The Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was opened for signature on July 1, 1968.
As the foundation for global efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons, the NPT has supported a peaceful and more secure world for 50 years. In 1960, President John F. Kennedy warned that 20 or more countries eventually might possess nuclear weapons. Today, thanks to global consensus on the dangers of nuclear weapons and the need to limit their spread, that number has been limited to nine. The treaty also has facilitated the peaceful use of nuclear energy, while committing states not to use nuclear materials and technologies to develop nuclear arms—and providing a way to detect and address suspected cheating.
At the same time, the treaty now faces enormous challenges. Non-nuclear weapon states perceive a lack of commitment by nuclear-weapon states to take steps toward disarmament, and in response, have adopted a nuclear weapons ban treaty, further underlining existing divisions among the treaty parties. The continued expansion of nuclear power and related dual-use technologies in new states, including in unstable regions, increases proliferation challenges. There is little progress on the establishment of a WMD-free-zone in the Middle East. And the withdrawal of the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran, a party to the NPT, threatens to undermine further cooperation and consensus within the NPT on preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.
As the 2020 NPT Review Conference approaches, the 189 countries that are party to the treaty should recommit to its three pillars—disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful use. Nuclear-weapon states should reaffirm the vision of a world without nuclear weapons—reflecting their commitment in the NPT to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament. And all NPT parties must work together on the steps necessary to make progress toward that vision.
One of those steps is to advance progress on verification. A joint initiative of the U.S. State Department and NTI —the(IPNDV)—demonstrates that cooperation, even on one of the more complex challenges to reaching a nuclear-weapons-free world—is possible. The IPNDV brings together over 25 nuclear- and non-nuclear weapon states to address the challenges of verifying future reductions and the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons.
The 50th anniversary of the NPT’s opening for signature—and the upcoming 2020 Review Conference—should remind all nations why we have a stake in preserving, sustaining, and strengthening the NPT regime to prevent proliferation, ensure cooperation on peaceful use of nuclear energy, and end the threat posed by nuclear weapons as we ultimately move toward a world without nuclear weapons.