Forty years of the NPT

01 July 2008

The Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was opened for signature on 1 July 1968 and immediately signed by 61 parties. The pact has provided a framework for limiting nuclear weapons and the peaceful use of nuclear power.


Speaking today, US President George Bush confirmed the NPT's "fundamental role in advancing international security." He continued to praise the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which through its safeguards system, "plays a vital role in supporting the treaty by uncovering and reporting violations of nuclear safeguards."


The NPT has been seen by some to be under strain, given the continuing presence of nuclear weapons and the ongoing dialogue on Iran's nuclear programs. However, it is the provisions of the NPT that allow for IAEA experts to examine nuclear activities and provide a process through the United Nations to reduce the risk of conflict over nuclear programs. "The NPT stands as one of the great achievements in diplomatic history, said John Ritch, head of the World Nuclear Association and a former US envoy to the IAEA. "The limited number of transgressions, and our ability to focus world attention upon them is proof not of the treaty's weakness but of its enormous value as an international norm."


NPT signing 1 July 1968 

The Austrian ambassador to the USSR, Walter Wodak, signs the NPT
in Moscow on 1 July 1968.


The treaty was first proposed by Ireland as a response to the increasingly widespread development and testing of nuclear weapons. Testing in the atmosphere, outer space and underwater had been prohibited by the partial test ban treaty of 1963 and the UN General Assembly had adopted resolutions calling for an end to the nuclear arms race.


The NPT achieved that by placing signatories into one of two groups: 'nuclear weapons states' that had already developed and tested atomic bombs (China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA) and 'non-weapons states'.


The text of the NPT then called for all non-weapons states to give up forever any ambition of developing the weapons, while weapons states were required never to share their weapons knowledge, to make progress towards disarming, and to aid non-weapons states with the peaceful use of nuclear power. It also enshrined the right of all nations to use nuclear energy peacefully.


The treaty is held by the American, British and Russian governments where it was signed by some 189 parties. The only sovereign states not party to the NPT are India, Israel, Pakistan (which never signed) and North Korea (which withdrew).


The IAEA's ability to conduct inquiries relating to the NPT was strengthened in 1997 by an 'Additional Protocol', which was initiated after the revelation of Iraq's secret nuclear program following the first Gulf War revealed weaknesses in IAEA inspection capabilities. Among other things, the new authority enables IAEA inspectors to make snap visits to any location to verify the peaceful nature of the activities taking place.


To date, 118 parties have signed up to the Additional Protocol with 89 bringing it into force. Bush said today: "The USA is committed to ensuring the IAEA has the tools and access it needs to do its work, especially in support of universal adherence to the Additional Protocol."