Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Alejandro Rosenkranz
March 15, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017

What Is It?

Fig. 1: The International Atomic Energy Agency emblem. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is an international agreement that seeks to halt the spread of nuclear weapons throughout world. The NPT was first opened for signature in 1968, and officially enacted in 1970. Following the American use of atomic weapons against Japan in 1945 and the standoff between the United States and Russia during the Cold War, the international community recognized the need to establish global norms for nuclear weapons. In 1957 under the auspices of the United Nations, the international community officially began discussing the importance of setting rules and standards for non- proliferation of nuclear WMDs. Today, 190 countries are signatories to the treaty.

The NPT categorizes nations as either Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) or Non-Nuclear Weapons States (NNWS). It calls on both NWS and NNWS to agree to three basic principles: 1) Non-proliferation, 2) Peaceful use of nuclear energy, and 3) Arms control and disarmament. [1]

Article I of the treaty demands that NWS do not transfer nuclear weapons or equipment for nuclear weapons to NNWS, while Article II similarly requests that NNWS do not acquire such capabilities. [1] Under Article III NWS must accept IAEA (see Fig. 1) safeguards to ensure that any nuclear development within their respective nations is for benign use only. [1]

Article IV grants signatories the right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, and encourages cooperation between members of the international community. [1] The only clause within the NPT that specifically holds NWS to disarm is Article VI. [1] Lastly, signatories to the NPT are allowed to exit the treaty under Article X, which requires nations to give three months notice before withdrawing. [1]

Successes and Failures

Proponents of the NPT praise it for hampering Non-Nuclear Weapons States from acquiring weapons of their own, and prompting the reduction of both the American and Russian nuclear arsenals.

Critics argue that the disarmament process for Nuclear Weapons State lacks sufficient speed and magnitude. [2] Moreover, four countries with nuclear weapons capabilities (Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea) still remain outside the NPT; thus, they do not adhere to the norms and inspections that the NPT demands. [3] Although nonproliferation strategies have restrained the NPT signatories from pursuing further nuclear escalation, tense geopolitical conditions incentivize the other four Nuclear Weapons States to remain absent from the treaty. Furthermore, North Korea, once a signatory to the NPT, is now in the process of developing its own nuclear weapons program. [2] The case of North Korea shows that while the NPT serves as a valuable institution to establish standards for the international community, it essentially allows latent proliferation.

© Alejandro Rosenkranz. 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] D. H. Joyner, Interpreting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (Oxford University Press, 2011).

[2] J. Wolcott, "Pros and Cons of Multilateral Nonproliferation: Lessons Learned from the Bush Administration," The Heritage Foundation, 25 Feb 09.

[3] S. D. Sagan, "Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons? Three Models in Search of a Bomb," Int. Security 21, No. 3, 54 (Winter 1996-97).