The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at 45: Rose Gottemoeller Reviews the Cornerstone of International Arms Control and Nonproliferation Efforts

By Gottemoeller, Rose | New Zealand International Review, September-October 2015 | Go to article overview

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at 45: Rose Gottemoeller Reviews the Cornerstone of International Arms Control and Nonproliferation Efforts


Gottemoeller, Rose, New Zealand International Review


Since 1969 the Non-proliferation Treaty has been a key instrument in stemming the tide of nuclear proliferation. It has facilitated co-operation among its signatories, and has institutionalised the norms of non-proliferation and disarmament. The three pillars of the treaty, which provide its stability and are responsible for its endurance, are the commitment by nuclear weapons states to pursue disarmament and by non-nuclear weapons states to abstain from the pursuit of nuclear weapons and the right of all countries to access the benefits of peaceful nuclear energy. The United States and New Zealand have always been strong supporters of this regime.

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New Zealand is a powerful voice for progress on arms control and non-proliferation issues. The United States joins it in that call for progress and 1 will focus here on the cornerstone of international arms control and non-proliferation efforts: the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which came into force 45 years ago.

The 'grand bargain' of the NPT set an enduring standard that is as relevant today as it was at the treaty's inception. That bargain comprises three reinforcing aspects wherein nuclear weapons states pursue disarmament, non-nuclear weapons states abstain from the pursuit of nuclear weapons and all countries are able to access the benefits of peaceful nuclear energy. For 45 years, the regime has thrived. When faced with challenges, NPT parties have worked together to make the entire non-proliferation regime stronger. Beginning with 62 signatories, the treaty is now nearly universal--and universality remains our ultimate goal.

The treaty has stemmed the tide of proliferation; it has facilitated co-operation among its states party; and it has institutionalised the norms of non-proliferation and disarmament. The three pillars of the treaty provide its stability, and its endurance. Each pillar is as important as the others. Each pillar reinforces the others, and each state party can and must help strengthen all three.

Looking at the success of the NPT, it is easy to forget that the world once faced the unpredictable and harrowing prospect of dozens of nuclear weapons states. It is easy to forget that nuclear war was once a daily fear for people around the world. Most people on this planet do not remember how close we came to ultimate destruction. They do not remember that for thirteen long, tense days in October 1962, Soviet missile placements in Cuba brought us to the edge of the nuclear abyss.

In some ways, that should not be too surprising. It has now been over 50 years since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Faced with the prospect of nuclear war, leaders in Washington and Moscow stepped back from the brink all those years ago and set about the task of reducing both the tension in our relationship and the threats posed by our respective nuclear arsenals. Together, these leaders created the first 'Hotline' between the Kremlin and the White House, allowing for direct, immediate communications between our leaders. Within a year, the United States and the Soviet Union negotiated, signed and ratified the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (LTBT), which went into force just four months later. The LTBT outlawed nuclear explosive tests on land, in the sea, in the atmosphere and in space. This was a tremendous step in the right direction and one that helped create the political conditions to conclude the NPT.

At the United States signing of the NPT in 1968 President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed that '[a]fter nearly a quarter century of danger and fear--reason and sanity have prevailed'. The NPT, he said, was 'evidence that amid the tensions, the strife, the struggle, and the sorrow of [those] years, men of many nations [had] not lost the way--or ... the will--toward peace'.

Indeed, if the LTBT was the turning point away from the unthinkable, the NPT was proof that the world was committed to creating a safer, more secure world. …

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