Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: Success or Failure?

The Nuclear-Non-Proliferation-Treaty (NPT) was created in the year 1970 with the aim of controlling the proliferation amongst the member states and other nations of the world. Since the adoption of the treaty, five countries have acquired nuclear weapons. However, one of those nations has given up the weapons. All these developments are experienced even though the weapons are known for mass destruction. The argument is based on the Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan that led to the end of the World War.

The increase in the number of nations that acquire the deadly weaponry calls for the evaluation of the milestones, failures, and challenges faced by the NPT in its mandate. That is the only way to save the world from the dangers that the possession of such weapons may pose in the future. Based on the concept of universality, the NPT should remain neutral in performing its duties. Even though countries like Brazil, South Africa and nations formed after the Soviet disintegration voluntarily cooperated with the terms of the NPT, it has not succeeded in controlling the production of nuclear weapons in various countries.

The development and use of nuclear weapons began during World War II. The greatest impact of the weapons was felt when the United States used them to bomb two Japanese cities as indicated earlier. Because the other world nations also wanted to be as powerful as the United States, they embarked on the process of creating their nuclear arsenals. The kind of peace that prevailed after World War II was unexpected (Khan 9). Many attributed it to the advancement in the nuclear technology. Therefore, no one would want to wage war for fear of mass destruction by using the nuclear weaponryi.

According to the realists, the peace that prevailed during the post-war period is only considered peace in the absence of war between the major world powers. Even as no war was imminent, there was fear of different nations waging war against each other as the acquisition of the nuclear weapons by various states increased (Johnson 430). That is because there was the likelihood of the wrong individuals getting access to the weapons and they could use it to destabilize the world.

The consequence of all those developments and fears led to the creation of the NPT. The treaty was to be signed in the year 1968 but started executing its mandates in 1970. It has the mandate to control and prevent the spreading of the nuclear weapons out of the five declared states. The five states comprised of the United Kingdom, the U.S., the Soviet Union, China and France (Beinhart 23). Even though there has been ratification of the treaty by 190 nations, there are mixed reactions about the success of the treaty as a whole as expressed below. Its functions are based on the concept of universality in which it must remain a ideal body that controls proliferation.

The few years that followed the end of World War II witnessed some form of nuclear proliferation even though it was divided to a large extent between two major world blocks. The United Kingdom and the United States formed an alliance that would guide their nuclear programs. On the other hand, China and the Soviet Union formed another alliance, although the former was stronger than the latter (Johnson 431). The presence of nuclear weapons created fear among states. Therefore none of them wanted to engage in conflict with other countries.

There is evidence that the stability that has resulted from the advancement of nuclear weapons prompted the less powerful nations to consider developing their weaponry. Many of these nations have started concealed programs. Among them was Pakistan and India (Khan 26). Despite the fact that the world powers were suspicious of Pakistan and India concerning the nuclear weaponry, they had little belief in the technological capability of the nations to develop such powerful weapons. It is important to note that the two nations were already signatories to the NPT. However, the NPT failed in its deproliferation mandate to stop the program and this raised questions about the universal nature of its duties (Johnson 433).

The NPT experienced the advent of new issues just after the last stages of the Cold War from the year 1990. As the USSR disintegrated, there was a general concern about the disappearance of the weapons within the territories of the former Soviet Unionii. The worries were centered on the spread of information about the nuclear weapon development. It is because the secession of the different states of the Union made various scientists move to other parts of the world (Beinhart 25). As a result, they could sell the information they had about the nuclear products to countries that wanted to produce the mass destruction weapons.

The speculated issues caused worries that disintegrated USSR could give room to the newly formed states for production and acquisition of nuclear weapons. However, the NPT managed to register one of its successes as far as the non-proliferation mandate was concerned. Three nations that had seceded from the Soviet Union, namely Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, developed the weaponry (Johnson 431). Instead of the nations keeping their nuclear weaponry to themselves, they opted to hand them over after they had signed the NPT treaty.

However, the critics of the NTP argue that the choice made by the different nations was not because of the persuasion or efforts by the treaty (Krepon 85). Instead, it was because of the desire by the new nations to maintain good image before the world powers that provided them with the desired support. The states did not do it based on the international norms of nonproliferation (Beinhart 25).

In addition to the previous success of deproliferation, the NPT registered a major milestone when Argentina and Brazil abandoned their secret initiative to produce nuclear weapons. Instead, they cooperated with the International Atomic Energy Agency and dropped the program. Moreover, the capitulation of nuclear weapon production by the Republic of South Africa in the year 1970 was a significant milestone for the NPT (Khan 16). Although the impact of dropping the plan by different nations to create nuclear weaponry indicated the success of the NPT, the treaty’s contribution is still controversial. For instance, Argentina and Brazil’s denouncement closely related with their transitions from dictatorial regimes. The decision by South Africa, on the other hand, was preceded by the transformation from its apartheid to democratic rule.

After looking at the controversial successes of the NPT within the early 1990s, it is important to consider some of the problems it faced in the twenty-first century. Among them was the successful testing of a nuclear bomb by China and Pakistan, which occurred concurrently in the year 1998. The tests were a confirmation that some nuclear powers apart from the five nations recognized by the NPT existed (Beinhart 27). That revelation undermined the NPT to a great extent and killed the notion that such weapons would be of less significance after the Cold War.

The development of the nuclear arsenal by India was determined by the need to elevate its military status and improve security around its regional borders. The nation followed the example of China that was only regarded as an ‘important’ nation after it assembled its nuclear arsenal. By developing the weapons, China had the belief that it would enhance its bargaining power in the international arena ahead of its regional rivals such as Pakistan and others (Johnson 434).

However, the realization that India had developed the weapon came as a shock to Pakistan that also cited the need to have the weapon as a matter of survival. The reason for that was the history of the war between the two nations. The India-Pakistani situation presents an ideal example of the regional security complex and arms racing between different regional powers (Khan 35). As India aimed at gaining regional dominion, its actions threatened the Pakistani security prompting the nation to come up with its weapons for survival.

The other instance of failure or trouble for the NPT is the nuclear program in North Korea. When the USSR collapsed, North Korea became isolated and the only way to be assured of its security was to initiate that kind of program. The country’s apparent disregard for the international protocol and diplomatic brinkmanship has exhibited constant threats to withdraw from the NPT (Cohen and Marvin 40). It has been performing limited nuclear tests within Korean Peninsula.

North Korea has decided to isolate itself from the world. However, it has enhanced its security and the United States has been handling it with more respect than other countries such as Iraq. The extent of the sophistication of the North Korean weaponry displays a weakness of the NPT when it comes to the proliferation. It does not have the power to control decisions made by other countries regarding nuclear programs (Sagner and Broad par. 2). As of now, there is tension between North Korea, South Korea, and the United States.

Even as the NPT encounters all these problems, there is still a great concern in the offing. This has to do with individual citizens of different nations getting access to the military artillery. The creation of the NPT was based on the cooperation of the different member states and not individual citizens of the countries of the world. The process of preventing the spread of the weaponry from one individual to the other becomes quite difficult.

Once individual citizens have access to the weapons, it becomes an issue for the NPT (Krepon 88). It is because the body cannot blame a given nation concerning the presence of the weapons within its boundaries. In addition, getting to know the exact people that have the weapons within a country is a difficult task that can take a lot of time. Dealing with the non-state-actors by use of the international agencies such as the IAEA might not bear substantial results.

A demonstration of the presence of the weapons amongst the actors is in Russia where there is the fear of the missiles being made in the locality. Such weapons can easily be accessed by sociopaths and terrorists in the nations (Johnson 438). For instance, the Chechen rebels are likely to deploy the weapons because they do not fear military retaliation. In addition, the possession of the missiles by unstable nations like Pakistan is a guarantee that terrorists like the Al-Qaida may use the weapons to advance their terrorist activities across the globeiii. It appears that the NPT is too weak to control the nuclear materials and related activities around the world (Cohen and Marvin 42).

A case study of a Pakistani nuclear scientist, A.Q Khan, is an example of the non-state-actors or proliferators of the nuclear weapons. The situation may cause havoc within the international community (Langewiesche par. 1). For instance, the idea of Khan to create a bomb so that he could secure the future of the nation could create tension in the region. After he developed the bomb, he traded the weapon with the highest bidders who were likely to be Libya, Iran, and North Korea. The proliferation network that Khan created was a significant drawback to the NPTiv. It led to the availability of the weapon within the private sectors making it easier for individuals to sell them to other countries (Sagan and Waltz 77). It was never under the control of the state yet the NPT could not control it.

The developments prompted the IAEA leader, El Baradei Mohammed, to write an article in the New York Times that demonized such revelations and asserted that they were an indication of the distorted NPT. According to him, the NPT could no longer prevent and control the nuclear trade that had just started. Even though the aspect of state proliferation had been in existence for some time, the problem that Khan introduced in the nuclear context was a difficult one for the NPT to handle (Cohen and Marvin 43). The sale of the weapons to the highest bidders across the globe has made Khan one of the most difficult proliferators to handle.

From the above argument, there are instances of success by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty when it comes to the prevention procedures against the nuclear proliferation. That is evident from the large number of states that have already signed and adhered to the requirements of the treaty. There has also been a slight increase in the number of the declared nuclear states. However, there are great concerns about the nations that have not appended their signatures to the treaty, especially Israel that has a secret nuclear program (Krepon 94). The situation offers a great challenge to the stability and security within the Gulf region.

The different regions that experience constant conflicts also exhibit a great threat to the NPT. It is because the states are more likely to start proliferation whenever they feel they require security enhancements. For instance, Iran has a high likelihood of proliferating based on the dual conflicts it harbors with Israel. North Korea has been playing around with the regulators as far as the possession of the weapons is concerned. The consequence of its activities is that it might prompt Japan to develop its nuclear base so that it does not live in fear of the nation.

In addition, the NPT was unable to prevent the move by Pakistan and India to acquire the deadly weapons. Although the voluntary actions of Brazil, South Africa, and Argentina to drop their nuclear plans might be considered as important achievements made by the NPT, the transition of regimes contributed to their decision. Because of that, it is evident that the only success story of the treaty has been taken over by the transformation in the nations involved. The case of Khan, as mentioned before, further contributes to the failures of the treaty. It shows how easy it can be to individually proliferate without any control from the NPT. That is a great weakness and it exhibits the NPT failures and inability to control the non-state actors when it comes to proliferation.

Works Cited

Beinhart, Peter. “The Return of the Bomb.” New Republic 219.5 (1998): 22-27. Print.

Cohen, Anver, and Miller Marvin. “Bringing Israel’s Bomb out of the Basement.” Foreign Affairs 89.5 (2010): 30-44. Print.

Johnson, Rebecca. “Rethinking the NPT’s role in Security: 2010 and beyond.” International Affairs 86.2 (2010): 429-445. Print.

Khan, Saira. Nuclear Proliferation Dynamics in Protracted Conflict Regions. A Comparative Study of Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Burlington: Ashgate, 2002. Print.

Krepon, Michael. “Moving away from MAD.” Survival 43.2 (2001): 81-95. Print.

Langewiesche, William. “The Wrath of Khan.” The Atlantic Magazine. 2005. Web.

Sagan, Scott, and Kenneth Waltz. The Spread Of Nuclear Weapons: A debate. London: Norton Publishers, 1995. Print.

Sagner, David, and William Broad. “From Rogue Nuclear Programs, Web of Trails Leads to Pakistan.” New York Times, 2004. Web.


  1. According to Sagan and Waltz, nuclear weapons continue to spread throughout the world, especially in the Middle East region. The situation is uncontrollable (15).
  2. The disintegration of the Soviet Union caused worries about the possible spread of the mass destruction weapons. Langewiesche explains the possibility of the spread through individuals such as Khan (par. 6).
  3. Al-Qaeda can easily access the weapons through private producers such as Khan. This could be disastrous to the peace in the world.
  4. Johnson argues that the NPT has not succeeded in controlling nuclear weapon because both member states and non-member states continue to produce them (444).