The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, commonly known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT is an international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to foster the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of disarmament. The Treaty establishes a safeguards system under the responsibility of the IAEA, which also plays a central role under the Treaty in areas of technology transfer for peaceful purposes.
The NPT process was launched by Frank Aiken, Irish Minister for External Affairs, in 1958. It was opened for signature in 1968, with Finland the first State to sign.
Date of adoption: 12 June 1968 (opened for signature)
Place of adoption: United Nations, New York
Date of entry into force: 5 March 1970
Depositary Governments: Russian Federation, United Kingdom, United States.
A total of 191 states have joined the Treaty, though North Korea, which acceded to the NPT in 1985 but never came into compliance, announced its withdrawal in 2003.
Four UN member states have never joined the NPT: India, Israel, Pakistan and South Sudan.
The treaty recognises five states as nuclear-weapon states: the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China. These are also the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
Four other states are known or believed to possess nuclear weapons: India, Pakistan and North Korea have openly tested and declared that they possess nuclear weapons, while Israel has had a policy of opacity regarding its nuclear weapons program.
The NPT is often seen to be based on a central bargain:
“the NPT non-nuclear-weapon states agree never to acquire nuclear weapons and the NPT nuclear-weapon states in exchange agree to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology and to pursue nuclear disarmament aimed at the ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals.”
The treaty is reviewed every five years in meetings called Review Conferences of the Parties to the Treaty of Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
The treaty was originally conceived with a limited duration of 25 years. However, the signing parties decided, by consensus, to extend the treaty indefinitely and without conditions on 11 May 1995 (a successful U.S. government effort led by Ambassador Thomas Graham Jr.).
Several additional measures have been adopted to strengthen the NPT and the broader nuclear nonproliferation regime and make it difficult for states to acquire the capability to produce nuclear weapons. These include the export controls of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the enhanced verification measures of the IAEA Additional Protocol.
Article X of NPT allows a state to leave the treaty if “extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardised the supreme interests of its country”, giving three months’ (ninety days’) notice. The state is required to give reasons for leaving the NPT in this notice.
NATO states argue that when there is a state of “general war” the treaty no longer applies, effectively allowing the states involved to leave the treaty with no notice.