The Non-Proliferation Treaty was designed to limit the acquisition of nuclear weapons to five countries who already had them. But now four more states have joined the nuclear club – an 'erosion' of the treaty that could spell its doom.
Five signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, have nuclear weapons: the US, Russia, China, France, and Britain. Of those, the US and Russia control the vast majority of the world's nuclear warheads.
Yet three non-NPT members – Israel, India, and Pakistan – have all secretly developed nukes and suffered little consequence. North Korea, a former signatory, took advantage of a loophole in the treaty, pulling out in 2003 and testing nuclear weapons.
Iran, which Western powers suspect of developing nuclear weapons, lies at the nexus of the NPT’s declared rights and obligations, and will be a key talking point at the NPT Review Conference held May 3-28 in New York.
Iran says its nuclear programs aim to peacefully produce nuclear energy – an “inalienable right” enshrined in the NPT – and that nuclear weapons are forbidden by Islam. Yet India declared peaceful intentions, too – until it went nuclear in 1974.
“The [global] nonproliferation regime is at a very, very fragile point in its history,” says Natalie Goldring, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies. “If Iran develops and deploys nuclear weapons, I don’t know if that is the tipping point, but I wouldn’t be incredibly surprised if it were.”