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Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT] - Background

The need to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons was evident from the first days of the nuclear era. On November 15, 1945, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada proposed the establishment of a U.N. Atomic Energy Commission for the purpose of "entirely eliminating the use of atomic energy for destructive purposes." The Baruch plan of 1946, offered by the United States, sought to forestall nuclear arms proliferation by placing all nuclear resources under international ownership and control.

But the early postwar efforts to achieve agreement on nuclear disarmament failed. The Soviet Union in 1949, the United Kingdom in 1952, France in 1960, and the Peoples Republic of China in 1964, became nuclear-weapon states. And increasingly it was becoming apparent that earlier assumptions about the scarcity of nuclear materials and the difficulty of mastering nuclear technology were inaccurate.

Other developments and prospects further underscored the threat of nuclear proliferation. In the early 1960s the search for peaceful applications of nuclear energy had brought advances in the technology of nuclear reactors for the generation of electric power. By 1966 such nuclear reactors were operating or under construction in five countries. It was estimated that by 1985 more than 300 nuclear power reactors would be operating, under construction, or on order. Nuclear reactors produce not only power, but plutonium -- a fissionable material which can be chemically separated and used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons. By 1985 it was estimated that the quantity of plutonium being produced worldwide would make possible the construction of 15 to 20 nuclear bombs daily, depending upon the level of the technology employed.

If the diversion of nuclear materials from peaceful purposes was not prevented by an international nuclear nonproliferation regime, and if a growing number of nations came to possess nuclear weapon arsenals, it was believed that the risks of nuclear war as a result of accident, unauthorized use, or escalation of regional conflicts would greatly increase. The possession of nuclear weapons by many countries would add a grave new dimension of threat to world security.

A succession of initiatives beginning in the 1950s by both nuclear and non-nuclear powers sought to check proliferation. Indeed the effort to achieve a nuclear test ban -- culminating in the Treaty of 1963 -- had as one of its main purposes inhibiting the spread of nuclear weapons. But much before that, in August 1957, the Western powers (Canada, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States) submitted a "package" of measures in the Subcommittee of the United Nations Disarmament Commission, which included a commitment "not to transfer out of its control any nuclear weapons, or to accept transfer to it of such weapons," except for self-defense.

Although the Soviet Union opposed proliferation, it claimed that this Western formula would allow an aggressor to judge his own actions, and to use nuclear weapons "under cover of the alleged right of self-defense." It therefore sought to couple a ban on transfer of nuclear weapons to other states with a prohibition on stationing nuclear weapons in foreign countries.

In 1961 the UN General Assembly unanimously approved an Irish resolution calling on all states, particularly the nuclear powers, to conclude an international agreement to refrain from transfer or acquisition of nuclear weapons. In addition, the general disarmament plans which had been submitted by the United States and the Soviet Union during the period 1960 -1962 included provisions banning the transfer and acquisition of nuclear weapons.

The United States, on January 21, 1964, outlined a program to halt the nuclear arms race in a message from President Johnson to the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee (ENDC). This program, unlike the 1957 proposal, was not a "package." It included a nondissemina-tion and nonacquisition proposal -- based on the Irish resolution -- and safeguards on international transfers of nuclear materials for peaceful purposes, combined with acceptance by the major nuclear powers that their peaceful nuclear activities undergo increasingly "the same inspection they recommend for other states."

An issue that was to be the principal stumbling block for the next three years was the proposed multilateral nuclear force (MLF) then under discussion by the United States and its NATO allies. The Soviet Union strongly objected to this plan and maintained that no agreement could be reached on nonproliferation so long as the United States held open the possibility of such nuclear-sharing arrangements in NATO. These arrangements would constitute proliferation, the Soviet Union contended, and were devices for giving the Federal Republic of Germany access to or control of nuclear weapons.

On August 17, 1965, the United States submitted a draft nonproliferation Treaty to the ENDC. This draft obliged the nuclear-weapon powers not to transfer nuclear weapons to the national control of any non-nuclear country not having them. Non-nuclear nations would undertake to facilitate the application of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or equivalent safeguards to their peaceful nuclear activities.

A Soviet draft Treaty was submitted to the General Assembly on September 24. In an accompanying memorandum, the Soviet Union declared that the greatest danger of proliferation was posed by the MLF and the alternative British proposal for an Atlantic nuclear force (ANF). The Soviet draft prohibited the transfer of nuclear weapons "directly or indirectly, through third States or groups of States not possessing nuclear weapons." It also barred nuclear powers from transferring "nuclear weapons, or control over them or their emplacement or use" to military units of non-nuclear allies, even if these were placed under joint command. The draft included no safeguards provisions.

In March 1966, the United States tabled amendments to its draft Treaty in the ENDC, seeking to clarify and emphasize the Western view that collective defense arrangements would not violate the principle of nonproliferation. The U.S. representative stressed that the United States would not relinquish its veto over the use of U.S. weapons. The Soviet Union objected that the amendments did not prevent the transfer of nuclear weapons through such alliance arrangements as the MLF, the ANF, or units placed under joint command. The U.S. retention of a veto, the Soviet representative argued, did not provide security against dissemination.

Despite strong disagreement on the issue of collective defense arrangements, it was apparent that both sides recognized the desirability of an agreement on nuclear nonproliferation. Moreover, the interest of non-nuclear powers in such a Treaty was increasingly manifest. It was shown in 1964 at the African summit conference and at the Cairo conference of nonaligned states and expressed in a series of resolutions in the General Assembly urging that nuclear non-

proliferation receive priority attention. In May 1966, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution sponsored by Senator Pastore of Rhode Island and 55 other Senators commending efforts to reach a nuclear nonproliferation agreement and supporting continued efforts.

In the fall of 1966 the U.S. and Soviet co-chairmen of the ENDC began private talks, and by the end of the year they had reached tentative agreement on the basic nontransfer and nonacquisition provisions of a Treaty, as well as on a number of other aspects.

There followed a long and arduous series of consultations between the United States and its allies. The allies raised a number of questions regarding the effect of the Treaty on NATO nuclear defense arrangements, and the United States gave its interpretations. The United States considered that the Treaty covered nuclear weapons and/or nuclear explosive devices, but not delivery systems. It would not prohibit NATO consultation and planning on nuclear defense, nor ban deployment of U.S.-owned and -controlled nuclear weapons on the territory of non-nuclear NATO members. It would not "bar succession by a new federated European state to the nuclear status of one of its members." The allies questions and the United States answers were provided to the Soviet Union, which did not challenge the U.S. interpretations.

On August 24, 1967, the United States and the Soviet Union were able to submit separate but identical texts of a draft Treaty to the ENDC. Other ENDC members proposed numerous amendments, largely reflecting the concerns of the non-nuclear states. In response to these, the drafts underwent several revisions, and the co-chairmen tabled a joint draft on March 11, 1968. With additional revisions, the joint draft was submitted to the U.N. General Assembly, where it was extensively debated. Further suggestions for strengthening the Treaty were made, and in the light of these, the United States and the Soviet Union submitted a new revised version, the seventh, to the First Committee of the General Assembly on May 31. The General Assembly on June 12 approved a resolution commending the text and requesting the depositary governments (the U.S., U.K., and Soviet Union) to open it for signature. France abstained in the General Assembly vote, stating that while France would not sign the Treaty, it "would behave in the future in this field exactly as the States adhering to the Treaty."

In the course of these extended negotiations, the concerns of the non-nuclear powers centered particularly on three main issues:

Safeguards. There was general agreement that the Treaty should include provisions designed to detect and deter the diversion of nuclear materials from peaceful to weapons use. Two problems were involved. One was to reconcile the Soviet insistence that all non-nuclear parties accept IAEA1 safeguards with the desire of the non-nuclear members of EURATOM2 (Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands) to preserve their regional system. To meet this concern, the final draft provided that non-nuclear parties could negotiate safeguards agreements with IAEA either individually or together with other states.3

The other problem was to satisfy the widespread concern among non-nuclear states that IAEA safeguards might place them at a commercial and industrial disadvantage in developing nuclear energy for peaceful use, since the nuclear powers would not be required to accept safeguards. To help allay these misgivings, the United States offered, on December 2, 1967, to permit the IAEA to apply its safeguards, when such safeguards were applied under the NPT, in all nuclear facilities in the United States, excluding only those with "direct national security significance." The United Kingdom announced that it would take similar action. Its safeguards agreement with the IAEA was concluded in 1976 and is now in force. The U.S.-IAEA agreement, signed on November 18, 1977, was submitted by the President to the Senate for its advice and consent to ratification on February 9, 1978, and entered into force on December 9, 1980. In 1977, France opened negotiations with the IAEA, and a safeguards agreement entered into force on September 12, 1981. In June 1982, the Soviet Union announced its readiness to put some of its nuclear installations under IAEA safeguards, and on June 10, 1985, its safeguards agreement with the IAEA entered into force. In September 1985 China declared at the IAEA that it would place some of its civil nuclear facilities under international safeguards, and a safeguards agreement was approved by the IAEA Board of Governors in September 1988.

Balanced Obligations. Throughout the negotiations most non-nuclear states held that their renunciation of nuclear weapons should be accompanied by a commitment on the part of the nuclear powers to reduce their nuclear arsenals and to make progress on measures toward comprehensive disarmament. General provisions were included in the Treaty affirming the intentions of the parties to negotiate in good faith to achieve a cessation of the nuclear arms race, nuclear disarmament, and general and complete disarmament.

Further, to meet objections about possible discriminatory effects, the Treaty stipulated that parties were to participate in, and have fullest access to materials and information for, peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The Treaty also provided that any potential benefits of nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes would be made available to non-nuclear weapon parties on a nondiscriminatory basis.

Security Assurances. Non-nuclear-weapon states sought guarantees that renunciation of nuclear arms would not place them at a permanent military disadvantage and make them vulnerable to nuclear intimidation. But, it was argued, the security interests of the various states, and groups of states, were not identical; an effort to frame provisions within the Treaty that would meet this diversity of requirements for unforeseeable future contingencies would create inordinate complexities. To resolve the issue, the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom submitted in the ENDC, on March 7, 1968, a tripartite proposal that security assurances take the form of a U.N. Security Council resolution, supported by declarations of the three powers. The resolution, noting the security concerns of states wishing to subscribe to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, would recognize that nuclear aggression, or the threat of nuclear aggression, would create a situation requiring immediate action by the Security Council, especially by its permanent members.

Following submission of the Treaty itself to the U.N. General Assembly, the tripartite resolution was submitted to the Security Council. In a formal declaration, the United States asserted its intention to seek immediate Security Council actions to provide assistance to any non-nuclear-weapon state party to the Treaty that was the object of nuclear aggression or threats. The Soviet Union and the United Kingdom made similar declarations. France abstained from voting on the Security Council resolution; the French representative said that France did not intend its abstention to be an obstacle to adoption of the tripartite proposal, but that France did not believe the nations would receive adequate security guarantees without nuclear disarmament.

In addition to this "positive" security assurance, the United States in 1978 issued a policy statement on "negative" security assurances in connection with the U.N. Special Session on Disarmament. Secretary of State Vance made the following statement on June 12, 1978:

After reviewing the current status of the discussions in the United Nations Special Session on Disarmament, after consultations with our principal allies, and on the basis of studies made in preparation for the Special Session, the President has decided to elaborate the U.S. position on the question of security assurances. His objective is to encourage support for halting the spread of nuclear weapons, to increase international security and stability, and to create a more positive environment for success of the Special Session. To this end, the President declares:

"The United States will not use nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear weapon state party to the NPT or any comparable internationally binding commitment not to acquire nuclear explosive devices, except in the case of an attack on the United States, its territories or armed forces, or its allies, by such a state allied to a nuclear weapon state, or associated with a nuclear weapon state in carrying out or sustaining the attack."

In 1982, then-ACDA Director Eugene Rostow reaffirmed the assurance in the Geneva-based Committee on Disarmament. It is the U.S. view that this formulation preserves U.S. security commitments and advances U.S. collective security, as well as enhances the prospect for more effective arms control and disarmament.

This declaration has been reaffirmed by every successive Administration, most recently at the 1990 NPT Review Conference.

The Treaty was opened for signature on July 1, 1968, and signed on that date by the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and 59 other countries. On July 9, President Johnson transmitted it to the Senate, but prospects for early U.S. ratification dimmed after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August. The Senate adjourned without voting on the Treaty. In February, 1969, President Nixon requested Senate approval of the Treaty, and in March the Senate gave its advice and consent to ratification. The Treaty entered into force with the deposit of U.S. ratification on March 5, 1970. In broadest outline, the basic provisions of the Treaty are designed to:

-- prevent the spread of nuclear weapons (Articles I and II);

-- provide assurance, through international safeguards, that the peaceful nuclear activities of states which have not already developed nuclear weapons will not be diverted to making such weapons (Article III);

-- promote, to the maximum extent consistent with the other purposes of the Treaty, the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, to include the potential benefits of any peaceful application of nuclear explosion technology being made available to non-nuclear parties under appropriate international observation (Articles IV and V);

-- express the determination of the parties that the Treaty should lead to further progress in comprehensive arms control and nuclear disarmament measures (Article VI).

Article VIII provides for a conference to be held five years after entry into force of the Treaty to review the operation of the Treaty with a view to assuring that the purposes of the Preamble and the provisions of the Treaty are being realized. Four such review conferences have been held since the Treaty entered into force. The first review conference, held in Geneva in May 1975, produced a strong reaffirmation of support for the Treaty by the parties thereto. It also expressed solid support for IAEA safeguards and recommended that greater efforts be made to make them universal and more effective. The 1975 conference urged common export requirements designed to extend safeguards to all peaceful nuclear activities, so-called "comprehensive safeguards" in importing non-nuclear-weapon states not party to the Treaty, and urged all suppliers and recipients to accept these requirements. It also concluded that NPT adherence should facilitate access to peaceful nuclear assistance and credit arrangements.

At the second review conference, which was held in Geneva August 11 - September 7, 1980, a thorough exchange of views on progress toward fulfillment of the Treatys objectives was heard. Although the participants failed to agree on a final document, the national statements of the parties present and the ensuing debate revealed continued strong support for the NPT and its objectives.

The third review conference was held August 27 - September 21, 1985, in Geneva. The conference adopted by consensus a Final Declaration which reaffirmed the parties support for the NPT and their appreciation of its essential contribution to international peace and security.

The 1985 conference reaffirmed the importance of preventing the further spread of nuclear weapons and concluded that the Treaty continued to meet this basic objective. It also affirmed that the nonproliferation and safeguards commitments of the NPT provide an essential framework for peaceful nuclear cooperation and acknowledged that there has been appreciable bilateral cooperation and multilateral technical assistance in the area of peaceful nuclear uses. Ways to strengthen peaceful nuclear cooperation were identified. The conference also strongly endorsed the IAEA and its safeguards system, as well as efforts to enhance further their effectiveness. Although it was unable to agree that comprehensive safeguards should be a precondition for significant nuclear exports to non-NPT, non-nuclear-weapon states, the conference agreed not only on the desirability of such safeguards in non-nuclear-weapon states, but also that effective steps should be taken to achieve them.

As expected, evaluation of the progress made since 1970 in achieving the arms control and disarmament goals of Article VI evoked great disappointment and produced the most criticism. In particular, virtually all parties present supported immediate negotiations on and urgent conclusion of, a comprehensive nuclear test ban (CTB). The United States, while stating its commitment to the long-term goal of a CTB, stressed its conviction that deep reductions in existing nuclear arsenals should have the highest priority, and that it would continue to negotiate seriously and flexibly to this end in the Geneva negotiations. Both views were set out in the Final Declaration.

The NPT emerged from the 1985 review conference widely recognized as an arms control success, and the results of the conference reinforced the international norm of nonproliferation.

The fourth NPT review conference was held August 1990, in Geneva. A comprehensive and thorough review of the operation of the NPT over the previous five years was conducted during the conference, which once again affirmed that the NPT was a vital instrument for preserving global stability and security. The conference made progress on some important issues on which there was consensus, including the need for full-scope IAEA safeguards as a condition of significant nuclear supply, tighter export controls on nuclear technology transfers, and the need for scrupulous adherence to the obligations of the Treaty. Consensus was also achieved on such issues as negative security assurances and positive security assurances, prohibition of attacks on nuclear facilities, cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, the importance of IAEA safeguards and effective export controls, and on nuclear safety. A very important result of the conference was the strong commitment by a clear majority of participating states to the importance of extending the life of the NPT in 1995. Unfortunately, this conference also demonstrated that a small number of states might be willing to risk damage to the Treaty by linking its extension to negotiations of other arms control measures, such as a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTB).

Article X (2). In accordance with the terms of the NPT, a conference was held in 1995 to decide whether the NPT should continue in force indefinitely or be extended for an additional fixed period or periods. On May 11, more than 170 countries attending the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference in New York decided to extend the Treaty indefinitely and without conditions.

The NPT remains the cornerstone of international efforts to prevent the further spread of nuclear weapons. With over 180 parties, it is the most widely adhered to arms control agreement in history. This impressive membership, which continues to grow, is a concrete reflection of the growing international support for nuclear nonproliferation.


1 International Atomic Energy Agency, a U.N.-sponsored agency headquartered at Vienna.

2 European Atomic Energy Community, an organization established by the original European Common Market partners for cooperation in nuclear energy matters.

3 EURATOM and the IAEA began negotiations in 1971. An IAEA-EURATOM safeguards agreement was signed in April 1973 and entered into force on February 21, 1977.

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