The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a fragile success

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), signed half a century ago, prevented the atomic weapon from spreading throughout the world, but its success is threatened by the desire of the great powers to preserve it and by the United States’ exit from the agreement in 2015. nuclear with Iran.

The NPT, which entered into force in 1970 for 25 years and was extended indefinitely in 1995 with a scheduled review every five years, is based on an intelligent commitment: it promotes nuclear disarmament in exchange for international cooperation in the civil use of energy. nuclear.

International cooperation

A total of 191 states ratified the treaty, including Iran and the five great nuclear powers, the permanent members of the UN Security Council: the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, China and France.

The NPT commits the five official holders of the atomic bomb not to transfer nuclear technology to other countries, and prohibits nations not endowed with atomic weapons from acquiring or manufacturing them.

In return, the nuclear powers transfer nuclear electricity production technology to them.

Some nations gave up their military nuclear program, such as Sweden (1968), Switzerland (1969), South Africa (1991) and the former republics of the USSR.

Another success of the treaty: it allowed to limit the arms race during the Cold War and offered a framework to initiate the disarmament of the two great enemies of the time.

Since the 1960s, the world’s nuclear arsenal, essentially held by Washington and Moscow, has fallen by 85%, from 70,000 warheads to less than 15,000.

However, the NPT has not succeeded in preventing the emergence of new atomic powers. Four states have armed themselves with nuclear weapons since the treaty’s birth: India, Pakistan and Israel, which never signed the text, and North Korea, which abandoned the NPT in 2003.

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Deterrent aspect

A new exit from the NPT would jeopardize the agreement, experts warn, while Western countries suspect that Iran is trying to acquire the atomic bomb.

Another limitation of the treaty is the deterioration of the world security situation, which makes all countries cling to their nuclear arsenal for its dissuasive aspect.

While the negotiations on disarmament are at a standstill between Russia and the United States, the group of countries that have the atomic bomb "develop or deploy all new nuclear weapons systems, or have announced their intention to do so", noted in 2018 the International Institute for Peace Studies in Stockholm.

On Monday, the United States, China, Russia, the United Kingdom and France nonetheless pledged to "prevent proliferation" nuclear weapons, in a joint statement before the 10th Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference.

"We affirm that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought", pointed out the five signatory countries, emphasizing that "while they exist [las armas nucleares], should be used for defensive, deterrent and war prevention purposes".

On January 22, 2021, another treaty, that of the prohibition of nuclear weapons (TIAN), entered into force but its scope remains limited.

Among the fifty signatories there is none of those who have nuclear weapons. However, pro-abolition activists hope that TIAN will stigmatize them and force them to change their minds.

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