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Reviewing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)

Reviewing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) edited by Henry Sokolski. Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, 2010, 455 pp.

Reviewing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), an academic compilation published by the Strategic Studies Institute, attempts to decipher the complex and relevant topic of the NPT. It analyzes the treaty’s history, assesses its past effectiveness, and makes recommendations for the future. Although the book presents the entire treaty (11 articles), most of the work focuses on the following NPT articles: I (nuclear states will not transfer weapons technology to nonnuclear states); II (nonnuclear states will not take weapons technology from nuclear states); III (all states will take up safeguards and allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect and review all safeguards to make sure they are in compliance); IV (all parties may fulfill their rights to nuclear energy research/use); V (all parties shall benefit from peaceful nuclear explosions/actions); VI (all parties agree to work towards halting a nuclear arms race and realizing disarmament); and X (all parties to the treaty may withdraw if they feel that certain dangerous conditions are developing /the treaty will undergo a 25-year review for relevancy/updates).

By emphasizing these key sections, the contributors give readers an understanding of the background of the NPT as well as highlight the more contentious areas and the treaty’s various flaws (especially enforcement). They make no attempt to hide their assertion that the NPT lacks the authority or strength to enforce nonproliferation in the post–Cold War era. When the treaty was officially ratified in 1970, only five countries (United States, USSR, United Kingdom, France, and China) had nuclear weapons. Yet, many others sought to join that club. As a result, a combination of nuclear and nonnuclear states wanted to establish some type of forum for the purpose of curtailing the spread of nuclear weapons. The effectiveness of the treaty during the Cold War remains a subject for debate. Much of the diplomatic wrangling in the 1960s concerned hearing the concerns of the nonnuclear states. Yet, even within the terms of the NPT, there existed areas of ambiguity and questioning by the member states, especially when it came to sharing peaceful nuclear-energy technology.

Since 1970, three nations (India, Pakistan, and North Korea) have successfully tested nuclear weapons. Others have either attempted (Iraq and Syria) or continue to attempt (Iran) to develop them. However, other countries, such as South Africa, South Korea, Brazil, and Libya, halted their nuclear weapons programs. The role that the NPT played in the failures or successes of stopping nuclear proliferation remains disputable. Reviewing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty does not seem to indicate that the NPT was particularly successful in halting proliferation. Even as the treaty was reratified indefinitely in 1995, questions about its effectiveness continued to surface. Text devoted to the matter of sharing the peaceful capabilities of nuclear energy, which the contributors spend considerable time analyzing, notes that although peaceful nuclear energy and its components by themselves do not mean that the creation of nuclear weapons is a certainty, the most effective nuclear energy programs tend to come from those nations that have nuclear weapons. It is not easy—but not impossible—for the same components that provide nuclear energy to establish the basis for a nuclear weapons program.

Ultimately, the contributors take the position that the NPT, though developed with the best of intentions, is fundamentally flawed and too weak to serve as an effective deterrent to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. They especially bemoan the lack of an effective mechanism to punish nations that withdraw from the treaty and still develop nuclear weapons (North Korea is the prime example). Given the fact that Iran continues to press ahead with its nuclear program in spite of international condemnation, the treaty appears powerless to stop a new nuclear arms race. If it could more effectively punish violators, the treaty might still work, but at present that capability does not exist. (The authors acknowledge that relaying concerns to the UN Security Council represents a start but is not strong enough.)

Reviewing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is academically oriented and meant for the serious student who wants to delve deeper into the history and inner workings of the NPT. It is informative and well researched in many of its articles but tends to make for very dry reading. For an Airman working nuclear proliferation issues, it is a relevant study for consultation. Given the ramifications of countering nuclear proliferation, especially when it fails, Air Force professionals will find it useful to consider/review.

Maj Scott C. Martin, USAF
Chievres AB, Belgium

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

Strategic Studies Quarterly (SSQ) and the Air & Space Power Journal (ASPJ) publish book reviews to inform readers and enhance the content of articles in the journals.