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 You are in: Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security > Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) > Releases > Fact Sheets > 2001
Fact Sheet
Bureau of Nonproliferation
Washington, DC
October 19, 2001

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT): Accomplishments and Challenges

Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons
Signed at Washington, London, Moscow, July 1,1968
Ratification Advised by U.S. Senate, March 13, 1969
Ratified by U.S. president on November 24, 1969
Entered into force, March 5, 1970


From the earliest days of the nuclear era, the need to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons was self-evident. Early post-World War II and subsequent Cold War attempts to establish international control over fissile material and to prevent the spread of these weapons failed. By 1964 four countries in addition to the United States possessed nuclear weapons: the then Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and China. It was becoming evident that technical and material obstacles to developing nuclear weapons were not insurmountable. This development, coupled with the fact that many countries were building and operating nuclear power plants and other types of research reactors, made the possibility of nuclear materials diversion a real possibility. The possibility that nuclear conflict could come about by accident, unauthorized use, or escalation of regional crises would be greatly increased. Thus came the intense efforts, led largely by the United States, to negotiate and conclude the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) from 1964-1968.

Accomplishments and Challenges

Strengthening the NPT was a very important nonproliferation success for the United States during the 1990s. In 1995, after 25 years of operation, the NPT faced a critical test whether to extend the Treaty's duration "indefinitely...or for an additional fixed period or periods." Many predicted that securing indefinite and unconditional extension was not doable. As a result of a massive diplomatic effort organized and led by the United States on May 11,1995, the NPT states parties agreed that the Treaty would continue in force permanently. This reinforced support for global nuclear nonproliferation norms, despite the challenges posed by the NPT violations embodied in Iraq's and North Korea's clandestine nuclear programs.

Five years later, many said the 2000 NPT Review Conference would be less than successful. The naysayers were proved wrong when the May 2000 NPT Review Conference adopted by consensus a Final Document that reviewed NPT implementation over the past five years and established an action program for the future. This was the first NPT Review Conference to achieve such a final document since 1985. Despite dire predictions to the contrary, the NPT emerged from these Conferences stronger than ever. Today only four states remain outside the Treaty (Cuba, India, Israel, and Pakistan). U.S. leadership made success possible in both NPT Review Conferences and during the intervening years.

As an example of strengthening the NPT, the United States sought and achieved the total denuclearization of Soviet successor states Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan and their accession to the NPT as non-nuclear weapon states. The U.S. used the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) legislation and Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund (NDF), established by the Freedom Support Act, to leverage safe and secure dismantlement of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and their associated infrastructure in these three countries and in Russia. In addition to dramatically reducing the danger from aspirant proliferants, the accession of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine to the NPT as non-nuclear weapons states helped pave the way for entry into force of the START I Treaty in December 1994 and ultimately a significant reduction in the deployed strategic nuclear forces of the United States and the republics of the former Soviet Union.

Other significant accessions to the NPT during the 1990s include South Africa, China, France, Argentina, and Brazil. South Africa offers another example of denuclearization as it dismantled several nuclear weapons and placed the fissile material under IAEA safeguards prior to joining the NPT. China and France, defined as nuclear weapon states under the NPT, had long kept the Treaty at arms length, but recognized the importance of their participation and acceded in 1992. Argentina and Brazil placed their entire nuclear programs under IAEA safeguards prior to joining the NPT in 1995 and 1998, respectively.

Between 1993 and the present, the United States worked closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to develop the NPT Strengthened Safeguards system. This effort was roused by the discovery of Iraq's clandestine nuclear weapons development program in the early 1990s. Initially, steps were taken under existing IAEA authority to improve safeguards. This was followed by IAEA Board approval in 1997 of a Model Additional Safeguards Protocol, which defined a more intrusive and strengthened nuclear safeguards system designed to discover and thwart covert nuclear weapons development. The U.S. signed the Protocol in June 1998 -- the first nuclear weapons state to do so. To date, 58 states have concluded Additional Protocols with the IAEA and 21 have entered into force.

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