Nonproliferation Treaty History

Grace Kennedy
March 21, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: President Eisenhower receives an album of Atoms for Peace stamps. (Courtesy of the DOE. Source: Wikimedia Commons)

At the end of World War II the international system was in disarray for a multitude of reasons. The world was in a state of panic with the introduction of new innovative destructive technologies, nuclear weapons. President Truman introduced the Baruch Plan which would have given agency under the jurisdiction of the UN Security Council a monopoly over research on how to make nuclear explosives and over power, free of veto and backed by military force. [1] This was the first initial idea of regulating nuclear weapons and research, however, the U.S. wouldn't give into this idea unless the Soviet Union followed suit, which they did not. [1] In 1946, Congress enacted the Atomic Energy Act with provisions designed to keep nuclear technology secret from outside countries. [1] It wasn't until a couple of years later that the U.S. proposed sharing nuclear technology. In 1953, President Eisenhower addressed the U.N. General Assembly with the idea of his new program Atoms for Peace. [1] This was one of the first proposals to share nuclear information for peaceful purposes with other countries through a new international agency and was accepted (see Fig. 1). [1] Several years later the International Atomic Energy Agency was created. In 1968 the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty was erected, which gave the IAEA authority for policing the nuclear activities of member states to ensure that those without nuclear weapons did not acquire them. [1] According to the NPT, nuclear weapons are temporarily legal in five countries (U.S., UK, China, France, and Soviet Union), not illegal in three others (Israel, India, and Pakistan), and forbidden everywhere else. [2] 187 states subscribe to the NPT and only one (North Korea) has withdrawn from it. [1]

Important Treaty Details

The NPT encompasses many different aspects relating to nuclear nonproliferation, but the overall agenda of the NPT started with the UK, Soviet Union and the U.S. agreeing to provide assistance to non nuclear weapon NPT members in their pursuit of peaceful nuclear energy. [1] They also agreed to conduct future negotiations to halt the nuclear arms race and reduce their nuclear weapons with the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament. [1] The NPT basic elements of the agreement involved nonproliferation, the sharing and development of nuclear energy technology for peaceful purposes, and disarmament of nuclear weapons. [3] The following are some Articles of the NPT, which give a good overview of the obligations in which NPT states must follow:

With these Articles the NPT has made nonproliferation the international norm. Right now the world has nine nuclear weapons states, but without the NPT in place there could be many more NWS. [2] However, there are some weaknesses that are apparent under the NPT.

Weaknesses in the Treaty

The decline of the nuclear nonproliferation regime involved a set of Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapon detonations in 1998. [3] India didn't join the NPT because it wanted to retain the option to produce its own nuclear weapons to combat its then adversary- China. [1] Subsequently, Pakistan refused to join because India refused. [1] Later in 2003, North Korea announced that it was withdrawing from the NPT and it possessed nuclear weapons. Later in October 2006, North Korea took another step and detonated a nuclear weapon. [3] This poses a problem within Article X because you can withdraw from the NPT once you have all of the enrichment capabilities. Civilian and weapon nuclear technology overlaps consistently and under Article IV you are allowed to have enrichment capabilities for peaceful purposes, but this technology can be recycled for nuclear weapons capabilities. [3]

In 2003 the Director of IAEA determined that Iran had violated its NPT safeguards agreement bringing up another issue within the NPT. The NPT has remarkably weak mechanisms for detecting violations of NPT obligations. [3] Under Article II, IAEA safeguards agreements for individual states known as INFCIRC/153 are flawed because they contain no effective mechanism to assess whether the reports are complete. [3] The agreement is operated on the assumption that all states declare all of their relevant facilities and materials on their own. [3] Additionally, IAEA did not make adherence to the Additional Protocol mandatory for NPT members and therefore states took advantage of this. Libya because an NPT member in 1975 but did not adhere to additional protocol until 2006 when Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi admitted that he had been pursuing a nuclear weapons programs and failed to report required developments to the IAEA. [3]

The Future of Nonproliferation

North Korea is the biggest issue when it comes to the future of nonproliferation. The U.S. made a nuclear deal with India in order to share nuclear technology peacefully. This was outside of the NPT since India is still not an NPT member. But North Korea poses a larger and larger threat each year. Professor Hecker at Stanford wrote an Op-Ed discussing the U.S.'s next steps in dealing with North Korea. Since leaving the NPT, they have conducted long- range nuclear tests. [4] Pyongyang can most likely already reach all of South Korea, Japan, and possibly even some U.S. targets in the Pacific. [4] The technology is increasing in North Korea and a nuclear attack is becoming more relevant. It is easier to regulate NPT states, but the question is: how do we stop proliferation in non-NPT states? Hecker suggests starting talks with North Korea in order to learn more about the North's security concerns, but our current President will have to make that choice himself. [4]

© Grace Kennedy. 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] G. Bunn. "The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty," Arms Control Today 33, No. 12 (December, 2003).

[2] M. B. Maerli and S. Lodgaard, Nuclear Proliferation and International Security (Routledge, 2007).

[3] O. F. Kittrie, "Why the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Is Losing Its Deterrence Capacity and How to Restore It", Mich. J. Int. Law 28, 337 (2007).

[4] S. S Hecker, "The U.S. Must Talk to North Korea," New York Times, 12 Jan 17.