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The NPT turns 50: Will it get to 60?

As Washington opens its talks with the Russians over nuclear arms control and increases pressure on Iran and North Korea to get them to negotiate, there’s one nuclear diplomatic effort that’s going all but unnoticed— the tenth review of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Slated for late April, the NPT Review Conference at the United Nations in New York will celebrate the treaty’s 50th anniversary. The question is how much longer might this treaty last.

As Henry Sokolski argues in the attached version of a piece to be published in the March issue of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the jury is out. Several countries — Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia — have recently threatened to withdraw from the treaty. The means to go nuclear are increasingly available and our security reliance, and that of our adversaries, on nuclear weapons and their early use is again drifting upward.

Should we worry? The short answer is yes. If we care about deterring nuclear war, we have to care about limiting the fundamental uncertainties that come with increased numbers of nuclear and near-nuclear armed states.

What can be done? Plenty. As Henry Sokolski argues in the essay below, we need to work with Russia and others to make NPT withdrawals far less likely. We also need to stop pushing the most dangerous and uneconomical forms of civilian nuclear energy and modernize our military in ways that deemphasize the military value of nuclear arms. The good news is we still have time.



Mar 09, 2020
AUTHOR: Henry Sokolski
The NPT turns 50 Will it get to 60 (PDF) 587.13 KB

 The NPT turns 50: Will it get to 60?

 By Henry Sokolski

In the next decade, it is all too likely that the past success of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in preventing the further spread of nuclear weapons among the world’s nations will be reversed. Three trends make more proliferation likely. First is the decay of nuclear taboos. Second, and arguably worse, is renewed vertical proliferation – the increase in size and sophistication of nuclear arsenals by states that already have them. Third, the technical information to fuel nuclear breakouts and ramp-ups is more available now than in the past. These trends toward increased proliferation are not yet facts. The author describes three steps the international community could take to save the NPT: making further withdrawals from the NPT unattractive; clamping down on the uneconomical stockpiling and civilian use of nuclear weapons materials (plutonium and highly enriched uranium); and giving real meaning to efforts to limit the threats that existing nuclear weapons pose.

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