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This article has been written by Shoronya Banerjee from Amity University, Kolkata. This article talks about the true significance of the Non-Proliferation Treaty through the years and India’s stance on it. 


Given the Cold War arms race and consequences of nuclear war, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), an agreement was signed in 1968 which was more like an oath of assurance promoting arms control and laying a future path of possibilities for international cooperation between major nuclear and several non-nuclear states to prevent further nuclear proliferation. The goal of arms control and reduction was the only binding aspect in the multilateral treaty amongst the nuclear-weapon states. Its permanent five members- United States, Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom are considered as the nuclear-weapon states (NWS) and the other members are considered to be the non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS).

The facets of the treaty are reviewed in five-yearly meetings by its members trying to trace and establish the success or failure of the progress in nuclear non-proliferation by reviewing the whole process. Yet the main controversy remains on whether the permanent five members in association with the Treaty Article VI had fulfilled their duty to mediate and arrange in good faith to effectively halt the nuclear arms race and attain nuclear arms control. Debating upon the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, the NNWS argued upon the safeguards mentioned in Article III putting them at an unfavorable position in contrast to that of the States who weren’t signatories to the Treaty, as they could import nuclear materials and equipment without any accountability or relating their peaceful activities to the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. Regarding the Treaty, India yet stood by its stance of not becoming a signatory to it. 

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  • Pre-treaty scenario

In the face of the cold war, as the Limited Test Ban Treaty was signed by the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union in 1963, it was expected from both the nations to formulate a more broad and exhaustive agreement on arms control after the world had to witness the Cuban missile crisis, attacks on Pearl Harbour, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atom bombings and so on along with the rapid gain of nuclear arms and threat of a disastrous nuclear war at the brink of Cold war. Both the nations had agreed and acquired an interest in indulging in negotiations about agreements for establishing control on the arms race and limiting competition concerning strategic weapon development, given the exorbitant costs involved in the development of nuclear power and the continuing arms race. In a matter of four years, the two superpowers agreed upon their first treaty, Outer Space Treaty even for preventing the distribution of nuclear weapon systems as satellites in space. They also settled on concluding with the articulation of an international non-proliferation treaty. 

  • The idea behind the treaty

During the 1960s, nuclear weapons technology developed along with nations taking such a task to develop their nuclear weapons and power. The science of fusing atoms, explosions, bombings, etc started gaining attention worldwide as it reached masses with the help of academic journals and development in technology. It was no longer a unique sphere requiring the sole attention of governments, it was taken up by private companies as well. It was soon decided that countries who had tested their nuclear powers would be regarded as sole nuclear-weapon States in the world and it was established that the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom, who were known to have nuclear capabilities during or post Second World War would be the nuclear powers. But France had carried out its first nuclear explosion in 1960 along with the People’s Republic of China being close enough to doing it as well, and several countries being technologically developed enough to build their weapons soon.

While the only countries to carry out nuclear strikes were the United States, United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union, it was possible to stop the other states from nuclear arms control by promising retaliation and threatening mutually assured destruction, therefore, giving immense importance to the doctrine of deterrence and its work. This was a strong cause of action put forth for avoiding or preventing the beginning of a nuclear war. But it was also taken in for deliberation the fact that arms gain and race of developing nations could influence the balance of power between the two superpowers, with nuclear capabilities and disarray the system of deterrence leaving it threatened. Also, countries with border disputes could attack each other with nuclear weapons leading to a great and destructive war with consequences faced globally, which in the case made nuclear states hesitant towards opening their work and findings related to nuclear power and their technology for the developing nations, even if it was for peaceful use. These instances, in turn, led to the interest of nations worldwide in formulating a nuclear non-proliferation treaty for helping prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. This treaty along with its benefits came with the aspect of controversies. 

  • Post 1960s

Ireland in the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1961 had put forth a proposal of instilling a ban on gain and distribution of nuclear technology for the first time. Even after getting the approval for resolution, it was in 1965 when the actual negotiations began in course of the Geneva Disarmament Conference. The United States tried to work towards successfully preventing the spread and transfer of their knowledge and technology regarding nuclear power as settled with the Soviet Union along with strengthening its North Atlantic Treaty Organization( NATO) relations and forming allies by providing some sort of control over nuclear weapons for the allies. But to have a working non-proliferation treaty, the plan for a nuclear NATO was in course of time deserted and left behind. Nevertheless, this still had to face a problem of making non-nuclear nations agree with getting involved and signing the planned treaty which basically meant that the nations which had not even dwelled into the field or developed any nuclear weapons technology would have to give up all intentions of doing so at any time. Such an agreement with no non-nuclear powers as a part of it would indicate or produce proper results of limitations on the worldwide nuclear powers. 

  • Final treaty

It took two years of negotiations, acknowledgement, compromises and deals for persuading the non-nuclear powers to become a part of the treaty and sign it. The final treaty consisted of several provisions from controlling the escalation of technology related to nuclear weapons. There were safeguards as per the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) applied in association with the non-proliferation treaty. Signatories had also agreed to contribute in forming and developing a peaceful nuclear technology along with putting an end to the nuclear arms race. It was also agreed that the treaty had a time limit of twenty five years along with the provision mentioning it being reviewed at intervals of every five years. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty even in the current years is considered to be an important step and good effort for reducing the risk of spreading nuclear weapons. Of the non-nuclear states, Pakistan, Israel, India, North Korea and South Sudan had refused to adhere to this treaty and toss the prospect of protecting their countries and limiting their own future nuclear programs as they were quite close to becoming capable of generating such technology and utilising it.

India’s first Nuclear test-Pokhran-I (Smiling Buddha), in 1974, during which Mrs. Indira Gandhi was the Prime minister of India, was claimed to be a “peaceful nuclear explosion” and not in violation of pre-existing treaties, it promoted nuclear safety and guarantee of security even after refusing to sign the treaty.

The objective of the treaty

The non-proliferation treaty put together at the height of the cold war was an agreement whereby countries without nuclear weapons would accept to not go further with their development of nuclear power in exchange for knowledge of technology from the nuclear- weaponized countries. It had set up a few objectives to stop further proliferation of weapons, such as:

  1. Considered to be an essential groundwork infrastructure for preventing further proliferation. It aims at promoting cooperation regarding working with nuclear energy as well because in exchange for the disarmament of the non-nuclear weapon state, it promises to exchange progressive knowledge of nuclear weapons technology. To put the treaty in action, several negotiations and compromises done had also shown the aim of promoting peaceful working with such technology without any harm caused. Initially, there was Article V of the treaty that authorised non-nuclear weapon state’s access to nuclear weapon State’s Research and Development on the nuclear weapon technology and benefits associated with it peacefully. But with time this lost relevance as peaceful nuclear explosions were reduced.
  2. In the face of the cold war, since the world had witnessed disasters caused by nuclear power and weapons, the two superpowers had agreed upon preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, further making it an important or rather one of the most important objectives of the treaty.
  3. To expand the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament is an important objective furthered by several articles of the treaty. Article IV of the treaty accepts and recognises the inherent right of states to research and establish the use of nuclear energy for non-weapons purposes. Exchange of nuclear-related information and technology between the states is also accepted.
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Main signatories

The Second World War had come to an end by showing the whole world how disastrous nuclear power could turn out to be with the atom bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Now, in the face of the cold war, the United States of America and the Soviet Union along with the United Kingdom were the only states to have tested their nuclear power till that time and therefore understood the essentiality and true importance of effectuating disarmament of nuclear weapons for saving the world from witnessing another catastrophe. The idea of a non-proliferation treaty was put forth, but again through this, the three main powerful countries wanted to save their nuclear power and arms and limit the widespread use of it for somewhere it wanted to preserve its superior status and also do away with threats from other countries under the covers of a threat to the whole world. After several deals and negotiations, the treaty was signed, and even developing and underdeveloped nations became a part of it. An important feature of this treaty was that in intervals of five years, review meetings had to be carried out. 

  • At the first review conference in May 1975, the treaty got support from 91 parties. It had three main signatories, the three Nuclear Weapon States (NWS), Soviet Union, United States of America, and the United Kingdom alongside most of the Eastern and Western block countries. It discussed views, objectives, implementation of terms, and conditions of the treaty. The dissatisfaction of the NNWS with the one-sided implementation of the treaty was brought under light and if the NWS had met their obligations under article VI of the treaty.
  •  Second review conference saw 112 parties to the treaty.
  • Third review conference of 1985, saw the presence of 131 parties.
  • The fourth review conference with 140 parties was followed by South Africa acceding to the treaty after having accepted that it had built 6 nuclear devices but all were disassembled before joining the accord.
  • In 1992, China became the 144th state party who acceded to the treaty.
  • Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine had signed the Lisbon Protocol with further acceptance of joining the NPT as non-nuclear-weapon states.
  • The 1995 Review and Extension Conference had welcomed new signatories such as China and France, South Africa, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. There were already 178 members. 
  • The permanent five members being USA, UK, France, Russia and China, India till date stands as a non-signatory of the treaty. 

Why is India not willing to be a signatory?

In consideration of it being a partial and prejudicial legal instrument, India had refused to sign the Non-proliferation treaty and in the process attracted a lot of attention for it even after being dependent on superpowers for economic aid, technological aid had refused to be a part of the treaty and establish an independent status in terms of the civil nuclear strategy. In 1967, when this treaty was formulated and signed, only the permanent five member countries had established nuclear power and tested their nuclear weapons before 1970, thereafter, legally considering them as per Article I of the treaty to be the only nuclear-weapon states with the authority to maintain its nuclear weapons, however the other members, the non-nuclear-weapon states even after having nuclear power could not be recognised as nuclear-weapon states and with regard to the terms of the treaty would have to give upon its nuclear powers and its future plans officially, as enshrined in articles II and IV of the treaty. 

The limitations put forth by the articles II and IV would obstruct the future policies required to be formulated and enforced for the welfare of the country. With surrounding neighbours like Pakistan and China pursuing and restoring nuclear power and weapons, India giving up on its nuclear power status, and guards to protect the nation, would be like a suicidal mission. It is a deterrent in the face of a regional nuclear threat. India has claimed the treaty to be outdated and flawed and has also upheld its claim for the members to accept new NWS as its permanent members. China even after being a NWS has overridden NPT objectives by extending nuclear cooperation to Pakistan in 2010.

Even after being known as a nuclear weapons-capable state, India slowly developed its nuclear power until 1998 during which India controlled, operated and organised several explosive tests. China had also blocked India’s permanent membership to the United Nations Security Council for not having signed the NPT. India although a non-signatory of the Non-proliferation Treaty, undertakes voluntary measures and steps to guarantee and ensure strong nuclear export control and is devoted to voluntary, unilateral moratorium with regard to nuclear testing. 

Should it be a signatory?(Whether it is a boon or bane) 

India, along with Pakistan and Israel, being a non-signatory of the treaty was something that went against the objective of the treaty to try and effectuate reduction in the arms race and rapid disarmament. India’s formal pledge of not sharing sensitive nuclear technology or material with other countries, abiding by the conditions of halting the testing of nuclear weapons whenever required, and remaining a non-signatory of the NPT is indeed a point of eminence for the country. Not being a signatory as a non-nuclear weapon state is somewhere a boon for the country as how could India after being surrounded by a nuclear superpower country China and Pakistan weaponised with nuclear power voluntarily give up one facet of protection and safeguard. The faulty NPT when placing a bargain of knowledge of technology and material required for nuclear projects in place of disarmament and stop in the growth of nuclear power of non-nuclear states put forth and clearly shows the bias towards the permanent five members of the treaty, who legally can be weaponized with nuclear arms. It would somewhere be a bad decision for India to give up its freedom in terms of nuclear power and weapons and stand unguarded with her forever disputes with China and Pakistan.

Talking about the nuclear supplier’s group where all 48 supplier members take all decisions unanimously, somewhere India doesn’t have any material gains from it which the 2008’s one-time waiver on civil nuclear trade did not give to India. This waiver also makes sure that India can access technology. Also, the Atomic Energy Commission has issued statements on how India can live without NSG membership. Also with Mr. Trump as the president, his inconsideration towards a civil nuclear deal and not dealing on anything outside USA’s interest shows how pointless it would be to acquire membership of NSG and give up its non-signatory status about the NPT. 


The Treaty, a foundation of the global nuclear non-proliferation initiative has been used to build confidence among state parties. The safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is something with which every state party has to comply with alongside promoting peaceful nuclear technology and equal access to it.

Even though India is a non-signatory of the agreement, March 2006 saw the signing of an agreement between India and USA to ensure India’s participation in international commerce in nuclear fuel and equipment on the deal of India putting the country’s nuclear power reactors under IAEA safeguards and allowing India to reprocess USA’s and other foreign-sourced nuclear fuel at a new national plant based on IAEA safeguards. This was considered to be “an important step towards satisfying India’s growing need for energy, including nuclear technology and fuel, as an engine for development”, bringing the country close to the non-proliferation regime.

The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) formed with time is considered to be controlling trade in nuclear fuel and technology with the consensus of 48 members. Along with participants like Argentina, Luxembourg, Germany, Finland, etc, it aims to prevent nuclear exports for commercial purposes from being used to make nuclear weapons. NSG members are expected to abandon nuclear trade with governments that do not have faith in international inspections. NSG allows non-members of the NPT to join as well which again fails to enforce the promise of the NPT. The question of allowing India as a member of NSG is yet a topic of debate highly unsupported by China.



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