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Dealing Preventively with NPT Withdrawal


Last week, Pierre Goldschmidt, former Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency for Safeguards, spoke on theHill and visited senior officials in the executive branch. The NPEC-commissioned paper he presented (see below) focused on what’sneeded to deter additional withdrawals from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

His suggestions could not be more timely. In January, Iran’s foreign minister threatened to leave the NPT. His threat came only months after Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, complained at the United Nations General Assembly that the world’s recognized nuclear armed states should give up their nuclear weapons or allow all other nations to get them. Erdoğan’s complaint followed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s public announcement that Riyadh would leave the NPT if Iran was found developing nuclear weapons.

The last time a country withdrew from the NPT was North Korea in January of 2003. At the time, Pyongyang was able to withdraw, expelled all resident IAEA nuclear inspectors, and was not even sanctioned. Only after North Korea exploded a nuclear device did the United Nations impose economic sanctions. This is not a model to follow. Instead, as Mr. Goldschmidt recommends, the United States should work with like-minded states to promote country-neutral rules before the next state gets its first bomb. The United States should also take up Mr. Goldschmidt’s recommendations with the Russians and Chinese.


Jan 23, 2020
AUTHOR: Pierre Goldschmidt

Dealing Preventively with NPT Withdrawal

By Pierre Goldschmidt

1. Introduction: What is at Stake?

Since it came into force in 1970, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) has worked remarkably well to prevent the horizontal proliferation of nuclear weapons. The one major exception is North Korea, which withdrew from the NPT in 2003. Despite this track record of success, the stability of the current non-proliferation regime could be significantly undermined by further withdrawals by countries such as Iran.

The right of states to withdraw from the NPT is clearly stated in the Treaty. Article X.1 provides that:

“Each Party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country. It shall give notice of such withdrawal to all other parties to the Treaty and to the United Nations Security Council three months in advance. Such notice shall include a statement of the extraordinary events it regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests.”

Since it is impossible to deny the right of states parties to withdraw from the NPT, it is all the more important to put in place appropriate preventive measures to dissuade withdrawal from the Treaty. The urgency of dealing preventively with NPT withdrawal increases as more nonnuclear-weapon states are poised to become “nuclear threshold states.”1 As the IAEA reported in 2008:

“Much of the sensitive information coming from the [Abdul Qadeer Khan] network existed in electronic form, enabling easier use and dissemination. This includes information that relates to uranium centrifuge enrichment and, more disturbing, information that relates to nuclear weapon design.”2


“a substantial amount of sensitive information related to the fabrication of a nuclear weapon was available to members of the network."3

The widespread dissemination of this type of scientific and technical information raises the prospect that more states will acquire the capability to manufacture nuclear weapons and their means of delivery, thus increasing the need for new measures to bolster the system that has worked to limit nuclear proliferation over the last 50 years.

To get the complete paper click here.

The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC), is a 501 (c)3 nonpartisan, nonprofit, educational organization
founded in 1994 to promote a better understanding of strategic weapons proliferation issues. NPEC educates policymakers, journalists,
and university professors about proliferation threats and possible new policies and measures to meet them.
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