[….] “The original idea of the NPT from the superpowers’ perspective, was to stop proliferation of nuclear weapons from spreading outside the five that had already tested at the time. This clearly didn’t work out well. At least five other states have manufactured nuclear weapons since 1968 (I’m counting South Africa), and four of these still have them. And I think one would be hard pressed to show that the NPT itself has actually proven to be a meaningful independent variable in stopping any country from developing nuclear weapons when they wanted to do so. This is going to be a difficult experiment without a control case, of course. But I think the ‘proliferation success stories’ that are usually pointed to, including South Africa and Brazil, would probably have happened in much the same way they did without the NPT in place, but rather simply with an international norm having been expressed in General Assembly resolutions and elsewhere against nuclear weapons proliferation. These success stories, as well as the failure stories (e.g. North Korea), have occurred mostly due to factors outside of any direct influence of the NPT itself. They have occurred because of the particular political, historical, and economic circumstances of the state(s) involved, combined with a general international norm against nuclear proliferation, which as I said earlier could have been accomplished without the conclusion of the NPT. [….]
I would say the current climate of international trade in nuclear materials and technologies doesn’t betray any sort of real meaningful effect of the Article IV right and obligation on supplier states. Nuclear supplier states trade with whomever they want to trade. And if they don’t want to trade with a state, or allow their private parties to trade with that state, they simply won’t, with very little regard for the Article IV(2) obligation that they are presumably under. Trade in nuclear materials and technologies is, again, all about politics and economics. And again, I think that in the absence of the NPT, the landscape of international trade in nuclear technologies would look very much the same as it does now.
And what about Article VI? Well I think it’s pretty clear that no nuclear weapons possessing state has ever been significantly influenced by the obligation in Article VI to move towards disarmament in good faith [rather, they’re engaged in modernizing their nuclear arsenals]. After more than 45 years the nuclear weapons states do just exactly what they want to do with regard to nuclear disarmament [that is, engaging in what has been termed ‘symbolic reductions’] and no more. All of the changes that have been made would, I think, have been made in the absence of the NPT. The Cold War ramp up, the efforts of arms control during and after it, cuts over the past 25 years – none of these would have been any different had the NPT not been in place I suspect.
So if the NPT has failed in the ways I have described, why does every diplomat, from Russia to Nigeria, still pay lip service to the NPT as the cornerstone of the nonproliferation regime, and speak of it in hallowed terms? For the nuclear weapons states I think it’s clear why. They still benefit from having a treaty that allows them and no one else to have nuclear weapons, and that doesn’t seriously constrain them in any way. A treaty they can use as a normative cudgel against their enemies, but which carries very few costs for them and their friends.
But what about for developing non-nuclear weapon states? What do they get out of NPT membership? Again, the concessions they wanted out of the NPT have not been granted to them in the systematic and meaningful way they were promised in the NPT. They get nuclear supplies if and when they are on good enough political terms with supplier states. If not, they don’t. And 45+ years of waiting for the nuclear weapon states to disarm has yielded not one disarmed state among the NWS – and in fact it has produced a net addition of four more nuclear armed states outside of the treaty.
And yet in return for these promised but undelivered benefits, NNWS continue to submit to IAEA safeguards on their nuclear facilities, and to hypocritical critiques by nuclear weapon states of their failure to live up to their NPT and IAEA commitments. So I ask again, what are they getting out of NPT membership?” [….]
My bibliography, “Nuclear Weapons: Development, Detonation, Deterrence, and Disarmament,” is here.
[In photo, from left to right: Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Kwama Nkrumah of Ghana, Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein of Egypt, Sukharno of Indonesia, and Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia.]