Analysis & Opinions - The Hill

Our Deep Divide Over Nuclear Disarmament

| Dec. 11, 2018

Pundits and scholars have warned about the impending collapse of the nuclear nonproliferation regime since the advent of the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Fortunately, with the help of U.S. leadership, the nuclear nonproliferation regime has survived 50 years since the NPT opened for signature in 1968 and there are the same number of nuclear states today as there were 30 years ago (nine, having swapped South Africa for North Korea).

Today, pessimism about the future of the nuclear nonproliferation regime is again on the rise. This time, the cause for sounding the alarm is the deepening divide within the NPT community over the lack of progress on nuclear disarmament.

Most of the world’s states are non-nuclear members of the NPT. The NPT did not prohibit nuclear weapons, but it required the five states that possessed them at the time of the treaty’s drafting to agree to eventually get rid of their arsenals. The NPT’s Article 6 commits all parties, including the five nuclear weapons possessors in the treaty, to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.” Many non-nuclear states see nuclear-related developments around the world through the lens of this Article 6 commitment.

Frustration over lack of disarmament progress was already at an all-time high in the summer of 2017 when 122 states came together to adopt a new international agreement, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). With a sense that there was no way to make progress on nuclear disarmament through established channels such as the NPT, a group of states and advocates decided to establish a new treaty banning all nuclear weapons-related activities. The TPNW was never expected to cause immediate disarmament — none of the nuclear-armed states supported its adoption — but it is meant to delegitimize nuclear weaponsand to create a norm against their possession.

The deep divide within the NPT community over disarmament will make it difficult, if not impossible, to make progress on U.S. non-proliferation goals in the near term and eventually may cause the treaty to lose relevance as non-nuclear states reconsider the treaty’s value. 

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Gibbons, Rebecca Davis.“Our Deep Divide Over Nuclear Disarmament.” The Hill, December 11, 2018.

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