- The Tenth Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) concluded recently.
- Marking 52 years of a treaty that every speaker described as the ‘cornerstone of the global nuclear order’
- And after four weeks of debate and discussion, the delegates failed to agree on a final document.
NPT’s success and weakness
The NPT was negotiated during the 1960s to reconcile three competing objectives —
- Controlling the further spread of nuclear weapons beyond the P-5 countries (the U.S., the U.S.S.R., the U.K, France and China) that had already tested;
- Committing to negotiating reductions of nuclear arsenals leading to their elimination; and
- Sharing benefits of peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology.
- Over the years, the non-proliferation objective has been achieved in large measure.
- Despite apprehensions that by the 1980s, there would be close to 25 nuclear powers, in the last 50 years, only four more countries have gone on to test and develop nuclear arsenals — India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan.
- After the end of the Cold War and the break-up of the U.S.S.R. in 1991, non-proliferation remained a shared priority for the major powers and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
- Progress on the other two aspects took a back seat; no meaningful discussions or negotiations on nuclear disarmament have ever taken place in the NPT framework. In fact, in the early 1980s, there was a growth in nuclear arsenals.
- All that the five nuclear-weapon-states party to the NPT could manage at the conference was a reiteration of the 1985 Reagan-Gorbachev declaration that ‘a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought’.
- The statement remains valid but clearly sounded hollow in the face of growing strategic rivalry between China, Russia and the U.S., rising nuclear rhetoric, and modernisation plans for nuclear arsenals being pursued.
- The U.S.’s 30-year nuclear modernisation programme, intended to provide ‘credible deterrence against regional aggression’ is already underway.
- This has been used to justify developing and deploying more usable low-yield nuclear weapons.
Russia and China
- Russia and China is developing hypersonic delivery systems that evade missile defences as well as larger missiles that do not need to travel over the Arctic.
- Also on the cards are nuclear torpedoes and new cruise missiles.
- Recent, satellite imagery over China revealed that at least three new missile storage sites are being developed.
- China is on the track to expand its arsenal from current levels of approximately 350 warheads to over 1,000 by 2030.
- Such a dramatic expansion raises questions about whether this marks a shift in the Chinese nuclear doctrine that has relied on a credible minimum deterrent and a no-first-use policy for the last six decades.
- Developments in space and cyber domains are blurring the line between conventional and nuclear weapons, leading to nuclear entanglement and rendering command and control systems vulnerable.
- This, in turn, compresses decision-making time and creates incentives for early use, raising nuclear risk.
Other treaties, their state
Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
- Frustrated by the absence of progress on nuclear disarmament, the nuclear have-nots successfully negotiated a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW, also called Ban Treaty) in 2017 that entered into force in January 2021.
- All 86 signatories are nuclear have-nots and parties to the NPT.
- It is the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons, with the goal of leading towards their total elimination.
- For those nations that are party to it, the treaty prohibits the development, testing, production, stockpiling, stationing, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons, as well as assistance and encouragement to the prohibited activities.
- For nuclear armed states joining the treaty, it provides for a time-bound framework for negotiations leading to the verified and irreversible elimination of its nuclear weapons programme.
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)
- The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was concluded in 1996 but has yet to formally enter into force because two major powers, the S. and China, have yet to ratify it.
- The CTBT is the Treaty banning all nuclear explosions – everywhere, by everyone.
- The Treaty will enter into force after all 44 States listed in Annex 2 to the Treaty will ratify it. These States had nuclear facilities at the time the Treaty was negotiated and adopted.
- India, North Korea and Pakistan have not yet signed the Treaty.
- While it is true that they do observe a moratorium on nuclear testing, modernisation plans could soon run up against the CTBT.
Nobody wants a breakdown of the NPT but sustaining it requires facing up to today’s political realities. The rivalries in a multipolar nuclear world create new challenges, different from what the world faced in a bipolar era of the 1960s when the NPT was concluded. Without addressing the new challenges, the NPT will weaken and with it, the taboo against nuclear weapons that has held since 1945.
Source: The Hindu
Previous Year Question
Q.1) Consider the following countries: (2015)
Which among the above are Nuclear Weapons States as recognized by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, commonly known as the Nuclear Non-Proliferaton Treaty (NPT)?
- 1 and 2 only
- 1, 3, 4 and 5
- 2, 4 and 5
- 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5