Non-Proliferation Treaty - Members & Drawbacks

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, otherwise commonly known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, is an international treaty with an objective to limit the escalation of a nuclear arms race and the technology related to it. Further goals of the treaty also included promoting cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy and achieving complete nuclear disarmament.

Year 2020 marked the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

The topic, ‘Non-Proliferation Treaty’ is important for IAS Exam as it comes under the section current affairs which is significant for civil services examination’s Mains GS-II (International Relations & Multilateral Agreements.) This article will detail the topic and aspirants can also download the notes PDF at the end of this article.

Aspirants can cover the topics mentioned in the UPSC Syllabus by following the below-mentioned links:

What is the Non-Proliferation Treaty?

The treaty was drawn, drafted and negotiated by the Eighteen Nation Committee on Disarmament, an UN-sponsored organisation based in Switzerland.

On August 6th and 9th,1945, the twin Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed by the United States with a powerful and terrible weapon – The Atom Bomb. The act brought about the end of World War 2, but with a terrible price. Total casualties amounted between 129,000 to 226,000 between the two cities, with countless other injured and suffering from radiation sickness.

The after-effects of the bombings were a serious cause of concern among world powers, along with potential misuse of the weapon. This concern led to calls for a safeguard to ensure a Nuclear Arms Control was in place. Thus it was in 1961, a U.N resolution called for a treaty to prevent an arms race for nuclear weapons. This treaty would go on to become the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Who has signed the Non-Proliferation treaty?

Ever since it came into effect since 1970 after it was opened for signing in 1968, the Non-Proliferation Treaty has 187 nations who are a party to it – more than any other arms limitation treaty.

The Non-Proliferation Treaty prohibits the nations who don’t have nuclear weapons from acquiring them, at the same time prohibiting the nuclear states from helping others in acquiring the weapons. At the same time working towards total disarmament. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which is the successor of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission verifies the compliance with the treaty. The compliance, in turn, is enforced by the United Nations Security Council.

There are a total of nine nations that possess nuclear weapons.

Five of the nations namely – US, UK, France, Russia and China have signed the treaty. The remaining four nations namely – India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea have not signed the treaty and thus not a party to the treaty.

Why India never signed the treaty?

As per the stance of the Indian Government, the treaty in its current form is unfair as it, virtually, states that the 5 victorious nations of World War II have the right to possess nuclear weapons while condemning the rest of the nations who don’t have the weapons, to be subservient to the whims and fancies of the nations who do. In short, the treaty divides the world into nuclear ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.

India’s traditional position has always been that either the five nations denuclearize or everyone has the same rights as those who possess them. Also escalation of tensions by one of its nuclear-armed neighbours i.e. China was the primary reason why India conducted its own nuclear tests in the first place. It is this same escalation by India that prompted Pakistan to conduct its own nuclear test in order to act as a deterrent to what is perceived as “India’s naked aggression.

India’s Stand on NPT

  • India is one of the only five countries that either did not sign the NPT or signed but withdrew, thus becoming part of a list that includes Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, and South Sudan.
  • India always considered the NPT as discriminatory and had refused to sign it.
  • India has opposed the international treaties aimed at non-proliferation since they were selectively applicable to the non-nuclear powers and legitimized the monopoly of the five nuclear weapons powers.

What are the drawbacks of the treaty?

The main drawbacks of the treaty are that it never held accountable the 5 nations who possessed nuclear weapons at the time when the treaty was signed. At the same time, the enforcement of the treaty is also a serious cause for concern. Despite the threat of economic sanctions and other serious consequences, North Korea detonated its first bomb in 2006. Now even Iran is poised to go down the same route.

The treaty even has serious loopholes which can be exploited by other nations in order to have their own nuclear weapons program.

Regardless, It’s clear that the world is a better place because of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It was predicted that about 25 nations will possess nuclear weapons. But the mere presence of it has reduced it to 9.

The NPT was not the only reason for this, but the mere presence of the safeguard can at least promise an era of peace, and if the current loopholes are fixed, it will fulfil such a promise.

Issues with Non-Proliferation Treaty

NNWS criticizes the treaty to be discriminatory as it focuses on preventing only horizontal proliferation while there is no limit for vertical proliferation.

NNWS groupings demand that the NWS should renounce their arsenals and further production in return for the commitment of NNWS not to produce them.

Vertical Proliferation vs Horizontal Proliferation

  • Vertical proliferation can be defined as the advancement or modernization of a nation-state’s nuclear arsenal, whereas horizontal proliferation is the direct or indirect transfer of technologies from one nation-state to another, which ultimately leads to the more advanced development and proliferation of nuclear weapons.
  • As there is no explicit obligation on part of NWS to reduce their arsenal, NWS has continued to expand their respective arsenals without any constraints.

NWWS also feels that the restrictions on Peaceful Nuclear Explosion (PNE) technology are one-sided.

Peaceful Nuclear Explosions

  • Peaceful nuclear explosions (PNEs) are nuclear explosions conducted for non-military purposes.
  • The US proposed to prohibit PNE rights and instead offered to provide the technology on a commercial basis.
  • The Indian representatives consistently termed the offer as ‘atomic apartheid’ and ‘commercial super-monopoly,’ and insisted that PNE rights need to be integral to all peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
  • India conducted its first PNE in 1974 in opposition to this discriminatory principle.

Failure of Disarmament Process

  • The NPT is largely seen as a Cold War-era instrument that has failed to fulfill the objective of creating a pathway towards a credible disarmament process.
  • Treaty proposes no tangible disarmament roadmap, no reference to testing ban or to the freezing of production of either fissile materials or nuclear weapons, and omitted provisions for reductions and elimination.
  • It instead allowed sustenance and expansion of arsenals by stipulating January 1, 1967, as the cut-off date to determine the NWS.

International Relations of India covers an important part of the UPSC syllabus. Candidates preparing for the UPSC 2023  should also keep a track of the latest current affairs to know about any new developments in the world. 

Non-Proliferation Treaty(NPT):- Download PDF Here

Related links:

UPSC Syllabus UPSC Notes
India and International Treaties Procurement of Fissile Materials
Nuclear Suppliers Group Nuclear Issue and India
Cold War Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty


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