The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty came into force in 1970, following widespread international concern about the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation and the spiraling nuclear weapon stocks of those states that had developed them. It is a binding multilateral treaty with the goal of general and complete nuclear weapons disarmament.
The UK is one of five states that had already acquired nuclear weapons before the treaty was signed – the other nuclear weapon states are the United States, Russia, China and France. The treaty establishes that those states without nuclear weapons agree not to acquire them and those with nuclear weapons agree to disarm. It also gives states the right to develop civil nuclear power. The UK does not have any right to possess nuclear weapons under the treaty; instead it is legally bound to disarm.
Three states, Israel, India and Pakistan did not sign the NPT. They stayed outside the treaty framework and have developed nuclear weapons. North Korea signed the treaty but withdrew from it in 2003.
Article VI of the treaty provides for nuclear disarmament:
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.
State parties to the treaty meet usually every five years to discuss progress – or lack thereof – with the treaty.
The Review Conference which took place in August 2022 ended with no agreement, with Russia vetoing any final text that contained a reference to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is at risk of causing a radioactive disaster due to Russian occupation of the Ukrainian site as part of its wider invasion.
But even before this veto, the text was already a disappointing result after a month of negotiations, with no real steps forward on the nuclear states disarming. CND Vice-President Rebecca Johnson was present at the conference and wrote a summary blog for CND which can be read here.
The next Review Conference will take place in 2026, with a Preparatory Committee taking place in Summer 2023.