The Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty

Cara Ta
March 5, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2016


Today, the issue of nuclear proliferation is global, and any effective response coordinated multilaterally. At present, nine states are known to have nuclear weapons and more than thirty states are known to have the technical capability to produce them. Even more disconcerting, terrorist networks such as Al Qaeda have demonstrated a sustained commitment to acquiring weapons of mass destruction. [1] Fortunately, in the post-Cold War era, the United States and Russia have led an evolving international consensus regarding the long-term need for nuclear arms reductions and eventual complete disarmament. This has promoted the strategy of nonproliferation, the overarching international framework for preventing the use and acquisition of nuclear weapons. In effect, nonproliferation strategy also encompasses the political and diplomatic measures taken by the international community, such as arms controls and treaty commitments designed to prevent the issuing of WMDs.

In fact, unlike chemical and biological weapons, which have been prohibited by the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons and Toxins Convention respectively, nuclear weapons have been able to operate under international norm through the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The backbone of nonproliferation strategy, the treaty is an exemplary international diplomatic and political tool designed to compel state actors to declare their global commitment to ending the dissemination of nuclear weapons. Essentially, the treaty establishes a norm against the proliferation and non-possession of nuclear weapons, but not a timeline for complete elimination. Thus, although the majority of the world's state actors submitted to international norm and signed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, North Korea, Pakistan, India, and Israel did not. Furthermore, in another display of multilateral action, the UN Security Council has also passed Resolution 1887, a nonproliferation tool calling for accelerated efforts towards nuclear disarmament.


Overall, the existing global nonproliferation structure is an exemplary system of international law and multilateral cooperation. Nevertheless, international relations scholars have pointed to a number of failings of nuclear nonproliferation strategy. For example, scholars point to the fact that the NPT has not been successful in containing states' nuclear ambitions, nor does the NPT have any text to address the potential proliferation activity of terrorists. That is, Argentina and Brazil's joint declaration to abandon their nuclear weapons was not simply a result of shining international ideals, but rather the calculated assessment that the two states no longer faced "a fundamental security threat to each other." [2] In addition, as Ivo Daalder and Jan Lodal write, "the fundamental weakness of the NPT is that it permits a country to produce enriched uranium and plutonium, the only two materials a nuclear weapon can be fashioned from." [3] Even more threatening however, is the NPT's allowance for a state to withdraw from the treaty under "extraordinary events, related to the supreme interests of its country." [4] Thus, the NPT's text and its implementation have a number of gaping holes that underscore the ineffectiveness of existing nonproliferation instruments.

Therefore, it is clear that the success of nonproliferation strategies relies on a number of international institutions and agreements focused on defusing the incentives to establish a nuclear weapon.

© Cara Ta. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] R. Mowatt-Larssen, "Al Qaeda Weapons of Mass Destruction Threat: Hype or Reality?" Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, January 2010.

[2] S. D. Sagan, "Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons? Three Models in Search of a Bomb," Int. Security 21, No. 3, 54 (Winter 1996-1997)

[3] I. H. Daalder and J. Lodal, "The Logic of Zero," Foreign Affairs, No. 6 (November-December 2008), p. 80.

[4] "Treaties in Force," U.S. Department of State, 1 Jan 13, p. 456.