Nuclear weapons are the most savage weapons on earth. They can destroy a whole city and its environment with long term effects. Their existence itself poses a danger to us all. They’ve only been used twice, when the United States bombed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, killing thousands of people. About 14,500 remain in our world and over 2,000 nuclear tests have been conducted to this day. Although nuclear disarmament seems like the best choice, achieving that goal has been a great challenge. A great number of bilateral, multilateral, plurilateral, regional treaties have been established to prevent the proliferation and testing of nuclear weapons through the United Nations (Nuclear Weapons, n.d).
Most Well-Known Treaties to Counter Nuclear Proliferation:
The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT): Eliminating the spread of nuclear weapons and achieving nuclear disarmament. 191 states have joined the treaty, including the 5 recognized nuclear states (China, Russia, United Kingdom, France, and the United States). It is suspected that Israel, Pakistan, Iran, India, and North Korea have nuclear weapons, which are not part of the treaty. Under the NPT, non-nuclear weapon states agree not to acquire, manufacture, transfer, receive, control and not even seek assistance on how to manufacture such weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) makes sure that states abide by the laws of the treaty. However, the treaty allows states to use any form of action towards nuclear energy as long it’s for peaceful purposes. Despite constant challenges, the treaty is still vital and is nearly universal. Therefore, it’s accomplishments shouldn’t be overlooked because it has proved to be durable and is mostly likely to remain that way (Gillis, 2017).
Nuclear- Weapon-Free Zones (NWFZ): Regional approach to ban the development, use and deployment of nuclear weapons in a specific area, but promotes peaceful nuclear energy (Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones, n.d.).
Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT): The ban of nuclear tests in the atmosphere, underwater and outer space (UNTC, n.d.).
Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW): Total elimination of nuclear weapons by prohibiting them (Treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, n.d.).
According to Fuhrmann and Lupu’s article, arguments about the effectiveness of the NPT fall into two main categories:
The article shows that NPT has played an important role between 1970 and 2000 to counter nuclear proliferation. In addition, the ratification of the treaty is robustly associated with a lesser probability of nuclear proliferation. Although international cooperation can be difficult when dealing with security issues, security related treaties refrain states from pursuing policies of their own self-interest. Showing that international institutions can play a much larger role in promoting peace and security than many scholars believe.
In this category, scholars argue that the treaty does reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation. International cooperation helped facilitate cooperation, it also reduced uncertainty about other states’ intentions and capabilities by enabling them to exchange information through the NPT. States that violate the NPT may be labeled as “irresponsible” in the international community, which would lower their global status. Also, states that do not comply with the treaty could face economic sanctions, which can end up in a loss of foreign investments. According to optimists, international actors end up obtaining a non-nuclear stand after making a commitment to the treaty. In particular, after the following year of Australia’s ratification of the NPT in 1973, India conducted one of its first nuclear tests, rather than Australia using nuclear weapons as a response to this threat, it maintained the status quo, which marked a turning point in history. Therefore, the hypothesis of the Optimist is “Ratification of the NPT reduces the likelihood of nuclear proliferation”.
This view suggests that the NPT hasn’t done much to counter nuclear proliferation. Pessimists argue that states recognize and join the NPT because they want to and have no intention of going nuclear. It also stresses the institutional weakness of the treaty. It argues that no IAEA nor a punishment is sufficient enough to deter determined proliferators, whether they were state or non-state actors. In addition, some countries do suffer the consequences of violating the NPT, while other can escape it, making it lax and uneven. When a country believes that it won’t suffer the consequences, the NPT is automatically weakened. Therefore, the pessimists’ hypothesis is that “There is no relationship between NPT membership and nuclear proliferation once one accounts for selection into the treaty.” (Fuhrmann & Lupu, 2016).
The Nuclear Umbrella
Despite its ambiguity, the term nuclear umbrella has been described as a military cooperation between at least two states, where a nuclear state agrees to protect a non-nuclear state. Therefore, the umbrella state encourages its protector to possess nuclear weapons, which outlaws the TPNW due to their engagement in prohibited activities. Therefore, a state should withdraw from the protection of a nuclear umbrella, in order to sign and ratify the TPNW. However, alliances between nuclear and non-nuclear states is allowed by the treaty (Nuclear Umbrella Arrangements and The Treaty On The Prohibition Of Nuclear Weapons, 2018). The existence of a security alliance between a nuclear and non-nuclear state don’t necessarily make it a nuclear umbrella. The arrangement should be accepted by both, the protector and the receiver in order for it to exist.
Russia can provide a nuclear umbrella for its allies, Belarus, Tajikistan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, which are the members of Collective Security Treaty Organization (CTSO). And the United States is capable of doing the same for its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies. NATO is often labeled as a nuclear alliance, mostly because it has nuclear weapons stationed in five non-nuclear members. Some members of NATO are opposed to the idea of hosting nuclear weapons in their territories. Still, NATO emphasizes the importance of the NPT goals. This shows that the NPT is still in effect, and that not all hope is lost. In the Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (ANZUS Treaty), New Zealand refused nuclear armed vessels, due to its membership in the South Pacific Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty. Japan is also protected by the U.S’s nuclear umbrella just like Australia. The U.S has also extended its nuclear umbrella to South Korea, but South Korea is skeptical whether the U.S will protect it in a conflict between North and South Korea (IPL, 2016).
Effectiveness of the Non-Proliferation Regime
Even though scholars have debated this issue for more than 40 years, the effects of the NPT are still not fully understood. The NPT seems to reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation, which aligns with the optimist hypothesis. However, it doesn’t always restrain nuclear proliferation, which shows that there may also be some truth in the pessimist perspective. A state will commit to the treaty accordingly as long as it’s in the state’s interest. A perfect example is North Korea, even though it was part of the NPT, it withdrew in 2003, and is now seeking to develop its own nuclear weapons. Several countries has sought to acquire such weapons even while they’ve ratified the NPT, such as Iraq, proving that the treaty isn’t bulletproof (Fuhrmann ; Lupu, 2016). Furthermore, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine were born nuclear after the fall of the Soviet Union. The economic, political and military cost was too high for them to be nuclear, which made them sign the NPT agreement as non-nuclear states, and transferred all their newly obtained arsenals to Russia. The fear in each case was international isolation, and not to simply reduce proliferation (Potter, 1995).
The NPT cannot control it when states outside of the treaty exchange technologies, weapons and information to help, for example, non-state actors such as terrorist groups, to develop nuclear weapons. For instance, a weak state such as Pakistan, might not be able to control its nuclear establishment, as well as its scientists such as Dr Abdul Qader Khan. An individual that poses a threat to possible nuclear proliferation, where Al-Qaida, can simply hawk and benefit from the Khan network(Williams ; Sidhu, 2013). North Korea has also been a major supplier of missile and nuclear technologies to other countries, which has been increasing proliferation threats in the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia (Philipp ; Davenport, 2016).
The Non-Proliferation regime has proved to be effective, but with extremely visible limitations. Its effectiveness was facilities by international cooperation, making state behavior more predictable through exchange of information. Ratifying treaties has also helped states maintain a non-nuclear stance when dealing with threats, which gave rise to peaceful diplomatic alternatives. However, the strategies used to counter nuclear proliferation are so state centric, neglecting the predictability of the rise of non-state actors, as well as powerful individual that could disrupt years of hard work in such a short amount of time. It’s undeniable that the NPT has played a major role in nuclear proliferation, but the intentions of states, whether they’re benign or malign, have implicitly paved the way of the non-proliferation regime.