The Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) came into force nearly 35 years ago and it has been generally considered successful in achieving its main aim for prevention of the spread of nuclear weapons. However, in any qualified assessment of the NPT the failure of nuclear power states in fulfilling their commitment for nuclear disarmament under the article VI of this treaty as well as breakaway of India, Pakistan, Israel, and recently North Korea, from the group of non-nuclear states could not be ignored.

The developments in the international arena and especially the end of the Cold War raised much hope about a long awaited nuclear disarmament. Those hopes failed when the nuclear power states instead of seizing the opportunity for a comprehensive nuclear disarmament reemphasized on their military doctrines based on nuclear deterrence and nuclear arms.

In 1995 and also in the NPT Review Conference in 2000 the promises made by the Nuclear Power States were not fulfilled and in fact there were more setbacks by those countries in their commitments. Meanwhile, no serious attempts were made to define the stature of the new nuclear states outside the NPT and possible ways to incorporate them in the NPT.

In the aftermath of the September 11, when global war against terrorism gained top priority for the international security, concerns were raised regarding the links and possible use of WMD by terrorists. That resulted in the UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which called on all States to promote dialogue and cooperation on non-proliferation and in addressing the threat posed by proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and their delivery systems.

At the eve of the upcoming NPT Review Conference next spring, there are questions raised regarding the future role of the NPT. No doubt there have been major changes in the world since NPT came into force, a bipolar world system has collapsed while world is awaiting emergence of a new international system. An undeclared competition between great powers during this transitional period seems to be acute. Although presently the main attention is focused on Iran’s nuclear program many other outstanding issues remain to be considered in the nuclear field by the international community.

Changing international security environment

The international security system during the Cold War was based on bipolarity and was predictable. During this period, the world survived without major wars in a highly competitive security regime between the United States and the Soviet Union. Most of the Third World aligned with either the US or the Soviet Union camp. However, many of the Third World countries could not secure themselves from the threats of intra-regional rivalry.

The end of the Cold War, marked by the collapse of the Soviet Union, transformed the global security environment.[1] “Despite the end of the Cold War, nuclear weapons continue to be legitimized by treaties like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The US, European, Russian etc., doctrines stress the value of nuclear weapons in national and collective defence strategies.[2] Since the end of the Cold War and after revelation of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program in the early 1990s and latter especially with the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests in May 1998, the global system of nuclear non-proliferation enshrined in the Non-Proliferation Treaty became under unprecedented heavy strains.[3]

After September 11th, the need to secure nuclear and radioactive materials and their associated facilities took on even greater importance with regard to the threats by terrorism, sabotage or theft.

Today’s international security system is characterized by the American pre-eminence and unilateralism; continuing and increased role of nuclear weapons as means of political blackmail. US, Russian, European doctrines continue to stress the value of nuclear weapons in their national and collective defense strategies and nuclear doctrines. These policies foments nuclear arms race, lowers the threshold of resorting to nuclear weapons and dramatically increase the insecurity and vulnerability of non-nuclear weapon states. This is also in clear contrast to the obligations already undertaken under the Treaty by them, and unilateral statements on negative security assurances to non-nuclear states.

Despite empirical changes in the world’s geo- strategic conditions, there are still much interest and urge shown by the nuclear weapon states to re-emphasize on nuclear weapons and for modernizing their nuclear arsenals. Following are some examples:

*The Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council says more than a dozen years after the collapse of the Soviet Union; America still keeps 480 nuclear weapons in Europe, more than twice as many as previously believed. The weapons are under US control and stored at eight bases in six countries - Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Turkey. Pentagon officials say they are part of NATO's "strategic deterrence mission" in the region, hinting that they could be employed to counter a non-conventional threat from countries such as Iran or Syria. [4]

*US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has asked for the restoration of a super secret research program designed to create a new class of nuclear weapons capable of destroying hardened underground targets. The request is apparently for the restoration of the socalled nuclear 'bunker buster' program.[5]

* In the US military budgets for 2005 an amount of $ 30 million was set aside for new nuclear tests and almost $ 40 million for research programs to develop tactical nuclear weapons.[6]

*The Russians had a policy of no-first-use but they've rescinded it, because they feel that they become weaker in conventional terms and they have to compensate for their conventional-arms weakness by placing greater emphasis on their nuclear capabilities.

*President Chirac of France has decided to follow the United States by widening a nuclear strategy that was originally designed to deter the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The French newspaper Liberation quoted a Defense Ministry source in France as saying that France could attack rogue states to meet “the threat of chemical attack”.[7]

*The British government continues to maintain and develop the Trident nuclear weapons system. It hosts a number of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk.[8] It has also acknowledged that it has received briefings on the scope and outcome of US sub-critical experiments since 1995and that UK personnel participated in a test. The increased level of UK involvement in the US testing program is also reflected by the number of British personnel visiting the Nevada Test Site, which has risen from nine people in 1999, to 40 in 2001. [9]

*The Chinese are modernizing their nuclear arsenal by increasing the size, accuracy, range, and survivability of the nuclear arsenal and improving their warhead components as western strategic reports indicate. China's nuclear arsenal is in the midst of a rapid modernization program begun in the mid-1980s.[10]

An unfettered approach

The NPT is perhaps the most far-ranging disarmament agreement. This treaty was based on a bargain between states with nuclear weapons and those without. In Articles I and VI, the nuclear “haves” promise that they will not provide nuclear weapons technology to other states and that they will pursue nuclear disarmament. In Articles II and IV, the nuclear “have-nots” renounce the pursuit of nuclear weapons, accept safeguards, and are assured of access to peaceful nuclear technology. The Non- nuclear Weapon States have always invoked the Article IV, which states that it shall be “the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination…” and that “All the Parties to the Treaty undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.” [11]

Originally, the NPT was considered to be an instrument for preserving the status quo in the form of an exclusive club for nuclear powers of that time. But later, it was changed into a regime that was best characterized as “proliferation management” instead of non-proliferation! With this notion, Israel was allowed to enter the club although clandestinely and through the back door. [12] The non-nuclear weapon states while cognizant of the fact that stemming nuclear proliferation would be in their national security interest and a good reason to join the NPT, they did not accept that the treaty distinction between nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states should become permanent any more than they accepted that in forswearing nuclear weapons they would forfeit the “inalienable right” under Article IV of the treaty to “develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination…” The Article VI deals with disarmament. The non-nuclear weapons states are not satisfied that the weapons states have done enough to achieve nuclear disarmament. Although the NPT did not set out a timetable for achieving the goals of Article VI, but it was presumed and anticipated that as conditions in the international security environment permitted, progress would be made toward that end and that realization of nonproliferation objectives and success in efforts to stop the arms race would help to create the conditions for disarmament to proceed. On the other hand, as a condition for extending the NPT from 25 years to an indefinite term, some non-nuclear weapons states started in 1995 to press for a comprehensive test ban treaty (CTBT). In the NPT's preamble, a comprehensive test ban treaty is cited as something to be achieved, and the non-nuclear states say the time has come to achieve it.

Non-proliferation through control

The Security Council of the United Nations, while acknowledging that proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is a threat to international peace and security, on April, 2004 adopted a non-proliferation resolution (Resolution 1540) under Chapter VII of the Charter, in which all States would establish domestic controls to prevent the proliferation of such weapons and means of delivery, in particular for terrorist purposes, including by establishing appropriate controls over related materials, and adopt legislative measures in that respect.

The Council also decided that none of the obligations set forth in the resolution would be interpreted so as to conflict with or alter the rights and obligations of State parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention or alter the responsibilities of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Yet, at another level and by some developed countries different export control regimes have already been formed. The establishment of the export control regimes has been justified as playing a role in identifying key WMD and missile-related material, technology and appropriate approaches to control access to such items. Multilateral export control regimes--the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Zangger Committee, Missile Technology Control Regime, Australia Group, and Wassenaar Arrangement--are considered by the same logic as the second, important layer of the so-called nonproliferation defense. It is also claimed that as long as the demand for weapons of mass destruction persists, there will be relentless efforts to acquire the needed technologies on the international commercial market. Thus, it is argued that export controls help blunt those efforts and delay proliferation programs by regulating the use and supply of sophisticated, but dangerous, technologies that could contribute to the spread of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, as well as missile systems for the delivery of such weapons. However, this fact should not be ignored that a solution to weapons proliferation is considered to be political more than technical. This certainly goes beyond the question of uranium or other materials and technology availability. International pressure not to acquire weapons is enough to deter most states from developing a weapons program. The major risk of nuclear weapons proliferation will always lay with countries which have not joined the NPT and which have significant unsafe guarded nuclear activities, and those that have joined but disregard their treaty commitments. While safeguards apply to some nuclear activities in non-NPT countries, others remain outside the safeguards scrutiny.

Iran’s Nuclear Program

Iran signed the NPT in July 1968, and ratified it in February of 1970. Its full-scope Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA was signed in June 1973. Thereafter, Iran has been a faithful member of the NPT. Challenges against Iran’s nuclear program have grown substantially since late 2002 when Iran’s achievement in acquiring new technologies in the field of nuclear fuel cycle was disclosed. Some suspected that Iran have made the decision to develop a ‘breakout capability’, which will give it the option to leave the treaty in the future and complete a nuclear weapon within six months or a year. They maintain that as long as Iran has the inherent capability to produce nuclear weapons materials, be it by enriching uranium or reprocessing plutonium, it will have the option of following in the footsteps of North Korea withdrawing from the nonproliferation treaty, ousting the inspectors and finishing a bomb.

Iran has always maintained that its enrichment activities are perfectly legal and necessary in order to guarantee a supply of fuel to its reactors. Furthermore, Iran regards the pressure from the United States and the West to prevent it from having access to virtually all aspects of nuclear technology as a direct blow to its national pride. Iran also insists that it is in full compliance with the NPT and is, according to the Treaty, guaranteed the right to develop a full nuclear fuel cycle, including enrichment and reprocessing. Pointing to unjustified US pressures Iran stresses that in fact many other countries have exactly the same capabilities that they are developing, some of them with discrepancies in their past that was easily tolerated. Despite these arguments the pressure from the United States and the West to prevent Iran from having access to virtually all aspects of nuclear technology has continued.

The reality that has been often ignored by the critics is that Iran as a signatory of the NPT has also signed and permitted the implementation of the so-called Additional Protocol that allows more extensive inspection by the IAEA. There have been extensive inspections of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure that has been declared, and permission issued by Iranian government for check out of any convincing evidence of non-declared activities. Meantime, Iran is engaged in negotiations with the three European powers on this issue, and has voluntarily suspended its enrichment activities. Apparently European approach was based on two premises: first, that Iran's nuclear program is motivated primarily by nationalist ambitions to achieve world-class technological prowess; and second, that Tehran would ultimately relinquish the militarily applicable parts of its program in exchange for international assistance in developing the rest of its nuclear agenda. Iran on its part has embarked on the negotiations with the so-called EU3 to bolster confidence that was damaged due to some negligence in proper reporting some of its nuclear activities in the early 1990s. After all there is quite clear understanding that the fundamental issue is not of legal niceties but rather of trust and confidence.

Apparently, neither Europeans nor Americans have any doubt about the military character of the Iranian program, nor about the unacceptable threat does it pose not only to Israel, but also to security and stability in the entire Middle East.[13] Thus, the Europeans and the Americans have engaged in what could be seen as a delicately crafted "good cop, bad cop" routine in their nuclear negotiations with Iran. This dynamic has given the Europeans extra clout with Tehran by implying that if Iran failed to reach an agreement on the nuclear issue, the Europeans may not be able to curb U.S. interventionist proclivities. Thus, the prospect of U.S. unilateralism became a good ploy with which to a scare recalcitrant state.[14]

Unfortunately, in the US or European discussions of Iran's nuclear programs neither the economic nor the environmental, nor even the security of Iran's production of nuclear fuel is much figured. Both Europe and the United States' are now calling for a permanent suspension of Iran's fuel cycle. From Iran's vantage point, it makes perfect economic sense to produce nuclear fuel locally, at home, instead of being dependent on a more expensive foreign source. Estimates are that the Russian import of roughly 27 tons of nuclear fuel to Bushehr, for a one-year cycle, would cost more than double what it would cost to produce it at home, i.e., about US$25 million instead of $50 million. Nor is it prudent from the point of view of environmental safety to rely on long-distance shipments of the nuclear fuel and or the return of spent fuel, when the latter can be more safely deposited in Iran's vast deserts.[15]

On the other hand, the Bush administration's pursuit of Iran on its nuclear program is proving to become counter- productive, and even may become deadly dangerous. Through its exclusive targeting of Iran, leading perhaps to an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, the Bush administration is not making the world a safer place. The choice of the United States to ignore real and significant nuclear weapons development elsewhere other than Iran, for political reasons has far more serious consequences. The US has recently removed nuclear restrictions imposed upon India for their nuclear weapons program, and imposed no real sanctions upon Pakistan. It also continues to appease North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions. It has been silent on nuclear projects in Taiwan where decades-old nuclear program continues. This includes not only weapons development at the Chung Shan Institute, but also production of American Society for Mechanical Engineering Code Part III nuclear components at Kaioshung for nuclear programs throughout the world. Washigton is doing nothing about Brazil who is now defying the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regarding questions over its nuclear program. The same passive attitude by the Americans could be observed with regard to the South Korean enrichment efforts. Finally and most noteworthy is Israel’s robust nuclear weapons arsenal, with no word of disapproval from Washington.[16]

Furthermore, on the present approaches by the US and Europeans toward Iran’s nuclear program and its probable implications for the NPT the following observations have been made:

* There is no doubt that Iran has the scientific, technological and industrial base to produce weapons' grade uranium. But this is also true of many other signatories of the NPT, and those that do not belong to the so-called "nuclear weapons club".

* Given Iran's full compliance with the IAEA's intrusive Additional Protocol and the IAEA's unfettered access to civil and military sites there is no empirical evidence to support the US allegations that Iran is actively seeking weapons of mass destruction. The US administration should be pressed to produce the evidence it claims to have proving a large-scale Iranian nuclear weapons program.

* The outline of a realistic outcome to the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program could involve a combination of a contained, monitored enrichment program and economic and political integration of Iran with the West. [17]

*Any effort to halt Iran’s nuclear development is, in effect, an effort to revise drastically the terms of the NPT. At least, potential repercussions of a possible total collapse of the NPT regime, which has many extremely useful functions, in any single-minded efforts to solve the Iranian nuclear dilemma, should be seriously considered. [18]


The NPT as the most far-ranging disarmament agreement is facing new challenges that emanates from non-compliance by some member countries as well emergence of four nuclear states outside of the framework of this Treaty.

Major breakthrough in new technologies, on the one hand, and growing demand for nuclear energy in coming decades necessitates a fresh look at the problems ahead of nuclear proliferation. The discriminatory nature of the NPT, which was the reflection of the prevailing politics of the Cold War era, prevented the Treaty to become universal. At present, while Iran’s nuclear programs are under focus and at the eve of the NPT Conference next May many proposals have been presented in an apparent move to uphold this Treaty. Meantime, there are also some attempts by some states to curtail the rights of Non Nuclear States enshrined in the article IV of the NPT namely production of nuclear fuel or access to fuel cycle technology by any country except a few chosen countries. This unacceptable move could only be described as a new venture to create the second discriminatory club within the existing NPT regime. It seems that what is needed to uphold the NPT during the upcoming conference is a good faith by all members of international community to rectify the past shortcomings of the NPT and to adapt it with the new international security environment for reaching a world free from any kind of nuclear arms.


[1]- In the early days of the post Cold War a great optimism prevailed for nuclear disarmament. See, Nasser Saghafi-Ameri, “Prospects for Disarmament after the Cold War”, in Military Doctrines and military Reconstruction in Post-Confrontational Europe, International Forum, Charles University, Prague, 15-17 April 1993, p. 213-16.

[2]-See,” Reforming the National Security System: Recommendations of the Group of Ministers”, February 2001, Government of India, New Delhi, No. 8.

[3]-See, Nasser Saghafi-Ameri, “The Nuclear Arms Race between India and Pakistan: Iran’s Outlook and Future Policies,” Political and Economic Ettela’at, Nos. 129-130, June-July 1998, pp. 149-150.

[4]- Rupert Cornwell, “America still holds 480 nuclear weapons in Europe”, Independent News, Feb 10, 2005.

[5]- AFP, Feb 1, 2005.

[6]- Iran News, October 24, 2004 quoted from RIA Novosti-Moscow.

[7]- The Times, 28 October 2003.

[8]- Available at as retrieved on 26 Feb 2005.

[9]- Available at as retrieved on 18 Jan 2005.

[10]- Available at as retrieved on 21 Feb 2005.

[11]-Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, signed July 1, 1968, entered into force March 5, 1970.

[12]- Nasser Saghafi-Ameri, “Iran’s Nuclear Program: The Question of Non-Proliferation”, Discourse –An Iranian Quarterly, Vol 5, No2, Fall2005, p.76-7.

[13]- See, Jean Francois Poncet, “The case for negotiating with the mullahs”, International Herald Tribune, February 19, 2005.

[14]- Mohammad Ayoob, “What trans- Atlantic crisis? - U.S. & Europe, Inc.

[15]- Cited in Kaveh L Afrasiabi, “The peace pipe's on the table”, Asia Times Online, Feb 23,2005.

[16]- William O. Beeman, Donald A. Weadon, “Iran as Bush's nuclear bogeyman”, San Francisco Chronicle September 30.

[17]- See, Statement of Dr. Gary Sick before the Committee on International Relations of the US House of Representatives on U.S. Policy toward Iran, February 16, 2005.

[18]- Ibid.