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The Nonproliferation Treaty and its Associated Challenges

The Nonproliferation Treaty and its Associated Challenges 

By Idoko Saddam Ifeanyi.

The Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) otherwise conceptually called the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty is a popular multilateral treaty made to regulate the nuclear activities of States.

It is a treaty founded, inter alia, upon the basic principles of the eschewal of party states from proliferating nuclear weapon, from manufacturing nuclear weapons and other explosives; the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and the disarmament of nuclear power-states and other potentially manufacturing powers, all well enshrined in Article I, II, IV and VI of the treaty respectively.

Precedent to the marathon adoption of this treaty in 1969 was the dangerous growth of the manufacture and testing of nuclear weapons by some nuclear-power States following the landmark conduction and detonation of a nuclear weapon christened ‘trinity’ in 1945 in Alarmogodo by US. This gave the augury of a potential transmogrification of earth into ‘a cosmic desert’ in the event of any armed conflict or even interest-driven animosity of nations inter se. The world, after the 1945 test and in the subsequent years, was engulfed in terror, and was, in the words of John F. Kennedy, in a “greatest possible danger and hazard.”

The NPT Is apparently the most signed and acceded treaty on the international plane, winging 191 States. This is due, apparently, to its pivotal, essential indispensable and interest-gathering character. NPT is a landmark treaty that lies at the heart of non-proliferation regime.¹

Yet, this treaty is one of the most defective treaties that have magnetted different non-compliant treatment by party states and most surprisingly the few non-party states.

This article is focused on the weaknesses of this treaty which over the years have undoubtedly crippled the treaty at an alarming level. Despite the groundbreaking success of NPT since its entry into force in the preservation of world peace among others, the treaty has not only been flawed but has posed a concern of irredeemability. Some of these defects, weaknesses or challenges of NPT are addressed thus:

Non-compliance of some parties to the treaty: It is a historical and recurrent fact that there has been an appaling degree of derogation by party states from the “cornerstone terms” of the treaty. The basic terms of the treaty mentioned hereinbefore which represent the crux and ideals of the treaty have been subjected to a blatant and loud infraction by some party states. The special impunity of North Korea is of great concern. North Korea indisputably has a lukewarm approach towards the obligation of NPT. She infact came to the end of her patience and withdrew from being a party to the treaty in 2003. She however re-entered into it after the Joint Statement of Six-Party Talks in 2005; yet, her announcements of and actual Nuclear weapon test in 2006, 2009, 2013, 2016 and 2017 are a flagrant and worrisome pointer to her incorrigibly anaemic commitment and nonchalant approach to both the terms of the treaty and the Joint Statement of 2005.

Iran, of course, has also conducted several Nuclear weapons tests over the years with ineffective deterrent resolutions of the Security Council.

Second, the non-inclusion of a provision which could have addressed the issue of non-state actors: It appears from the whole body of the treaty that it only intended the activities of states only. Nuclear activities of non-state actors who are not signatories of the treaty have made nonsense of the whole object of the treaty. The non-state actors range from individuals, organizations, US-designated terrorist organizations, etc. These groups have made a great caricature of the ideal pillar-principles of the treaty most especially its article IV that enjoins the peaceful use of nuclear energy by states.

A casual instance is the Abdul Qadr Khan Network in Pakistan whose activities have cast the fear of a continuous evasive proliferation of nuclear weapons by non-state actors as against the very essence of the existence of the treaty.

Third, the treaty did not address the issue of non-membership. This has stimulated a great skepticism from various quarters as to the pragmatism of the goals of NPT. It seems the advisory opinion of ICJ about the Genocide Convention of 1948 has been thrown to the wind of obsolescence. The court warned that some conventions especially those of great humanitarian or urgent character are meant to peremptorily garner universal acceptance and should not admit of any reservations by member states. Yet, the Non-proliferation Treaty has not just been subjected to State reservation but has received a total rejection by some states, and in some occasion, withdrawal (North Korea, in this instance)

The direct effect of this has been the non-membership of Pakistan, India, South Sudan and Israel. Israel, for instance, has unmistakably been flourishing in the stockpiling of explosives with no universal deterrence. The US, the ‘policeman’ of the world despite being the linchpin of this treaty, have over the years, been incentivizing Isreal, a non-party to the treaty on the flimsy ground of self-defense.

These have obviously posed a great doubt as to the sustainability of the the interests of the treaty.

Fourth, is the inadequacy of article X of the treaty.

“Each Party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country. It shall give notice of such withdrawal to all other Parties to the Treaty and to the United Nations Security Council three months in advance. Such notice shall include a statement of the extraordinary events it regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests.” ²

This notorious provision has been a ground for the withdrawal of some parties which indeed seems to be counter-productive to the object of the treaty. North Korea who has always relied on the stool of this provision has heavily been sitting on it so much so that the very holdings of it have shatteringly been broken. In 2003, North Korea citing this provision announced her intention to withdraw from the treaty. Although the provision categorically contains the clause of three-months notice of withdrawal by the intending state, she only gave a one-day notice before her withdrawal in 2003. Indeed, North Korea pushed its NPT rights beyond their limits.³

Critically speaking, apart from its infringement, the provision itself, with the seemingly ineffective conditions attached to it, gives a rather dangerous leeway to state parties.

Finally, NPT seems to be exhortatory and Inadequate in its provision for proper implementation: Arguments have evolved from different quarters that the treaty contains insufficient provisions for its proper implementation. It is also most glaring that the terms of the treaty are mere undertakings and not declarations. The fact that this treaty has this weak foundational character makes it less solemn, forceful and binding. It has also been subjected to a mangled interpretation. This is one of the reasons the treaty has no provision for the sanctioning of the violators of its terms.

It is suggested that there should, of necessity, be some amendments and more incorporations to forestall the circumvention by party states and address some of its defects.


Idoko Saddam Ifeanyi is a writer and a 200 level law student of Usmanu DanFodio University Sokoto. He hails from Enugu State, Nigeria.

1.Fifty years of NPT: Weaknesses over the course by Asma Khalid.

2.Article X of NPT.

3. George Burn and John B Rhinelander, NPT Withdrawal : Time for the Security Council to Step In.


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