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Old Tuesday, March 03, 2009
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Post Nuclear Proliferation Treaties

Nuclear Proliferation Treaties Under Pressure

There have been a number of significant and controversial treaties to try and control nuclear weapons:

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)

The NPT was ratified in 1975. It has been ratified by 187 countries, more than any other arms limitation and disarmament agreement. The objective is “to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote co-operation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.” Some 180+ countries thus agreed not to pursue nuclear weapons in exchange for the nuclear powers to adhere to treaties that would have the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. However, as others have put more bluntly, this treaty was to prevent new members from joining the “nuclear club.”

The Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty

The ABM Treaty, signed in 1972, prohibits the use of defensive systems that might give an advantage to one side in a nuclear war. The Mutually Assured Destruction scenario was invoked here to assure that each nation had enough weapons to survive a nuclear attack and therefore have the ability to annihilate the other. Their rationale was that as long as both sides remained defenseless, in this respect, neither country would dare attack the other.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)

The CTBT was designed to prevent testing of nuclear weapons and hence reduce the chance of an arms race.
The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties, START I and START II
START I and II were designed to reduce the weapons that Russia and the US have.
All four of these have been under pressure for a few years:

The NPT is seen by some critics as a means for the five nuclear powers at that time to retain their weapons while telling others not to develop them, and thus allow these five to remain militarily more powerful than other nations. This is feared to then provide a pretext for other countries to develop their own nuclear weapons. For example,
India, Pakistan, Israel and Cuba did not sign the NPT.
India and Pakistan went nuclear in 1998.
Israel is known to have nuclear capabilities too.
North Korea went nuclear in 2006. (More on this below.)
The US is currently looking at developing an expensive national missile defense system, which goes against the ABM treaty. [Since writing this page initially, the U.S. has withdrawn from the ABM Treaty.]
Although President Clinton had signed it in 1995, the US Senate rejected the CTBT in 1999. Other countries such as China and Iran are also “balking” on the idea, using the excuses of U.S. policies and costs, for example, as reported by Reuters (March 7, 2002).
Russia initially stalled on START II because of the USA’s national missile defense program. However, they finally endorsed the treaty in April 2000, but warned that if the US still pursues its missile defense program, which goes against the ABM treaty, then Russia would pull out of the arms negotiations.
While the major nuclear powers have agreed to eliminate their nuclear arsenal at a UN review of the NPT, it remains to be seen how much of that will be rhetoric and how much real political will there will be to follow it through.

Almost five years after writing the above paragraph, it would seem that much talk has been rhetoric. David Kreiger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, notes some additional grim developments:

At the center of the nonproliferation regime is the 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)…. this treaty is based upon an important tradeoff. The nonnuclear weapons states agree not to develop or acquire nuclear weapons, and the nuclear weapons states agree to engage in good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament.

Unfortunately, the nuclear weapons states, and particularly the United States, seem to have made virtually zero progress in the past five years. Despite its pledges to do otherwise, the United States has failed to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; opposed a verifiable fissile material cutoff treaty; substituted the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), which is fully reversible, for the START treaties; scrapped the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, opening the door for deployment of missile defenses and moves toward placing weapons in outer space; kept nuclear weapons at the center of its security policies, including research to create new nuclear weapons; and demonstrated no political will toward the elimination of its nuclear arsenal.

— David Kreiger, Saving the Nuclear Nonproliferation Agreement, Waging Peace, March 4, 2005
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