With four noteable exceptions, governments of all countries in the world have signed the United Nations Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, usually known as the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The treaty has been in force since 1970. Ireland played an important role in its development. In 1995 the states that are party to the treaty agreed to extend it force indefinitely. The treaty is actively reviewed every five years with state parties discussing their progress and seeking to agree a statement about the way forward. Preparatory work is carried out between reviews.
A preparatory committees (Prep Com) meets in each of the three years before a review conference (Rev Con). The next Rev Con is in 2026 and the first of its Prep Com meetings takes place in Vienna 2023 from 31st July till the 11th August.
Scottish CND, like other peace movement organisation want to see much faster progress towards the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation aims of the treaty, and for all states to also sign up to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The TPNW is complementary to the NPT, providing the legal instrument for disarmament lacking in the NPT.
The NPT treaty has 11 articles, the first six of which deal with three sets of issues:
Article 6 of the treaty says: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes 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, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and
effective international control.”
The TPNW takes this aim forward but there has been little progress under the NPT. Note also that CND UK have a legal judgment (Christine Chinken, Louise Arimatsu) indicating that the recent
increase in UK nuclear weapons is a direct violation of this clause by the UK government.
Non Proliferation – Preventing the Spread of Nuclear Weapons
In article 1, the nuclear states promise never to transfer nuclear weapons or the means of acquiring them to another state and, in article 2, the non-nuclear states promise never to acquire nuclear weapons.
Article 3 establishes an inspection regime conducted by the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA). Five states are recognized by NPT as nuclear weapon states: China (signed
1992), France (1992), the Soviet Union (1968; obligations and rights now assumed by the Russian
Federation), the United Kingdom (1968), and the United States (1968).
The states who have never signed are India, Israel and Pakistan, all of which built and tested nuclear weapons after the treaty was in force. North Korea, the newest nuclear weapons state, withdrew from the treaty in 2003.
The practices of so called ‘nuclear sharing’ and of other countries hosting the nuclear weapons of the nuclear weapons states are contentious. Nuclear states have treated the siting of their weapons in the countries of their allies as if this is compatible with the NPT but not all parties agree. Currently the USA has nuclear weapons in in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Turkey and now Russia has nuclear weapons in Belarus. This practice is explicitly prohibited by the TPNW which the nuclear states are still refusing to recognise as complementary to the NPT.
Scottish CND and CND UK have always taken the view that the lease of Trident missiles by the USA to
the UK for the purpose of launching UK nuclear weapons is in itself a violation of the NPT.
Peaceful Use of Nuclear Power for Energy & Medicine
Articles 4 asserts the right of all parties to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy
for peaceful purposes. Peaceful purposes also includes medical advances. Article 5 encourages the sharing of information about peaceful uses.
Scottish CND argues that the civil nuclear power industry and the nuclear weapons industries are
symbiotic with the former continuing to provide support to the later. Historically the products of
nuclear power have been the raw materials of nuclear weapons. The risks and harms created by the production cycle from uranium mining to nuclear waste are shared by both industries. Infrastructure, skills
and training are also shared.
The remaining articles 7-11 concern the procedures for amending, reviewing, extending, signing,
ratifying, depositing and withdrawing from the treaty.
Interested in reading more about current NPT discussions? Check out this article by Dr Rebecca Johnson.