A New Start for Non-Proliferation

VIENNA – US President Barack Obama has injected fresh momentum into efforts – stalled for a decade – to bring about nuclear disarmament. He has committed himself to the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and acknowledges the link between nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament by the nuclear-weapon states.

Obama has pledged to revitalize the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. The non-proliferation regime, of which the NPT is the cornerstone, is in disarray. The main problems are easily identified.

First, the five main nuclear-weapon states have not taken seriously their NPT obligation to work for nuclear disarmament. Instead, they have insisted that nuclear weapons are essential for their security and continued to modernize their nuclear arsenals. This naturally robs them of the moral authority to persuade others not to acquire nuclear weapons, which continue to be perceived as a source of power and influence, and an insurance policy against attack.

Second, as we have seen in the case of North Korea, there is nothing to stop countries that sign the Treaty from simply walking out after declaring that “extraordinary events” have jeopardized their supreme interests.