In the 42 years since the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) came into force, much has changed in the world -- the Cold War has ended, the global number of nuclear weapons has decreased, yet the number of nuclear-armed states has increased. What do the next four decades hold in store for nonproliferation and disarmament? For the Millennial Generation, this is no theoretical question -- in about 2054 they will be completing their careers and settling into retirement. Below, Maryam Javan Shahraki of Iran, Selim Can Sazak of Turkey, and Beenish Pervaiz of Pakistan respond to this topic: Forty-two years after the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty went into force, where will the world be in another 42 years? How many states will be nuclear-armed? How many nuclear weapons will exist? And will the NPT survive?
Maryam Javan Shahraki and Selim Can Sazak have conducted quite a debate on Iran's nuclear program. It has been a microcosm of the international debate on the same issue, in which many questions are raised and few are answered. In my view, finger-pointing over Iran has become, and will continue to be, an exercise in futility. It is better, while continuing to seek practical measures toward improved implementation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to accept certain incontrovertible facts about the dispute.
The Iranian government has been investing resources in its nuclear program for over 25 years, and the program has become symbolic of Tehran's wish to assert its national sovereignty in an increasingly globalized world. It seems highly unlikely at this point that Iran will abandon the work it has done so far toward mastering the nuclear fuel cycle, no matter what other countries demand. And though diplomacy seems the proper path toward resolving the impasse, diplomacy has failed in the past. It is not obvious how it can succeed now.
Tehran should show more willingness to allay international concerns over its nuclear program. Nonetheless, it is unreasonable to impose strict sanctions on Iran for enriching uranium, something it is after all entitled to do under the treaty. Indeed, the immediate objective for each side in the dispute should be to avoid alienating the other. Crippling sanctions only keep Iran's hard-liners entrenched in power; Tehran's duplicity regarding safeguards and inspections only increases international suspicion. Meanwhile, if old enmities are not broken, there is a chance that Iran might withdraw from the treaty, which would aggravate a situation that is already bad. Extending a hand of friendship to Iran is the only viable way to achieve the treaty's goals.
Bad tactics. Iran's nuclear program attracts more attention than any other issue related to the NPT. But another issue -- tactical nuclear weapons -- has just as much potential for undermining the treaty regime if it is not addressed.
The United States possesses about 500 nonstrategic nuclear weapons, and nearly 200 of these remain deployed in five European countries. Russia has about 2,000 nonstrategic warheads, though all are said to be in storage. These weapons are now thought to possess minimal military value, but we live in a world where possession of nuclear weapons is seen as instrumental for exercising regional influence and gaining political and economic leverage. Thus, the possession of nonstrategic weapons, regardless of their military value, can easily antagonize a country like Iran.
The Russian and US governments have demonstrated some commitment to disarmament, for instance through New START, but this treaty and other arms control agreements do nothing to reduce stockpiles of nonstrategic weapons. This is unacceptable, as tactical nuclear weapons are highly lethal and present risks such as possible acquisition by terrorists. In addition, the presence of US tactical weapons in Europe runs counter to the NPT, which prohibits the transfer of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear weapon states. The treaty is silent on the issue of tactical nuclear weapons per se, but this silence amounts to a major loophole. Failure to pay specific attention to such a serious issue may prove detrimental to the treaty's survival in years to come.
Withdrawing tactical weapons from Europe would decrease from 14 to nine the number of states with nuclear weapons on their soil. It would lead to increased credibility for the nonproliferation policies of the United States and its NATO allies. Therefore, elimination of tactical weapons would be a highly practical measure to strengthen the treaty and help the nuclear powers build bridges in the future toward nations such as Iran. Most of all, elimination of tactical nuclear weapons would be a concrete step toward achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.
In her third Roundtable essay, Maryam Javan Shahraki continued to defend Iran's nuclear program against my criticisms of it. I consider her characterization of Iran's nuclear program thin on facts, and I must respectfully disagree with it.
Iran's nuclear activities do not operate under full oversight of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), despite what Iran says. For example, Iran has not complied with the agency's repeated requests to allow full inspections of the Parchin explosives-testing facility. Shahraki mentions a 2005 IAEA inspection of the Parchin facility and presents it as evidence of Iranian transparency and compliance with agency safeguards, but this is a serious anachronism.
Iran's failure to provide unrestricted access to nuclear sites has been affirmed at the agency's highest level. In December, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano reiterated the agency's concerns about the Parchin facility and urged Iran to allow inspection of it. In September, Amano stated that "Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation to enable us to … conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities." So, contrary to Shahraki's assertion, agency inspectors have not been allowed to visit the country's nuclear sites "whenever they want." Facts speak louder than words.
Shahraki points out that positive diplomatic momentum is developing between Iran and the agency. This is somewhat encouraging, but the history of nuclear diplomacy indicates that hopes should not be raised too high until negotiations bear material results. Moreover, among the reasons that diplomatic initiatives have failed so far is that Iran continues to insist that issues investigated by the IAEA should be considered closed once the agency's questions have been addressed, whereas the agency wants the ability to revisit topics as needed. Where is the logic in using current compliance to ask the agency to renounce its right to carry out safeguards activities in the future? And again, why fear scrutiny if there is nothing to hide?
At various points in this Roundtable, as Shahraki has disputed my criticisms of Iran's nuclear policies, she has employed arguments that I believe focus not on the issues under discussion, but instead on me. In her third essay, she attempted to highlight divergences between my views and those of the government of Turkey, which supports a diplomatic approach to the impasse over Iran's nuclear program. First, though I am Turkish, nowhere in my first two Roundtable essays did I express any endorsement of Turkey's official policies; therefore, I cannot be held responsible for those policies. Second, I happen to agree with my government and Shahraki herself that a diplomatic approach to the deadlock is best -- although I remain extremely skeptical of diplomacy's prospects for success.
In her third essay, Shahraki cast doubt on my assertion that I do not subscribe to any "axis-of-evil" notions. I understand her to imply that I harbor pro-American or pro-Israeli views. My personal allegiances are irrelevant to my academic viewpoint, but I would note that I strongly condemn extrajudicial assassinations of Iranian scientists; I believe that the 2010 fuel-swap deal among Iran, Turkey, and Brazil was an optimal solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis, and should not have been scuttled; and I assign a measure of blame to both the United States and the European Union for the continued failure of negotiations (though, because two wrongs don't make a right, I also hold Iran responsible for the failure of negotiations).
Paradise or death. All this aside, I continue to believe, as I wrote in my first essay, that an Iranian or credible North Korean nuclear weapons capacity would entail major proliferation risks (though the proliferation might be vertical rather than horizontal). So I fully concur with Beenish Pervaiz that a real framework for the abolition of nuclear weapons must be established -- "one that provides for the systematic, verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons and in the process further delegitimizes them."
That, however, will require that the world display decency, humility, and maturity. When physicist Joseph Rotblat accepted the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize in conjunction with the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, he drew on the 1955 Russell-Einstein Manifesto to remind us that achieving a world free of war requires us to:
"Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise. If you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death."
In his second Roundtable essay, Selim Can Sazak continued to assert that Iran's nuclear program is aggressive in nature. Beenish Pervaiz has already detailed Iran's stance on its dispute with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) -- that Iranian nuclear activities operate under full agency oversight, that Iran has declared itself ready to accept inspection of any atomic facility, and that the agency's inspection demands go beyond Tehran's legal obligations to provide access.
Sazak accuses Iran of fearing scrutiny of its nuclear sites. The truth is that Iran has granted access to nuclear sites many times, including a 2005 inspection of the Parchin explosives-testing facility, after which the IAEA reported that it "was allowed to take environmental samples, the results of which did not indicate the presence of nuclear material, nor did the Agency see any relevant dual-use equipment or materials." The Western response to Iran's transparency has been nothing but more sanctions, threats of attacks against nuclear installations, and, as is widely suspected, terrorist assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. Such behavior would disappoint any party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but Iran has nonetheless chosen to keep the dispute within the diplomatic realm and permit IAEA inspectors to visit the country's nuclear sites "whenever they want."
I would also point out that positive momentum is developing in negotiations between Iran and the agency. Just a week ago, when IAEA Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts returned to Vienna from talks in Tehran, he reported that progress had been made in negotiations and that additional meetings were scheduled for January. He also said that he expected the two sides to finalize a "structured approach" toward resolving their dispute, and to begin implementing that approach soon afterward. An IAEA visit to the Parchin facility, Nackaerts said, would be part of the structured approach.
Close examination. Sazak also writes that, "upon close examination," the arguments that I advanced in my second essay "fail the test of reality." I would make the same criticism of him: He asserts that he does not subscribe to any axis-of-evil notions, but he goes on in the same paragraph to demonize Iran by categorizing it among "nations that recklessly jeopardize regional stability and global security by possessing or pursuing nuclear weapons." If Iran so recklessly jeopardizes regional stability, why did its neighbor Turkey in 2010, along with Brazil, sign a deal to swap nuclear fuel with Iran? According to that agreement, 120 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20 percent would have been shipped to Iran for use in a reactor that produces medical isotopes, while Iran would have shipped 1.2 tons of low-enriched uranium to Turkey.
The deal was rejected by the Unites States and other nations, and new sanctions against Iran were pursued instead. But the fact remains that Turkey has generally been supportive of pursuing a diplomatic approach to the impasse over Iran's nuclear program.
The failure of the Turkish-Brazilian deal provides another dangerous illustration of the way in which demonizing Iran undermines the goals of the NPT. The ideological mindset evident among the United States and its allies deprives a treaty signatory of its inalienable rights. It may also, due to sanctions -- the effects of which are brutal for Iranian civilians -- irreversibly harm prospects for a diplomatic solution.
Again, turning Iran's nuclear program into a security issue -- removing it from the context of the treaty and from the diplomatic realm -- neither strengthens the NPT nor makes the Middle East a safer region. The only way to address disagreements over Iran's nuclear program is through diplomacy and regional cooperation.
In their essays to this point, Maryam Javan Shahraki and Selim Can Sazak have disagreed about whether Iran poses a security threat to its region and the world, and what the ramifications of that threat might be. However, they seem to express underlying agreement with an idea that I expressed in my first essay -- that a country like Iran, as well as treaty outliers like Israel, Pakistan, and India, must be fully involved in the nonproliferation project if the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is to remain healthy.
In my view, the world community is characterized today by a divide between countries prepared to take strong action against potential proliferators, either unilaterally or via coalitions, and those countries more concerned with whether nuclear weapon states take faster steps toward eliminating their nuclear arsenals. But even if nations around the world fully commit themselves to nonproliferation, the world's two biggest nuclear powers (the United States and Russia) still must set the right example by pursuing disarmament more vigorously.
But it's not merely a matter of setting the right tone. As Shahraki wrote in her first essay, every nuclear-armed state is a potential proliferator, and this includes the nuclear weapon states recognized under the treaty. Though possible Iranian proliferation is a hotly debated topic, the idea that a nuclear weapon state could transfer nuclear technology, materials, or weapons to other countries is frightening too. In any case, if the treaty regime is to survive, progress must be made on both nonproliferation and disarmament. A real framework for abolition must be established -- one that provides for the systematic, verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons and in the process further delegitimizes them.
Sazak and Shahraki's discussion of Iran has raised another issue of concern to the treaty regime: the standards that are used in monitoring the activities of countries that pursue peaceful nuclear energy programs. Because nuclear energy allows for the possibility of nuclear weapons breakout, monitoring programs are crucial -- but as currently carried out, they are problematic.
In his second essay Sazak discusses ways in which Iran is portrayed as resisting inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). However, we must also remember Iran's official stance that its nuclear activities are already under full agency oversight. Also, Iran has in the past declared itself open to inspections of any atomic facility. And Iran accuses the agency of making inspection demands that go beyond the country's legal obligations. To prevent situations like this from recurring, and in order to garner cooperation from all sides in nuclear disputes, it is essential that a more specific, binding system for monitoring be agreed upon by all countries. That way, the transparency of nuclear programs could be guaranteed and the authority of the verifying organization would not be undermined. That is, if the IAEA implemented inspections according to the same standards in all situations, complaints about its methods and activities would decrease.
In her second Roundtable essay, Maryam Javan Shahraki leveled some strong criticism against the ideas I expressed in my first essay. At the same time, she portrayed Iran's nuclear intentions as unambiguously peaceful. Her arguments, upon close examination, fail the test of reality.
Shahraki portrays me as inappropriately lumping together Iran and North Korea into "a single, demonized bundle of threats." While I do not subscribe to the axis-of-evil idea to which Shahraki tacitly alludes, I do believe that it is appropriate to place Iran in the category of nations that recklessly jeopardize regional stability and global security by possessing or pursuing nuclear weapons. If my colleague takes issue with this categorization, the fault is to be found not in my analysis but in Iran's own policies.
Shahraki goes on to fault me for failing to "distinguish between the legitimate fears that might be provoked whenever a nation proliferates, and the quite different anxieties that surround Iran's enrichment of uranium." From my perspective, it is difficult to see the difference, especially when Iran is enriching beyond the level necessary to fuel nuclear power plants and acting in a way that raises serious concerns about possible military dimensions to its nuclear program. Given the opacity of Iran's nuclear program, other nations are wise not to wait for a nuclear weapon ribbon-cutting ceremony before recognizing Iranian proliferation as a threat. As for Shahraki's assertion that I fail to explain "why Iran might provoke a cascade of proliferation in the Middle East," she provides part of the explanation herself by invoking nuclear weapons in Israel and South Asia. It can be argued that nuclear weapons in these countries have had a domino effect on Iran, and that, in any plausible proliferation scenario, Iran would continue the domino effect, leading to nuclear programs among Iran's immediate neighbors and political and religious rivals.
Finally, Shahraki portrays me as affirming an arms-race attitude that she denounces. But a proponent of such an arms-race attitude would also be expected to support US nuclear diplomacy, Israel's nuclear capabilities, and Turkey's planned arms purchases. I do not support any of these. In any case, refusing to grant Iran carte blanche for its nuclear transgressions is not warmongering. On the contrary, it is a candid attempt to apportion blame fairly.
Fear of scrutiny. At this point I should buttress the arguments made above with some facts about Iran's nuclear program.
In a November 2012 report, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stated that the number of centrifuges at Iran's Natanz and Fordow enrichment facilities has been increasing. Production of low-enriched uranium at the Natanz facility is estimated to total more than 7,600 kilograms since cascades began operating there in 2007. This, in theory, is enough to fashion six or seven nuclear weapons if the fuel were enriched to weapons grade. Suggestions that Iran's nuclear program has a military dimension include the construction of a heavy water-moderated research reactor at Arak -- which could produce plutonium and offer another route to the bomb. In the face of this potentially weapons-related activity -- and recalling that Iran operated the Natanz and Arak facilities under the utmost secrecy until a dissident group exposed them -- it is difficult to maintain confidence in Iran's nonproliferation bona fides.
Even if one gives Iran the benefit of the doubt, satellite images that suggest sanitization activities at the Parchin explosives-testing facility would need a full and compelling explanation, as would Tehran's refusal to grant the IAEA full access to several sites, including Parchin. And that is not to mention Iran's continued failure to implement the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as well as a provision known as the modified Code 3.1, which requires Iran to submit to the agency design information for new facilities at an early date. Why fear greater scrutiny if you have nothing to hide?
Facing facts can be difficult and unpleasant, especially when they reflect badly on one's own nation. In the academic domain, however, we cannot allow allegiances and emotions to cloud our judgment and limit our intellectual rigor.
President Harry Truman used to keep on his desk a sign that read, "The buck stops here." Scholars are also barred from passing the buck. As a scholar, I must conclude that, in Iran's case, the buck stops nowhere but at Tehran's doorstep.
In their first-round essays, all authors in this Roundtable analyzed the nonproliferation regime's strengths and shortcomings, and discussed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's (NPT) prospects for future success. Beenish Pervaiz and I both focused considerable attention on discriminatory application of the treaty's rules, identifying unfairness as a key threat to the treaty's effectiveness and ultimately its survival.
Selim Can Sazak also discussed uneven application of the treaty's provisions, particularly the nuclear weapon states' selective tolerance of proliferation. But he commits an error by calling Iran and North Korea "the countries most likely to begin [a proliferation] cycle today." The problem with this statement is that Sazak inappropriately lumps together two nations. It is not unusual to encounter newspaper or television coverage that treats Iran and North Korea as a single, demonized bundle of threats to global security -- but the truth is that they are two very different countries, with different nuclear programs and distinct histories of behavior regarding the treaty regime.
Sazak goes on to assert that "the prospect of a nuclear Iran … creates great anxiety in the Middle East," and refers to arguments that "Turkey and countries such as Saudi Arabia would be compelled to explore the nuclear option if Iran goes nuclear." But he does not distinguish between the legitimate fears that might be provoked whenever a nation proliferates, and the quite different anxieties that surround Iran's enrichment of uranium. And though Sazak does not believe that a cascade of proliferation is likely in any event, he fails to explain why Iran might provoke a cascade of proliferation in the Middle East. After all, Israel already possesses nuclear weapons, and two more states are nuclear-armed next door in South Asia, but no cascade of proliferation has occurred in the Middle East so far.
However, my main critique of Sazak's argument is that it confirms -- intentionally or unintentionally -- the same arms-race attitude that, in my first essay, I identified as the main threat to the future of the treaty. This attitude treats any threat as a reason for greater militarization and bigger military sales. And because threats by their nature are endless, there can be no end to arms races. For example, Turkey in recent years has considered purchasing expensive missile defense systems from abroad. Turkish officials say that the systems would not be intended to protect against threats from any particular country. Still, such purchases would only speed the arms race in the region. Exaggerating the threat of Iran's nuclear program does not make the Middle East a safer region and in fact could make the region's arms competition irreversible.
Keep the door open. Demonizing a treaty signatory like Iran may help the United States increase its international arms sales, but it will never strengthen the treaty regime or improve global security. To the contrary, such demonization only isolates Iran and pushes it away from its peaceful goals. Iran has remained a treaty signatory despite the international pressure it has faced over its nuclear program, and it is important to keep the door of diplomacy open. It is also important to remember that the treaty recognizes an inalienable right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes -- a right that includes, despite some arguments to the contrary, uranium enrichment.
Much language in the treaty is vague and open to interpretation. Indeed, the United States and other nations may have deliberately favored ambiguity during treaty negotiations so that they could later leverage the treaty's rules to achieve their own national interests. So it may now be necessary to develop a neutral, global mechanism for interpreting the NPT and its provisions. But beyond that, the treaty regime will not succeed unless all parties realize that it takes two to tango. This means that, in the case of Iran's nuclear program, the West should stop demonizing Iran and stop portraying its nuclear program as an existential security threat to the whole world. Instead, the West should treat Iran as an equal partner in the nonproliferation regime and attempt to understand Tehran's security concerns. Because if the West continues to demand that Iran suspend uranium enrichment, negotiations will continue to fail.
As globalization progresses, the political order is undergoing increasing stress. Both international organizations and non-state actors are eroding the traditional concept of national sovereignty, challenging states' monopoly of power in the political, military, territorial, and legal realms. Indeed, international agreements like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) are among the factors that have constricted nations' sovereignty.
With 189 signatories, the NPT is the most influential treaty that concerns nuclear issues. But the world has changed in the 42 years since the treaty came into force. If the treaty is to survive, it must be implemented more comprehensively and verification procedures must become less discriminatory. All this requires greater global cooperation.
Terrible prospect. For the treaty to remain an influential document in an integrated world, it will need to come to terms with major challenges. The treaty regime must become more adept at confronting nuclear terrorism. The emergence of non-state actors has called into question whether a nonproliferation regime that was fashioned during the Cold War is capable of addressing contemporary threats. According to Article I of the treaty, "each nuclear weapon state … undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices." But there is no guarantee that this principle can be upheld in a world where non-state actors are increasingly challenging the authority of the state.
In recent years, countries like Libya and Syria have been accused of seeking to develop nuclear weapons; evidence has emerged of nuclear smuggling from the former Soviet Union; and cities like New York and London have been targets of terrorism. All this contributes to fears of nuclear attacks carried out by terrorists. The power of non-state actors is gradually coming to par with state power, but the NPT cannot exert control over non-state actors. This highlights the importance of international initiatives such as the Nuclear Security Summit, which can help build a more coordinated, committed global effort against the menace of nuclear terrorism. The underlying goal of the summits is to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials; in order for this to be achieved, countries must honor the pledges of money and resources that they have made to the effort, and in many cases should increase the levels of funding and personnel that they devote to nuclear security.
Rogues and outliers. A serious challenge to the treaty is posed by rogue states and by countries that are not NPT signatories. This challenge requires an internationally coordinated response, insofar as a country like North Korea, which is no longer a party to the treaty, and a country like Iran, which is a party to the treaty but is sometimes characterized as a rogue state, nonetheless play key roles in preserving peace in their respective regions, and therefore must be brought to the negotiating table.
At the same time, non-signatories must be treated equally, and must face the same disincentives to proliferate. India presents a curious case in this regard -- New Delhi and Washington have concluded a nuclear cooperation agreement, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group has granted India a waiver allowing it to engage in nuclear trade, despite its not being a party to the treaty. Canada recently finalized details of a nuclear cooperation agreement it reached with India in 2010, and Australia seems to be moving toward exporting uranium to India as well. Through decisions such as these, nations prioritize strategic ties with India and their own commercial interests over the good of the nonproliferation regime. If the treaty is to retain any influence over political decisions in an increasingly integrated and capitalist world, it must be enforced more evenhandedly.
Lay down your arms. The treaty fails to provide a comprehensive plan for disarmament of the nuclear weapon states. Article VI of the treaty contains only the vague obligation that signatories will "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." But the world is at a point where commitment to disarmament must go beyond negotiations "in good faith." Among non-nuclear weapon states, considerable distrust flows from the fact that the treaty prevents them from acquiring nuclear weapons while, at the same time, the nuclear weapon states have moved so slowly toward disarmament. Hence, the treaty's survival depends on whether a comprehensive and non-discriminatory framework for disarmament is established.
The antinuclear initiative Global Zero has presented a concrete disarmament road map in the form of its Global Zero Action Plan. One of the plan's strengths is to include in the process nations, such as India and Pakistan, that are key to eliminating the dangers of nuclear war but are not signatories to the treaty. In any case, many who support universal nuclear disarmament believe that, as globalization continues in political, economic, and cultural terms, a new, legally-binding global convention on nuclear weapons is the best path forward.
It seems likely that factors such as globalization, technology diffusion, regional security challenges, and intensification in the power of non-state actors will result in an increase in the number of countries that -- even despite being parties to the NPT -- look favorably upon acquiring nuclear weapons. The cost of building and maintaining these weapons could inhibit proliferation, but more important would be for the nuclear weapon states to display genuine commitment to disarmament and so set an example for the rest of the world. And if the global community prioritized addressing the world's humanitarian crises over acquiring these deadly weapons, growth in nuclear weapons might be brought to a halt.
It has often been argued that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has failed, is failing, or is destined to fail. Beneath such defeatist attitudes is the idea that the treaty is a negation of history and a challenge to human psychology -- that widespread proliferation is an inevitable result of mankind's increasing sophistication in weaponry and of people's fetishistic devotion to objects of power. But though the treaty has often been pronounced dead amid proliferation crises, from Osirak to Iran, it has never actually died. Rather, it has endured -- and grown stronger.
In the 1960s, China and France tested their first nuclear weapons. Just a few years before 1970, the year the treaty came into force, Israel became a nuclear-armed nation. Since then, however, proliferation has slowed dramatically. Only four more countries have become nuclear-armed, and one of these, South Africa, has since renounced nuclear weapons and entered into the treaty as a non-nuclear weapon state.
Over the decades, many states could have gone nuclear, but most have chosen restraint. Studies that compare decision making in potential nuclear countries, before and after they accede to the treaty, demonstrate that proliferation activities decline once the treaty is ratified. The NPT's greatest success, however, has been in establishing nonproliferation as a permanent norm of international relations.
Admittedly, the current outlook for disarmament and nonproliferation is not without problems. Iraq, Libya, and North Korea, for example, have tried to cheat the treaty regime, and others may do so in the future. Threats such as nuclear terrorism linger, and there is always the danger that a nuclear-armed country such as Pakistan could become a failed state.
A regime's evolution. Moreover, the treaty itself is argued to be riddled with defects and loopholes. Often cited as evidence of its flawed design are the absence of a credible enforcement provision, the potential for abuse of dual-use fuel cycle technologies, and the possible misuse of withdrawal rights.
Still, the treaty has achieved astounding success despite its vulnerabilities, and has evolved to address changing threats. The Additional Protocol to the NPT, and complementary regimes like the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Missile Technology Control Regime, were either responses to the treaty's inherent deficiencies or extensions of the regime's scope and force. These improvements provide good reason to believe that the nonproliferation regime will prove resilient in addressing whatever challenges it faces in the future.
Though the Cold War is long over, now is not the time to surrender to proliferation, but rather to oppose it more vigorously. Many measures to buttress the regime have been proposed. These include prevailing on signatories to ratify and implement the Additional Protocol, strengthening the International Atomic Energy Agency's leverage when it comes to implementing verification measures like special inspections, and systematizing the UN Security Council's role in responding to noncompliance.
Still, formal steps such as these cannot salvage a discredited regime, so preserving the regime's credibility is paramount. This requires a no-exceptions attitude from all concerned. Unfortunately, the nuclear weapon states -- even as they have failed to fulfill their commitment under the treaty to pursue disarmament in good faith -- have sometimes seemed eager to jettison or circumvent other aspects of the nonproliferation regime. They have selectively permitted proliferation, as evidenced by the recent nuclear cooperation agreement between the United States and India, and by relations between Russia and Iran, and China and North Korea. Such permissiveness conveys the message that the treaty is not an unconditional commitment, but rather an instrument of political leverage. Sending this message emboldens nuclear aspirants, encourages signatories to hedge their bets, and reinforces the perception that countries can get away with violating international norms.
Horizontal and vertical. If it is true that, in the words of former Secretary of State George Shultz, proliferation begets proliferation, Iran and North Korea seem the countries most likely to begin that cycle today. North Korea has tested nuclear weapons twice, though its efforts have been plagued by technical problems. Estimates vary about how long Iran might require to produce a nuclear weapon if it makes the political decision to do so, but the prospect of a nuclear Iran in any case creates great anxiety in the Middle East. These two countries could provoke a cascade of proliferation that would nearly double the number of nuclear-armed states and relegate the NPT to the dustbin of history. Some argue that Turkey and countries such as Saudi Arabia would be compelled to explore the nuclear option if Iran goes nuclear, and the same might hold true for Japan and South Korea if North Korea demonstrates a credible nuclear capability.
Though these countries have the wherewithal to develop nuclear weapons fairly swiftly, I believe that none would chart such a course. All would be inhibited by factors like export dependence, state ideology, Western orientation, or an antimilitarist culture. So I do not envision horizontal proliferation. But I do envision the possibility of vertical proliferation. If Iran were to gain a nuclear weapon, the United States might be forced to make a long-term commitment to extending nuclear deterrence to its allies in the Middle East; North Korea could force the United States to do the same in East Asia. This might prompt Russia to rush to the defense of Iran, or China to North Korea. In this scenario, the progress achieved so far in reducing nuclear arsenals could be halted or even reversed.
Not an option. Despite such threats, significant room for optimism remains. The momentum that was established in 2009 with President Obama's Prague speech on nuclear weapons offers an opportunity for international nonproliferation efforts to be stepped up. Confidence in the treaty regime could be strengthened through steadfast diplomacy, united action against treaty violators, and an unequivocal dedication to universal nonproliferation.
There can be no real peace in a world that contains launch-ready nuclear weapons. It is the responsibility of concerned citizens of all political stripes to declare that the nuclear option is not an option at all; those concerned about nonproliferation and disarmament must hold their representatives accountable.
Will the NPT survive? That depends on what people choose. The treaty is alive and well, and likely will remain so -- unless those who care about its survival let it perish.
Forty-two years ago, amid the Cold War, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) came into force. The treaty's original purpose was, among other things, to prevent countries like Italy, West Germany, and Japan from building nuclear weapons. But since the end of the Cold War, the goal has evolved into maintaining the global nuclear order. Today, the NPT has 189 signatories and is the arms control treaty with the greatest international acceptance. But the treaty's success in stopping the spread of nuclear weapons is debatable, and serious questions surround the NPT's credibility and effectiveness as the world's central mechanism against further proliferation.
When considering these issues, it is useful to keep in mind just how dangerous a nuclear crisis can be. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear catastrophe. The world survived -- but there is no guarantee it would survive a similar crisis in the future. Indeed, the key lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis is the importance of preventing a crisis through diplomatic and political efforts before the brink of nuclear war is reached. No matter how imperfect the NPT might be, the treaty still represents a crucial diplomatic tool for anticipating and preventing nuclear crises.
Credibility challenge. Few people dispute that the treaty is necessary; instead, the crucial challenges that it faces involve its effectiveness and credibility. The treaty need not be changed or replaced but, if it is to meet its global objectives, it must be implemented fairly.
One crucial issue related to fairness involves the nuclear weapon states' responsibility to pursue disarmament as defined in the NPT: Each nuclear weapon state commits to taking good-faith steps toward disarmament, a key element of the treaty's central bargain. But this is far from being fully implemented. The United States and Russia control a vast majority of the planet's nuclear weapons and are capable of destroying the world several times over. Since the end of the Cold War, nuclear strategies have changed in many countries, including in the five nuclear weapon states recognized under the treaty. But the central security attitude of the Cold War -- that the more nuclear weapons you have, the more powerful you are -- remains strong.
A similar problem is that the treaty's principles are applied differently to different non-nuclear weapon states. In a glaring example, India in 2008 concluded a nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States, and also received a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group allowing it to engage in nuclear trade with few restrictions. But India is one of only three states, along with Pakistan and Israel, never to have acceded to the NPT (as for the other two nuclear-armed states, North Korea ratified the treaty, but later withdrew, and South Africa joined the treaty after surrendering its nuclear arsenal); nor have these countries, with the exception of South Africa, ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (though Israel has signed it). It is a mistake to ignore these countries' nonproliferation responsibilities just because they might enjoy good relations with the United States, especially when a treaty signatory like Iran faces international pressure while pursuing its inalienable right to a peaceful nuclear energy program. (Meanwhile, every nuclear-armed state is a potential proliferator, but this fact receives little attention.)
Uneven application of standards could force some countries' nuclear programs underground. But even more important, the treaty's credibility and effectiveness are weakened when different states' obligations and rights are treated unevenly.
Problems and solutions. For the treaty to have survived for 42 years is a great success. But the NPT suffers from serious shortcomings -- both inside and outside the regime. Several steps could be taken to address these shortcomings. First, the world should recommit itself to eliminating nuclear weapons, instead of focusing on nonproliferation to the exclusion of disarmament. Nuclear weapons are exceedingly dangerous no matter who possesses them, and all states -- large or small, treaty signatories or not -- should accept shared responsibility for eliminating them.
Second, variable standards and unjust rules must be avoided. Prioritizing one nation's political interests over global security could bring about the treaty's ultimate failure. The point of the NPT regime is to make the world a safer place, with fewer nuclear bombs. Therefore, the very idea of the treaty is undermined by using the NPT to prevent State X from exercising its legitimate rights while supporting State Y as it exercises the very same rights.
Third, the tendency to turn nuclear issues into security issues -- to remove them from the diplomatic realm and from the context of the treaty -- should be resisted. Indeed, to declare a nuclear dispute an existential threat to the global community, instead of seeking political and diplomatic solutions discredits the treaty itself and also risks turning disputes into crises. As the world should have learned from the Cuban Missile Crisis, last-minute crisis management must not be depended upon.
So, given all that, how many states will be nuclear-armed in another 42 years, and how many nuclear weapons will there be? This depends to a large extent on the nuclear weapon states. The world today contains about 19,000 nuclear weapons, and almost 95 percent of them belong to just two countries -- the United States and Russia. Both of these countries, along with the other recognized nuclear weapon states (China, Britain, and France), committed in 2000 to an "unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals." And though Russia and the United States have taken steps to shrink their arsenals by signing New START, total elimination of these arsenals has yet to occur; nor have India, Pakistan, and Israel taken steps to disarm.
The number of countries possessing nuclear weapons today is not terribly high, but the attitudes that account for possession of nuclear arms are terrifying. The fact that states still wish to retain or develop nuclear weapons is more dangerous than the absolute number of countries that proliferate, or precisely how many weapons they have. A renewed nuclear arms race could lead to a world where, to borrow the language of philosopher Thomas Hobbes, man is a wolf to man. But this time the wolves would be armed with nuclear weapons.