Non‐Proliferation Of Nuclear Weapons, Treaty on The

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Non‐Proliferation Of Nuclear Weapons, Treaty on The (1968).This treaty prohibits the five countries that had nuclear weapons by 1967—China, France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union (now Russia), and the United States—from giving them to other countries, and it prohibits all other countries that join the treaty from acquiring them. All countries with significant nuclear activities have joined except for India, Israel, and Pakistan.

The treaty requires inspection of significant nuclear activities in all member countries other than the five that had weapons in 1967. It has also become the cornerstone for international cooperation (not always effective) to prevent the export of nuclear‐related materials for use in countries such as India, Israel, and Pakistan. Finally, it forms the basis for international efforts by the United Nations Security Council and ad hoc groups of countries to prevent terrorists, or treaty members such as Iraq and North Korea, from acquiring nuclear weapons.

The treaty has created three growing international norms: no more countries should get nuclear weapons; the five that had nuclear weapons by 1967 should negotiate agreements to stop improving them and producing them and, ultimately, to get rid of them; and the five should not use their nuclear weapons against any member without such weapons unless that member attacks them with the assistance of a country that has nuclear weapons.

The treaty helped implement the first norm in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Iraq, Kazakhstan, North Korea, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and Ukraine. Each of these countries once possessed nuclear weapons or had begun exploring how to make them. Each gave them up. In the case of North Korea, the norm may not yet be fully effective, but international inspections and negotiations continue. In the cases of India and Pakistan, which refused to join the treaty and tested nuclear explosives in 1998, the norm failed. Israel also refused to join the treaty and is believed to have nuclear weapons, though it has not tested or otherwise declared that it has them. In all three cases, international efforts to achieve compliance have not ended.

The second norm—negotiations on nuclear weapons—has had more effect than many realize. At the treaty's review conferences every five years beginning in 1975, members that do not have nuclear weapons have pressed hard for an end to all nuclear weapons testing and for further steps—particularly by Russia and the United States—to reduce their nuclear weapons. The START Treaties to reduce American and Russian long‐range nuclear missiles were given an impetus as a result. At a conference in 1995, the five gained broad agreement to make the treaty permanent, but they had to promise to achieve a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by 1996 and to agree that the goal of the nuclear negotiations obligation was “eliminating” nuclear weapons. A Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was signed by the end of 1996, but further cuts in long‐range nuclear weapons beyond the START Treaties have not so far been negotiated. Future review conferences are expected to pressure the five to go further.

The third norm resulted from the demands of members without nuclear weapons that, if they were to continue abjuring them, the five should promise not to use such weapons against them. Each of the five has made that promise, though all but China say they retain the right to respond with nuclear weapons to an attack by a member not having such weapons if assisted by a nation that does have them.

The treaty has gone beyond the original U.S. idea of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to any additional countries, coming to symbolize, rather, an international determination to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
[See also Arms Control and Disarmament: Nuclear Arms Race; Cold War: External Course.]


Glenn T. Seaborg with and Benjamin S. Loeb , Stemming the Tide: Arms Control in the Johnson Years, 1987.
George Bunn , Arms Control By Committee: Managing Negotiations with the Russians, Chaps. 4 and 5, 1992.
Rebecca Johnson , Indefinite Extension of the Non‐Proliferation Treaty: Risks and Reckonings, Acronym No. 7, 1995.

George Bunn