Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime
The bombing of the two Japanese cities—Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and the near nuclear-apocalypse brought about by the Cuban missile crisis in the 1962 neatly demonstrated the horrendous consequences nuclear weapons can inflict. Indeed, although they are widely perceived as an effective deterrent against actual or potential aggressors, there are many issues associated with nuclear weapons, ranging from the costs of maintaining their facilities to accidental nuclear strikes. Moreover, just like they could fall into the hands of non-state actors and terrorist groups who could utilize them indiscriminately for their malicious purposes, nuclear weapons could also be used for expansive and aggressive purposes (rather than defensive ones) by ambitious state actors.
It comes to no surprise, therefore, that there have been concerted efforts to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons since the late 1960s, paving the way to what is now known as the International Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime. Plainly stated, due to their enormous destructive potential, containing nuclear weapons capability is crucially important.
Broadly speaking, there are three defining elements or mechanisms for understanding the international efforts to curtail the proliferation of nuclear weapons: the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the nuclear safeguards system of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the nuclear export control system.
Although negotiations to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons started in 1965, it was only in 1970 that the NPT was established (came into force), and in 1995 it was extended indefinitely. With a total of 188 states party to the Treaty, the NPT has become a nearly-universal regime on nuclear limitation. And according to Graham, Jr., Thomas, the NPT is based on a central bargain whereby: “the NPT non-nuclear-weapon states agree never to acquire nuclear weapons and the NPT nuclear-weapon states in exchange agree to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology and to pursue nuclear disarmament aimed at the ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals”. That is, he argues, “the NPT was not designed to establish “nuclear apartheid,” permanently authorizing great-power status and nuclear weapons to a small group of states and assigning the rest of the world to permanent second-class status”. Therefore, the success or failure to maintain both ends of the bargain will be the determinant factor for the future of the NPT.
Also important to the International Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime is the nuclear safeguards system of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which ensures that states comply with their international obligations on nuclear non-proliferation. Finally, the nuclear export control system, comprised of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), monitors and controls exported nuclear materials to ensure that those materials are in compliance with the international norms (e.g. peaceful nuclear technology or for civil nuclear energy). Perhaps, it is noteworthy to mention that the aforementioned mechanisms are enhanced by additional agreements such as the International Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials During Their Use, Storage, and Transportation as well as several other agreements creating regional nuclear weapon-free zones.
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