Disarmament: Have the Five Nuclear Powers Done Enough?

By Scheinman, Lawrence; Boese, Wade et al. | Arms Control Today, January/February 2005 | Go to article overview

Disarmament: Have the Five Nuclear Powers Done Enough?


Scheinman, Lawrence, Boese, Wade, Applegarth, Claire, Arms Control Today


Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) calls on parties to the treaty to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race...and to nuclear disarmament." This article embodies not only a legal understanding but also a political expectation, particularly on the part of the nonnuclear-weapon states, who in signing the treaty, abjured acquiring nuclear weapons.

While recognizing that stemming nuclear proliferation would be in their national security interest and a good reason to join the NPT, they did not accept that the treaty distinction between nuclear-weapon and non-nuclearweapon states should become permanent any more than they accepted that in forswearing nuclear weapons they would forfeit the "inalienable right" under Article IV of the treaty to "develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination..."

The NPT did not set out a timetable for achieving the goals of Article VI, but it was presumed and anticipated that as conditions in the international security environment permitted, progress would be made toward that end and that realization of nonproliferation objectives and success in efforts to stop the arms race would help to create the conditions for disarmament to proceed. The importance of nuclear disarmament to non-nuclear-weapon states-parties is evident from the fact that differences over disarmament issues was the reason why, in three of the six NPT review conferences held every five years since the treaty entered into force in 1970, consensus on a final document reporting the results of the conferences could not be reached.

Observers are concerned that a similar stalemate might occur at this year's review conference. In recent years, the nuclearweapon states, particularly the United States, have been sending mixed signals about their commitment to disarmament, at a time when they are calling on the international community to take steps that some non-nuclear-weapon states view as curtailing their rights under Article IV and other provisions of the treaty.

How Much Progress?

The concerns of the non-nuclear-weapon states have been heightened by the failure of the nuclear-weapon states to make greater progress on commitments they outlined at the two most recent review conferences. The 1995 Review Conference, the first to take place after the end of the Cold War, was also a conference to determine whether to extend the treaty indefinitely or for a fixed period or periods of time. At the treaty's inception, the nonnuclear-weapon states had favored that it be limited in time in order to permit an assessment of whether it was serving their security needs, including whether the nuclear-weapon states were meeting their obligations under Article VI.

At the 1995 Review Conference, many nonaligned states argued against indefinite extension, convinced that a series of limited-duration extensions would provide a stronger basis for pressing the nuclearweapon states on nuclear disarmament. The decision to extend the NPT indefinitely was taken in conjunction with two other decisions, one of which contained a set of agreed Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament. The objectives included: completion of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which bans nuclear tests, by 1996; commencement and early conclusion of negotiations on a nondiscriminatory and universally applicable convention banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; and "determined pursuit by the nuclear weapon states of systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, with the ultimate goal of eliminating those weapons, and of all states of general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control." In this manner, permanence was once again linked with accountability.

The 2000 NPT Review Conference, one of the most successful in terms of achieving consensus on a review of the past and projecting these goals into the future, translated the 1995 principles and objectives on disarmament into an action agenda of 13 steps for systematic and progressive efforts to implement NPT Article VI. …

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Disarmament: Have the Five Nuclear Powers Done Enough?
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