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The Non-Proliferation Treaty: the world's most important treaty?

Will the NPT eventually see its ideals realised? Or will it become increasingly outdated in a changing world? How can it deal with rule breakers, non-state actors and enforcement? NATO Review looks at how a key treaty faces the future.

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The Non-proliferation Treaty is over

40 years old and has been central

in preventing more countries

from gaining nuclear weapons.

The treaty has

many fans and signatories

and has stood the test of time

in a changing world.

The NPT remains the most widely

subscribed to treaty in the world.

There is no other treaty

with more members.

The NPT was really

a product of US-Soviet co-operation.

Cold War, they disagreed totally,

had thousands of weapons,

but the two superpowers agreed

on the treaty.

You have 190 states

that have adhered to it.

The breaches were a failure

and that had to do with Iraq.

Libya and North Korea, they failed.

Iraq and Libya were brought back,

so we sit there with two big cases,

the Iran affair

and the North Korean affair.

All the rest stayed away

from nuclear weapons.

You could argue that the system

worked relatively well with Iran.

Yes, Iran bought some things

from Pakistan that it shouldn't have,

but it ultimately got caught,

and the warning system worked.

Today there are new situations.

The lack of mention

of nuclear terrorism is a loophole,

but, despite this, its strengths

outweigh its weaknesses.

When it was negotiated

I think State parties

were not particularly focused

on the question of non-state actors.

So the NPT says nothing about

the dangers of nuclear terrorism.

The problem with the NPT is

that it has a number of flaws,

and we can talk about those,

but also that if you had to reinvent it

you couldn't.

I think you’re hard pressed to find

any treaty that is without loopholes.

Adherence

to the NPT is not universal.

And a few countries

that are parties to the NPT

have violated their treaty obligations.

One weak point from the beginning

is that the treaty acts by consensus.

And any change is highly unlikely.

Consensus rule, you know,

yes, I think it can be crippling

if it is misused, and it sometimes is.

If you set up a conference

and you decide to rule by consensus,

you've sort of hung up your snare

for your own neck.

One of the other real difficulties

with the treaty is

that there is a tradition,

although it’s not a legal obligation,

to act by consensus.

What that does is to give a single

state or a small number of states

an opportunity

to block a consensus decision.

I think there is no prospect

of a formal amendment to the treaty.

The process is so cumbersome

that it is virtually impossible.

Nations’ ability to leave the NPT,

as North Korea did,

angers many, but it will be difficult

to change these conditions.

Many countries believe

that one should, in fact,

make it more difficult for countries

to derive the benefit

from NPT membership

while having

the option of withdrawing

in a very expeditious fashion

with no consequences.

The clause that you can withdraw

if there are extraordinary reasons,

that is a clause that exists

in many other disarmament treaties.

It would be very hard to change it.

What will happen is

that there will be an insistence that

a country withdrawing from the NPT,

the matter will go

to the Security Council.

The world's people

want more from us,

and more progress on disarmament,

more arms cuts

and more transparency.

There are doubts about compliance.

There are resentments between

nuclear haves and have-nots.

And enforcing the provisions

remains complicated,

with a potential tipping-point in sight.

Enforcement is

definitely a major issue.

That being said

there are states that also maintain

that the nuclear weapon states have

not met all their NPT obligations.

What is a major difficulty

is the question of compliance.

There's no provision for enforcement.

One has to turn

to the Security Council.

The rising major powers,

Brazil, South Africa, India,

who aren’t permanent members

of the Security Council

and who are more affiliated with Iran

and other developing countries,

do they decide that they want to put

their weight behind enforcing rules

of the nuclear order or do they decide:

No, the nuclear order

is a Cold War imposition,

it has colonial or racist overtones.

We actually don't accept

or want to put our capital

into enforcing this regime. If that

happens, then it is a tipping-point

in terms

of becoming nuclear disorder.

The review conference takes place

in New York in May 2010.

What are the issues on the table,

how important will disarmament be,

and how will it be possible

to get all countries to join the NPT?

I actually think that in some respects

disarmament issues will be

the easier issues at the conference

and that we will see

a much greater difficulty,

we’ll see much more sparks fly,

on issues related to peaceful use,

so-called inalienable right

and also on non-proliferation issues.

The only way to move forward is to

understand India, Pakistan and Israel

are not going to sign the NPT

and give up their nuclear weapons,

either one at a time or as a group,

the three of them.

The only way to solve this problem

is in the context

of the global

nuclear disarmament project

that President Obama

and others talked about.

Where India, Pakistan

and Israel join the process

is in the disarmament aspect and

how they will brought into the system

is at zero nuclear weapons

when the US, China and Russia are.

The NPT can’t claim

to be the only reason

there hasn't been more proliferation,

but it's certainly a major factor.

Most of the states

that are party to the NPT

would stay away from nuclear

weapons even without the treaty,

but the legal barrier

is an additional barrier.

There are many others.

Some have assurances of security

through alliances,

many others cannot develop

nuclear weapons

because they lack the technology,

but a countries

like Sweden, Austria or Switzerland

are not in any alliance, have no

security umbrella, and even so,

we consider that it is

in our interests not to be a party.

A snake that is poisonous

may run the risk of being killed

even if it does not attack.

And finally, on a positive note,

countries who have nuclear weapons

have not been cavalier with them,

at least not yet.

Those who have acquired

nuclear weapons have turned out,

so far, to handle it rather responsibly.

The North Koreans perhaps

are the ones who have been

a little more reckless than the others.

It is nothing

that I would like to depend upon,

we must do everything

to persuade North Korea and Iran

not to move to nuclear weapons

and the others to move out of it.

The Non-proliferation Treaty is over

40 years old and has been central

in preventing more countries

from gaining nuclear weapons.

The treaty has

many fans and signatories

and has stood the test of time

in a changing world.

The NPT remains the most widely

subscribed to treaty in the world.

There is no other treaty

with more members.

The NPT was really

a product of US-Soviet co-operation.

Cold War, they disagreed totally,

had thousands of weapons,

but the two superpowers agreed

on the treaty.

You have 190 states

that have adhered to it.

The breaches were a failure

and that had to do with Iraq.

Libya and North Korea, they failed.

Iraq and Libya were brought back,

so we sit there with two big cases,

the Iran affair

and the North Korean affair.

All the rest stayed away

from nuclear weapons.

You could argue that the system

worked relatively well with Iran.

Yes, Iran bought some things

from Pakistan that it shouldn't have,

but it ultimately got caught,

and the warning system worked.

Today there are new situations.

The lack of mention

of nuclear terrorism is a loophole,

but, despite this, its strengths

outweigh its weaknesses.

When it was negotiated

I think State parties

were not particularly focused

on the question of non-state actors.

So the NPT says nothing about

the dangers of nuclear terrorism.

The problem with the NPT is

that it has a number of flaws,

and we can talk about those,

but also that if you had to reinvent it

you couldn't.

I think you’re hard pressed to find

any treaty that is without loopholes.

Adherence

to the NPT is not universal.

And a few countries

that are parties to the NPT

have violated their treaty obligations.

One weak point from the beginning

is that the treaty acts by consensus.

And any change is highly unlikely.

Consensus rule, you know,

yes, I think it can be crippling

if it is misused, and it sometimes is.

If you set up a conference

and you decide to rule by consensus,

you've sort of hung up your snare

for your own neck.

One of the other real difficulties

with the treaty is

that there is a tradition,

although it’s not a legal obligation,

to act by consensus.

What that does is to give a single

state or a small number of states

an opportunity

to block a consensus decision.

I think there is no prospect

of a formal amendment to the treaty.

The process is so cumbersome

that it is virtually impossible.

Nations’ ability to leave the NPT,

as North Korea did,

angers many, but it will be difficult

to change these conditions.

Many countries believe

that one should, in fact,

make it more difficult for countries

to derive the benefit

from NPT membership

while having

the option of withdrawing

in a very expeditious fashion

with no consequences.

The clause that you can withdraw

if there are extraordinary reasons,

that is a clause that exists

in many other disarmament treaties.

It would be very hard to change it.

What will happen is

that there will be an insistence that

a country withdrawing from the NPT,

the matter will go

to the Security Council.

The world's people

want more from us,

and more progress on disarmament,

more arms cuts

and more transparency.

There are doubts about compliance.

There are resentments between

nuclear haves and have-nots.

And enforcing the provisions

remains complicated,

with a potential tipping-point in sight.

Enforcement is

definitely a major issue.

That being said

there are states that also maintain

that the nuclear weapon states have

not met all their NPT obligations.

What is a major difficulty

is the question of compliance.

There's no provision for enforcement.

One has to turn

to the Security Council.

The rising major powers,

Brazil, South Africa, India,

who aren’t permanent members

of the Security Council

and who are more affiliated with Iran

and other developing countries,

do they decide that they want to put

their weight behind enforcing rules

of the nuclear order or do they decide:

No, the nuclear order

is a Cold War imposition,

it has colonial or racist overtones.

We actually don't accept

or want to put our capital

into enforcing this regime. If that

happens, then it is a tipping-point

in terms

of becoming nuclear disorder.

The review conference takes place

in New York in May 2010.

What are the issues on the table,

how important will disarmament be,

and how will it be possible

to get all countries to join the NPT?

I actually think that in some respects

disarmament issues will be

the easier issues at the conference

and that we will see

a much greater difficulty,

we’ll see much more sparks fly,

on issues related to peaceful use,

so-called inalienable right

and also on non-proliferation issues.

The only way to move forward is to

understand India, Pakistan and Israel

are not going to sign the NPT

and give up their nuclear weapons,

either one at a time or as a group,

the three of them.

The only way to solve this problem

is in the context

of the global

nuclear disarmament project

that President Obama

and others talked about.

Where India, Pakistan

and Israel join the process

is in the disarmament aspect and

how they will brought into the system

is at zero nuclear weapons

when the US, China and Russia are.

The NPT can’t claim

to be the only reason

there hasn't been more proliferation,

but it's certainly a major factor.

Most of the states

that are party to the NPT

would stay away from nuclear

weapons even without the treaty,

but the legal barrier

is an additional barrier.

There are many others.

Some have assurances of security

through alliances,

many others cannot develop

nuclear weapons

because they lack the technology,

but a countries

like Sweden, Austria or Switzerland

are not in any alliance, have no

security umbrella, and even so,

we consider that it is

in our interests not to be a party.

A snake that is poisonous

may run the risk of being killed

even if it does not attack.

And finally, on a positive note,

countries who have nuclear weapons

have not been cavalier with them,

at least not yet.

Those who have acquired

nuclear weapons have turned out,

so far, to handle it rather responsibly.

The North Koreans perhaps

are the ones who have been

a little more reckless than the others.

It is nothing

that I would like to depend upon,

we must do everything

to persuade North Korea and Iran

not to move to nuclear weapons

and the others to move out of it.

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