NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty)



  • The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, commonly known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, is an international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament
  • Between 1965 and 1968, the treaty was negotiated by the Eighteen Nation Committee on Disarmament, a United Nations-sponsored organization based in Geneva, Switzerland
    • But, the treaty entered into force in 1970.
  • More countries are parties to the NPT than any other arms limitation and disarmament agreement, a testament to the treaty’s significance
  • Four UN member states have never accepted the NPT, three of which possess or are thought to possess nuclear weapons: India, Israel, and Pakistan. In addition, South Sudan, founded in 2011, has not joined.


Important Treaty Articles

Articles Provision
Articles I and II The nuclear-weapon states(NWS) agree not to help non-nuclear-weapon states(NNWS), develop or acquire nuclear weapons, and the NNWS permanently forswear the pursuit of such weapons
Article III This article tasks the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with the inspection of the non-nuclear-weapon states’ nuclear facilities
Article IV It acknowledges the “inalienable right” of states-parties to research, develop, and use nuclear energy for non-weapons purposes. It also supports the “fullest possible exchange” of such nuclear-related information and technology between NWS and NNWS
Article VI It commits states-parties to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control

Treaty structure

  • The treaty is interpreted as a three-pillar system, the details of which are as follows:
    1. Non-proliferation
      • The five NWS agree not to transfer “nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices” and “not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce” a non-nuclear weapon state (NNWS) to acquire nuclear weapons (Article I)
      • Further, NNWS parties to the NPT agree not to “receive”, “manufacture”, or “acquire” nuclear weapons or to “seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons” (Article II)
    2. Disarmament
      • Under this, all Parties undertake to pursue good-faith negotiations on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race, to nuclear disarmament, and to general and complete disarmament
    3. Peaceful use of nuclear energy
      • This provides for the transfer of nuclear technology and materials to NPT Parties for peaceful purposes in the development of civilian nuclear energy programs in those countries, subject to IAEA safeguards to demonstrate that their nuclear programs are not being used for the development of nuclear weapons


India and the NPT

  • Before the Treaty Decision
    • Even when initial disarmament negotiations in the early years of the 1960s veered around issues like ‘non-spread’ and ‘non-dissemination’ of nuclear weapons, the Indian quest was largely for a comprehensive disarmament instrument that could also address issues like nuclear test-ban, ending production of fissile materials as well as delivery systems, reducing stockpiles and facilitating their total elimination
      • However, the Indian approach began to change on the eve of the impending Chinese nuclear test in 1964
    • So, India’s position on the NPT was probably set in concrete when it became clear that the treaty would recognise NWS only those countries that had exploded a nuclear device prior to January 1, 1967.
      • That meant China would be included and India excluded; and this would be discriminatory on India’s part who had contributed so much to Nuclear development earlier
  • Why India hasn’t signed the treaty yet?
    • India argues that the NPT creates a club of “nuclear haves” and a larger group of “nuclear have-nots” by restricting the legal possession of nuclear weapons to those states that tested them before 1967, but the treaty never explains on what ethical grounds such a distinction is valid
    • India considers NPT as a flawed treaty and it did not recognize the need for universal, non-discriminatory verification and treatment
    • Further, the demonstration of a nuclear weapons capability in the 1974 explosion guaranteed India the ability to effectively hedge in an asymmetric international system
      • India’s assertion to maintain a degree of Political Autonomy has shaped better foreign policy choices as well


Has not signing NPT, cost India?

  • Reduced accessibility to Nuclear Energy
    • If India had signed the Treaty, it would probably have had ten times more than the 6,780 MW of nuclear power that it has today.
    • Nuclear power, if one goes strictly by the book, is safe and also clean and cheap; and this could have had a multiplier effect on economy as well
    • Good example is the 500 MW Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor that India began building in 2004, at Kalpakkam and is yet to complete apparently, because of the fear of handling the tricky coolant, liquid sodium
  • Despite India testing its Nuclear bomb first, it has lost its superiority with Pakistan
    • In 1998, Pakistan first tested it Nuclear weapon
      • Now, India and Pakistan both are nuclear weapon owners, but this rendered India’s conventional military superiority irrelevant
    • Had India signed NPT after its first Nuclear test in 1974, it would be difficult to see Pakistan being assisted by China; which would retain the military edge with India

Concessions, India has secured in Nuclear perspective

  • India despite being a non-signatory to NPT has secured the following concession form nuclear perspective:
    • In 2006, India and the United States finalized an agreement, in the face of criticism in both countries, to restart cooperation on civilian nuclear technology. Under the deal India has committed to classify 14 of its 22 nuclear power plants as being for civilian use and to place them under IAEA safeguards
    • In 2006, United States Congress approved the United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act, endorsing a deal, which allows for the transfer of civilian nuclear material to India
    • In 2011, Australia announced to allow Uranium exports to India, with strict safeguards to ensure it would only be used for civilian purposes, and not end up in nuclear weapons


Criticism against NPT

  • Over the years the NPT has come to be seen by many Third World states as “a conspiracy of the nuclear ‘haves’ to keep the nuclear ‘have-nots’ in their place”
  • India has criticized the NPT, because it “discriminated against states not possessing nuclear weapons on 1 January 1967
  • The “NPT has one giant loophole“:
    • Article IV gives each non-nuclear weapon state the “inalienable right” to pursue nuclear energy for the generation of power.
    • The United Nations has argued that they can do little to stop states using nuclear reactors to produce nuclear weapons
  • Further, the NPT has been explicitly weakened by a number of bilateral deals made by NPT signatories, notably the United States


Should India join NPT now?

  • Yes, why?
    • Being the non-signers of the NPT, several trade sanctions were imposed on India, straining several international relations.
    • One of the biggest reasons for India to join the NPT was the access to “peaceful nuclear technology” from the nuclear countries to the non-nuclear countries so the latter could develop their programs.
    • The restricted international trade prevented India from obtaining nuclear resources to develop their nuclear program, leading to a temporary dead end.
    • Also, India wishes to be on a member of the UNSC (United Nations Security Council). And all the members of the UNSC are members of the NPT, it is speculated that this might be the source of some friction for India.
  • No, why?
    • The spirit of the NPT creates a divide, between countries that did develop nuclear power before 1967 and those that didn’t develop nuclear power before 1967. It only gives the ‘Permanent 5’ the right to hold weapons.
    • Although it permits the use of nuclear energy for constructive purposes, it puts all the other nations at risk.
    • India, despite being a nuclear weapons state, would have had to sign the treaty as a non-nuclear weapons state, and in addition has to undergo inspections. The NPT, in India’s opinion doesn’t explain the need for this distinction and loss of national sovereignty
    • So, India should rather keep up with its ”no first use” treaty, going ahead