Written by Kate Hudson
This year we mark the 50th anniversary of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – a milestone in global attempts to get rid of nuclear weapons, born out of concerns about proliferation and the spiralling stocks of the nuclear states in the early 1960s. These concerns had led already to efforts by Sweden and India in the UN General Assembly to bring both of these under control. In 1965, the US and Soviet Union put forward draft treaties, but they were rejected by the non-nuclear weapons states for they did ‘little more than limit the nuclear club to its existing members.’
In July 1968, the NPT opened for signature and was signed by US, Britain and the Soviet Union. It not only forbade nuclear technology transfer and the making or acquisition of nuclear weapons by non-nuclear weapons states, it also crucially included Article VI: ‘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.’
Including both non-proliferation and disarmament, the Treaty was very popular and was overwhelmingly passed by the UN General Assembly in June 1968, when it received 95 votes to 4, with 21 abstentions. However, Article VI requiring moves toward nuclear disarmament by the nuclear powers has remained to this day a dead letter. Parties to the Treaty have the right to peaceful use of nuclear power, with a safeguards system administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) designed to prevent materials produced during the atomic energy process being diverted for military purposes. In terms of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons by non-nuclear states, the Treaty has had mixed success. The US has enabled Israel to become a nuclear power. South Africa became a nuclear power but renounced its nuclear weapons. Both India and Pakistan have developed nuclear weapons. Still, as historian of the world peace movement Lawrence Wittner, has pointed out, ‘Although analysts had once estimated that as many as 30 nations might develop nuclear weapons by the 1970s, very few of them chose to do so. Indeed, numerous countries quite capable of developing the Bomb – Sweden, Canada, Switzerland, East and West Germany, Italy, Australia and Japan, among others resisted the temptation.’
When the Treaty was launched, there was considerable optimism. Indeed, enthusiasm for the eradication of nuclear weapons took a number of forms at this time. For example, several countries at this time also took steps to make themselves nuclear-free. In January 1968, the Japanese prime minister pledged that Japan would not make nuclear weapons. That same month, Canada’s Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau began the phasing out of the deployment of US nuclear weapons in Canada. Also in 1968, a nuclear weapons-free zone was established by 20 countries in Latin America, renouncing the acquisition and siting of nuclear weapons on their territories. Signatories to this treaty, the Treaty of Tlatelolco, also agreed to IAEA jurisdiction over their nuclear power facilities. In return, nuclear weapons states agreed not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any of the signatory states. Two other treaties were also signed around this same time: the Outer Space Treaty of 1966, which banned the deployment of weapons of mass destruction in space; and the Seabed Arms Control Treaty of 1971, which did the same for the seabed.
But in terms of disarmament, the Treaty has been a disappointment, as nuclear weapons states have disregarded Article VI. Indeed, it has been frustration with the failure of the NPT which has led to so many countries taking matters into their own hands and bringing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons into being – opened for signature in September 2017. Our own government claims to remain committed to the NPT as a disarmament process, yet does nothing to advance it. So to mark the 50th anniversary, Parliamentary CND has introduced EDM 1122, urging the government to make good on its commitment. Please contact your MP to ask them to sign it.