The Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, known commonly as the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), is a landmark international treaty and the foundation of nuclear nonproliferation. Its goals are to
- prevent countries that do not already have a nuclear arsenal from getting nuclear weapons,
- support the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and
- lead to eventual nuclear disarmament in countries that already possess nuclear weapons.
What led to the creation of the NPT?
The United States was the first country to use atomic weapons. In the final days of World War II, it dropped two bombs on the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing tens of thousands of people in a matter of minutes. Less than six months later, in 1946, the UN General Assembly called for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.
Yet over the next twenty years, as UN representatives deliberated over how to prevent the proliferation, or spread, of nuclear weapons, four more countries obtained nuclear weapons: the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and China.
By August 1967, after many negotiations, the United States and the Soviet Union submitted a draft nonproliferation treaty to a UN committee focused on disarmament. The Cold War was in full swing, and all eyes were on the two countries; together they held most of the world’s nuclear weapons and viewed each other as an existential threat. Over the next several months, the draft was revised to reflect the concerns, such as eventual elimination of nuclear weapons, that countries without nuclear weapons had. The General Assembly then opened the treaty for signature in July 1968.
Countries that have—and have not—joined the NPT
Fifty-nine countries signed the NPT when it opened for signature; the treaty now has 190 parties. Yet despite this nearly universal agreement, the number of countries with nuclear weapons has grown.
When the treaty was opened for signatures, only five countries were identified as “nuclear-weapon states.” Today however, four more countries, which are not party to the NPT, possess or are believed to possess nuclear weapons: India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea. (While the first three never joined the treaty, North Korea joined the NPT in 1985 but withdrew in 2003.)