The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Later this month, the international community will gather in New York to review the workings of the now-45-year-old Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Since its entry into force in 1970, the NPT has become the cornerstone of the nuclear nonproliferation regime to which nearly every country in the world has subscribed. 

The NPT is built on three mutually reinforcing pillars — nonproliferation, disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. States that do not possess nuclear weapons commit to forego them, those that do will work in good faith towards disarmament and all responsible stakeholders have the right to pursue peaceful nuclear programs.

All countries have a vested interest in strengthening the treaty’s three pillars: We all share the responsibility to confront nuclear proliferation and ensure nuclear weapons do not end up in the hands of terrorists; we all benefit from positive movement toward disarmament; and we all gain from the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

The NPT remains an essential foundation for international efforts to confront nuclear dangers and seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons, the vision President Obama laid out in his 2009 Prague speech.

If we didn’t already have the NPT, we would desperately need it today.

At the Review Conference in New York, diplomacy will take center stage. The United States is committed to working with all parties toward realistic, achievable objectives to strengthen the NPT and ensure a successful review conference, even as we deal with the challenges from the few countries that have violated their nuclear obligations.

The United States is committed to strengthening the nonproliferation regime and the authority of the International Atomic Energy Agency to implement nuclear safeguards — a set of measures to verify that nuclear materials are used for peaceful purposes. The Treaty provides the foundation and context to resolve outstanding challenges to the nuclear nonproliferation regime. The ongoing negotiations with Iran provide the best diplomatic path forward for Iran to return to full compliance with the NPT.

The IAEA instills confidence among all NPT parties that a state’s civil nuclear energy is not being diverted into a nefarious weapons program. In New York, the United States will promote the IAEA Additional Protocol, now recognized as the foremost international standard for safeguards that provides the IAEA with the authority to ensure that all nuclear material is used for peaceful purposes, in accordance with the NPT.

The United States likewise remains steadfast in our commitment to disarmament in accordance with the NPT. In a demonstration of good faith and transparency, we disclosed publicly details on our nuclear weapon stockpiles, which have shrunk dramatically and continue to dwindle.  Today, the U.S. stockpile stands at about 15 percent of what it was at the height of the Cold War. When scheduled reductions under the New START Treaty are completed by 2018, U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapons will be at levels not seen since the 1950s.

Future steps in disarmament will pose significant verification challenges, but the United States seeks to lead efforts to overcome those challenges and lay the groundwork for future disarmament. Two weeks ago the United States hosted the kick-off meeting of the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification in Washington, D.C., which brought together representatives from 26 countries to address these technical verification issues to further reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons. In the same spirit of transparency, just a few days ago our national labs in New Mexico hosted a group of nuclear experts and officials from more than a dozen countries to demonstrate first-hand the work the United States is doing on disarmament and verification.

Peaceful applications of the atom promote global development in such areas as human health, food and agriculture, water resource management and the environment. The United States’ record on sharing the atom’s peaceful benefits speaks for itself. Since 2010, we have been the largest contributor to IAEA peaceful use programs, providing more than $190 million, including $50 million toward the IAEA’s Peaceful Uses Initiative, since the last NPT Review Conference in 2010.  We have also concluded civil nuclear cooperation agreements with 46 nations, Taiwan and the IAEA and continue to pursue agreements with additional partners.

Over the span of four decades, the NPT has provided an international legal basis for pragmatic cooperation to protect the world from nuclear dangers, even as we expand the peaceful benefits of nuclear energy. With nearly every country having joined the NPT, it is an essential contributor to international peace and security. We welcome all who are convening in New York, and look forward to carrying on the essential work of the NPT together.

About the Author: Ambassador Adam Scheinman is the President’s Special Representative for Nuclear Nonproliferation. For more information on the NPT, visit www.state.gov/npt or follow Ambassador Scheinman on Twitter @USNPT.