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Abolition 2000 Europe

Nuclear non-proliferation treaty


Click here for full text of Non-Proliferation Treaty


How does it work?

Every five years the NPT states meet at the UN in New York for a Review Conference. The next one will take place in May 2005. In the intervening years there are Preparatory Committee Meetings (PrepComs). At the 2003 PrepCom, very little real progress was made towards the abolition of nuclear weapons.

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is the only binding commitment in a multilateral treaty to the goal of disarmament by the nuclear-weapon States. Article VI of the Treaty obliges its signatories "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".

Opened for signature in 1968, the Treaty entered into force in 1970. On 11 May 1995, the Treaty was extended indefinitely. 188 states have joined the Treaty, including the five nuclear-weapon States. More countries have ratified the NPT than any other arms limitation and disarmament agreement, a testament to the Treaty's significance.

At the sixth NPT Review Conference held in 2000, the Final Document, agreed to by all NPT states contained an "unequivocal undertaking by the Nuclear weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament ..." plus a 13-step Programme of Action for the next five years to implement this. The 13 point action plan for disarmament is at the heart of the successful but hard won consensus. It is the path carved out by 187 governments towards the total elimination of the suicidal, genocidal and ecocidal nuclear weapon.

It is now almost five years since the last Review Conference and there are few signs that the Nuclear Weapon States are treating the realisation of the Programme of Action as a matter of urgency. Their defence planning presupposes a continuing role for nuclear weapons into the indefinite future whilst denying them to other states.

Adopted by the UN in 1968 the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is supported by all but four of the world's governments. Let's name and shame them: Britain, France, Russia and the U.S.

The Treaty is the umbrella treaty under which so many others find vital shelter and strength. It has its problems and limitations, but as an international tool for progressive disarmament, it is of key importance. The NPT is essentially a nuclear disarmament treaty.

It’s central pillar, Article VI says:

Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes 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.

Since the NPT was adopted major international bodies such as the International Court of Justice have made unequivocal statements on the illegality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. After World-wide protests nuclear weapons testing has come to a virtual standstill. Nuclear weapons arsenals have been reduced by almost half their Cold War levels. However, these smaller arsenals have been upgraded and are being integrated into war­fighting plans in the form of "mini nukes".

At the 2000 NPT Review Conference governments reached consensus for the first time in 15 years. Due to the catalytic work of the New Agenda Coalition (New Zealand, Sweden, Mexico, Egypt, Ireland, Brazil and South Africa) many non-nuclear weapon states that have kept the bargain of the NPT in not acquiring nuclear bombs, were emboldened to demand more from the five nuclear weapon states. The 13 point Action Plan, which includes "an unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament" is at the heart of the successful but hard won consensus, and is the path carved out by 187 governments towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

It is therefore all the more disappointing that, once again, very little real progress was made towards the abolition of nuclear weapons at this year's PrepCom in Geneva. One observer characterised such meetings as “a mixture of formalised sparring, an opportunity to get views and opinions on the record and a rather ineffectual talking shop”.

What lies before us in the lead-up to 2005 is an opportunity to set goals for the future, to hold our governments accountable to those promises made in the 2000 Review Conference and those implicit in the text of the Treaty itself. The peoples of the world oppose nuclear weapons and support their quick abolition. The vast majority of governments also support nuclear abolition, but have not been strong, loud, or coordinated enough to force those governments with nuclear weapons to get rid of them. According to Canadian Senator Roche nuclear disarmament "lies rather flat and flabby in the list of public concerns".


adapted and extended extract from the introduction to a booklet produced for the Preparatory Committee for the 2005 NPT PrepCom Geneva, 28 April -9 May 2003, Felicity Hill and Dimity Hawkins, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, "Reaching CriticalWill" Outreach Coordinator.