DISEC Topic 1 – Issue Briefing Pack

Topic 1 – The Question of Nuclear Weapons: in light of the forthcoming 2020 review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, should the UN step up its pursuit of nuclear non-proliferation?

Ever since the emergence of the nuclear bomb in Mexico of 1945, nuclear weapons seem to be a popular commodity for the most powerful nations of the world. Even though the only country to have ever experienced the full force of a nuclear bomb properly was Japan, with the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world is threatened by the ever increasing number of countries gaining hold of nuclear weapons. Were nuclear weapons to fall into the hands of an unstable regime the potential stakes for nuclear winter could increase drastically in the near future, especially with talks of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. This is why the UN has taken comprehensive steps towards promoting nuclear energy in the name of peace with the hopes of future nuclear disarmament. 

Since the treaty’s inception in 1968, coming into effect in 1970, it has been extended indefinitely. As it stands, over 191 countries are currently signed up to it. The complication, however, is that some of the world’s most unstable regions have refused to cooperate: for example, a state such as North Korea, notorious for promoting its own military expansion especially in the nuclear weapons department. Other players such as Pakistan, Israel and India have also refused to take a part in the treaty. Iran’s failure to sign it has provided a constant threat to the national security of much of the West, in particular the US, whose foreign policy in the late 20th century arguably provided the fuel for the increasing growing militancy within the country. Consequently, the world is still vulnerable to the menace of nuclear war. 

In 2000 the NPT attempted to begin its “Thirteen Steps Program”, but this was greatly affected by nuclear trade deals between India and the US as well as China’s nuclear trade deal with Pakistan which was in direct violation of the treaty. At the Seventh Review Conference in May 2005, the US wanted to focus on nonproliferation for political reasons against Iran, while most other countries attacked each other for the lack of serious commitment to nuclear disarmament. This failure to take meaningful steps forward due to political motivations carried on into the Review Conference in 2015 whereby no agreement was made on the substantive part of the draft of the final document in the treaty.

Potential reasons for the failures of the NPT have been that it has become a largely political weapon viewed by countries outside of the economic spheres of the West as a way of limiting their power. Other states are simply reluctant to give up their nuclear armories due to national security or the change in Presidents: Obama’s terms in office were fairly unproductive on the world stage when focusing on progress within the NPT. The NPT is also criticised for Article IV which gives states the power to search for nuclear energy as a way of garnering resources because reactors can easily be made into weapons.

Key figures

The United States

The US has made a large contribution in placing themselves in the role of global policeman and although to some degree they have justified this self evaluation through their role in much of the world conflict in the 20th century, the US has been shown in the past to appear as threatening to many third world countries. Their verbal attack on Iran in 2005 prompted Iran to feel as if the NPT was more of a political weapon as opposed to a serious attempt to demilitarise. The US deal with India in 2005 explicitly weakened the efforts of the NPT because it is outside of NPT rules to allow nuclear trade with states who aren’t signed into the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty. 

Iran, North Korea, Israel, Pakistan, South Sudan and India

These global powerhouses have refused to sign, or have left the treaty and have not co-operated since. Although some of these nations haven’t explicitly been known to have weapons of mass destruction, most countries irrespective of whether they have weapons are signed into the program. The difficulty in making the treaty work is to win over these global players as well as ensuring that no other nation provides a threat if they were to demilitarise. 

NWS (Nuclear Weapon States – including the US)

These states – UK, US, Russia, France and China – are recognised by the NPT as member nations who will not facilitate, encourage or induce a non nuclear weapon state to acquire nuclear weapons or help the spread of nuclear weapons across the globe

Useful resources: 

https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/us-india-nuclear-deal

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-33521655

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/jan/10/northkorea1

https://fas.org/nuke/control/npt/chron.htm

https://www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/nuclear/npt/

https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/russia-has-thousands-nuclear-weapons-and-they-can-kill-billions-91136