferation, peaceful use of nuclear energy and disarmament.

One hundred ninety states bound by the treaty are classified into the Nuclear Weapon States and the Non-Nuclear Weapon States. States that have built and tested atomic bombs before 1st January 1967 are recognised as NWS. The 5 NWS are the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, China and France. Four other states that are believed to possess nuclear weapons but are not recognised as NWS are India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel. While India, Pakistan and North Korea have openly tested their nuclear weapons, Israel has kept its status ambiguous. Four United Nations’ member states that have never been party to the treaty are India, Pakistan, Israel and South Sudan, while North Korea is the only state to withdraw from the treaty.

Nuclear Weapon States Recognized Under NPT

You can trace the spread of nuclear weapons back to the end of world war two. When President Roosevelt was informed that Nazi Germany was working on making an atomic bomb, he started the United States Manhattan project in 1945. The newly acquired nuclear weapon's destructive capabilities were tested in 1945 when the Uranium bomb, “Little Boy”, levelled Hiroshima on 6th August 1945. Again on 9th August 1945, the Plutonium bomb, “Fat Man”, devastated Nagasaki.

Soon after 1945’s showcase of American nuclear might, the Soviet Union started acquiring nuclear weapons. Stalin’s Russia conducted its 1st successful test of a nuclear explosive device in 1949.

Though the United States and the United Kingdom had collectively started the Manhattan project, in 1946, the UK broke its nuclear partnership with Britain. The McMahon Act which determined how the US would control and manage nuclear technology they had collectively acquired, further infuriated the UK. Hence, Britain started its independent efforts and succeeded in obtaining nuclear weapons in 1952.

France seemed to have lost its glory after WWII, so pride and fear were the two factors that drove France to acquire the atomic bomb. In 1960 France succeeded in its nuclear quest.

China viewed the atomic bomb as addressing an existential threat from the nuclearised West. In 1964 China succeeded in achieving nuclear might.

The Key Articles of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Article 1

Under this article, each NWS makes two commitments to prevent nuclear proliferation. These commitments are that NWSs will neither transfer nuclear weapons technology to the NNWS nor assist, encourage or induce NNWSs to acquire nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Article 2

This article calls Non-nuclear weapon states to make two commitments to inhibit them from acquiring nuclear explosive devices. Firstly, NNWSs will not receive the transfer of nuclear weapons and secondly, they will not seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Article 3

The article asks the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect the NNWSs’ nuclear facilities. Furthermore, the article also outlines safeguards for the transfer of fissionable materials between NWS and NNWS.

Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Article 4

This article registers the “inalienable rights” of the states to research, develop, produce and use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Furthermore, it states that there should be exchanges of nuclear technology, material and information between NWSs and NNWSs for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Article 5

The article states that NNWSs shall be able to acquire access to the research and development of NWSs regarding the advantages of nuclear explosion when conducted for peaceful purposes. However, the NNWSs shall make this exchange under international observation.

Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Article 6

The article calls the states party to the treaty to conduct negotiations. These negotiations must be in good faith and on effective measures to cease the nuclear arms race and ensure nuclear disarmament.

Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Article 7

The article clarifies that the treaty does not limit states to formulate regional treaties outlined for the complete absence of nuclear weapons in their respective treaties.

Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Article 8

This article lays down the framework of amending the treaty. Any state party to the treaty can propose an amendment to it that will then be submitted to the depository government, circulating it to all states. For an amendment to come into force, it should be approved by the votes of the majority of the states party to the treaty.

Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Article 9

The article outlines the procedure for the ratification of NPT and for the addition of new members. It maintains that a state can accede to the treaty anytime, even after it has come into force, and it asserts that the treaty shall come into force after the States have ratified it.

Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Article 10

The article states that a state can withdraw from the treaty if any event has jeopardised the country's interest. However, to proceed with the withdrawal, the state must give notice to other states party to the treaty and the United Nations Security Council three months in advance.

Why did North Korea withdraw from NPT in 1993

North Korea is the first and remains the only state to withdraw from NPT. It announced its withdrawal on 10th January 2003 and it became effective the very next day. As described above, article 10 requires the state to give an “advance notice” 3 months before withdrawal. North Korea’s stance was that it had announced its decision back on 12th March 1993. Due to this ambiguity, there is no legal opinion as to whether the NPT still binds North Korea or not.

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