NPT TV - FAQ: Introduction to the NPT
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FAQ: Introduction to the NPT

A hands-on introduction to the nuclear people's world

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), May 7


1.  The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)
2.  RevCon: Cycle, PrepComs, role, participants
3.  Three decisions of 1995 RevCon
4.  13 steps of 2000 RevCon
6.  Article IV : civil use
7.  Article VI: disarmament
8.  International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
9.  IAEA-Safeguards and Additional Protocols
10.  Iran’s nuclear program
11.  Comprehensive Test-Ban-Treaty (CTBT)
12.  Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT)
13.  Universality
14. Negative Security Assurances
15. Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
16. Nuclear Weapons Convention
17. 2010 US Nuclear Posture Review
18. NATO Nuclear Sharing

The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) what this is all about. Signed in 1968 it entered into force in 1970, with 189 of 192 countries having signed up to it (188 since North Korea left it in 2003). In essence, the treaty contains a prohibition for Non-Nuclear Weapon States (NNWS) to acquire nuclear weapons. This is a major intrusion into the sovereign equality of states under international law, the discriminating element of the NPT: while it is OK for some to have nuclear weapons, others cannot acquire them. In order to lure states, reluctant to give up parts of their sovereignty, into the treaty, article IV contains provisions on technical cooperation in the development of civil nuclear energy, while article VI states a commitment by Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) to eventually abolish nuclear weapons (article VI, NPT).
View the treaty here.
A general overview of the NPT is provided here .
And the perspective of a former NWS commander!

Here is a list of basic videos introducing the NPT


RevCon: cycle, preps, role, participants

The NPT does not have a permanent secretariat or international organization for day-to-day work, which is why monitoring is taken care of by the IAEA, while all political questions surrounding the NPT and its interpretation are left to Review Conferences, which are held in a 5-year cycle. In the 3 years leading up to a RevCon, a Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) is held in three sessions in order to have details sorted out ahead of the actual RevCon, e.g. a provisional agenda, rules of procedure and chair.
All 188 states party to the treaty participate at RevCons, with only few Small Island Development States renouncing.

The RevCons have the power, by consensus, to adopt a final document setting the framework for further actions, interpretation or amendments to the treaty, e.g. suspending article V on peaceful nuclear explosions. There has been controversies as to the binding nature of final documents, as they are political rather than legal documents. On the other hand, decisions as to whether or not implement international law are themselves heavily politicized questions, shedding a different light on the enforceability of even legally binding final documents.
In 1995, the treaty was extended indefinitely (after an initial limitation to 25 years), as part of the 3 decision of ’95; in 2000, 13 steps were adopted as a roadmap towards nuclear disarmament. The discussions for changes in 2010 include regulations for withdrawal from the treaty (western countries state that only states in compliance with their NPT-obligations should be eligible to leave), further and more concrete (verifiable) steps toward disarmament, the wish by the west to make additional protocols the compliance standard for all states party to the NPT, Iran’s wish to ban states that threaten to use nuclear weapons (i.e. the US) from the IAEA-Board of Governors, among others.
Watch also Beatrice Fihn’s introduction,, expectations as well as her view on key players of the RevCon.

All Videos about the ongoing RevCon are provided in the topics section.

The three decisions of 1995

The decisions of 1995 and the 13 steps of 2000 were reaffirmed in the unanimously adopted final document of the 2010 Review Conference on 28 May 2010. This is important since the steps themselves did not include provisions on their implementation’s monitoring, while the 2010 Final Doc does.

Reaching the three decisions was only possible as part of a ‘New Grand Bargain’, with NWS being very interested in assuring extension of the treaty.

1. Unlimited extension of the treaty (NNWS lose the leverage the threat to let the treaty and its non-proliferation effects expire gave them. In return, NNWS reaffirm commitment to article VI and to interpret the article as mandating complete nuclear disarmament, as well as with a resolution on the goal of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, i.e. an unusually explicit acknowledgement of Israel’s nuclear arsenal, whose mention had thus far been blocked by the US.)

2.  “Strengthening the review process”: three Preparatory Committees, three Main Committees in RevCons, one RevCon every five years and subsidiary bodies to be established as needed are intended to strengthen the review process, including an evaluation of past implementation to improve it.

3. Reaffirmation of principles and objectives: Negotiate and finalize a CTBT by 1996 (successful), universality (i.e. that all states should sign up to the NPT), non-proliferation, encouraging Nuclear Weapons Free Zones, Negative Security Assurances welcomed (UN-SC Resolution 984, 1995), and hold-outs to implement IAEA-Safeguards, as well as reconfirmation of peaceful uses of nuclear energy as an inalienable right.
See the full 1995 NPT Review Conference Package of Decisions on the Reaching Critical Will-website.

13 steps

The 13 steps of 2000 are a road map toward a nuclear weapons free world. While their binding (legal) nature was called into doubt by the US’ Bush-administration in 2005, they have been consensually reaffirmed at the 2010 RevCon. They are as follows:

1. Sign the Comprehensive-Nuclear Test‐Ban Treaty (CTBT) (pending)
2. Stop Testing (done)
3. Negotiate towards a non-discriminatory, multilateral and internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material (FMCT, stuck since 1996)
4. Establish a subsidiary body in the Conference on Disarmament (CD, a Geneva-based UN body) dealing with nuclear disarmament
5. Respect the principle of irreversibility (no going back)
6. Abolish existing Nuclear Weapons (Article VI)
7. Implement START I (expired since), START II (never ratified), New START (ratified in 2011), and the Anti-Ballistic-Missile Treaty (ABM – the Bush-administration instead withdrew from the treaty in 2002)
8. Declare stockpiles of excessive military fissile materials
9. Unilateral reductions of arsenals, increased transparency, de-alerting (and disassembling), diminished role in national security doctrines, launching a process leading to the abolition of nuclear weapons
10. Weapons grade material (highly enriched uranium with over 80% of U235 (HEU) as well as Plutonium) to be put under IAEA control
11. General and complete disarmament as the ultimate objective
12. Regular reports by all states on the implementation of articles IV & VI
13. Development of verification capabilities (as well as further confidence building measures)

See the original 2000 Final Document on the Reaching Critical Will-website.


The Nuclear Weapon States (NWS, as opposed to NNWS, Non-Nuclear Weapon States) include, in the order of the number of their warheads: Russia, the United States, France, China, Great Britain, Israel (though officially undeclared), India, Pakistan and North Korea (the latter four not being parties to the NPT). They share a strong emphasis on non-proliferation (articles I & II) and a reluctance to disarm, their sole commitment under the NPT.

Videos on Nuclear Weapon States and Israel’s nukes are provided here in the topics-section

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is the biggest group of states in the NPT, originally composed by states that had aligned with neither the communist nor the capitalist block during the Cold War, and are now composed mostly of emerging and middle income countries keen to strengthen civil use cooperation (article IV) and rather reluctant to take on further commitments in non-proliferation, seen as undermining their rights under article IV.

The New Agenda Coalition (NAC) is a group of like-minded states who pursue progressive disarmament-policies. They provide many working papers and have a constructive approach towards Global Zero. Member states are Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovenia, South Africa, and Sweden, thus transcending alliances and regions.

The Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) is the newest of the initiatives, formed in 2010. It emphasizes disarmament and, equally, non-proliferation, since one is a precondition for the other. The NPDI works through ministerial meetings and joint working papers as well as statements, signed by Australia, Canada, Chile, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

The European Union gives a united statement in the General Assembly (delivered by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Lady Catherine Ashton), though the positions of the various member states can hardly be reconciled in nuclear matters, as the EU includes two NWS (France and the UK) as well as members of the NAC and the NPDI.

See also the topics section on state dynamics in state alliances


Article IV: civil use

Civil use of nuclear energy constitutes an unalienable right of every state. NWS are asked to provide assistance for NNWS in achieving the potential of peaceful nuclear programs:

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. Parties to the Treaty in a position to do so shall also cooperate in contributing alone or together with other States or international organizations to the further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes […]

- Article VI, NPT

Videos concerning nuclear energy generation and its risks can be found in the civil and dual-use topics-section: a controversial way to boil water

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Article VI: disarmament

“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to 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 under strict and effective international control.”

- Article VI, NPT

Watch the Obama-effect on disarmament.

Global Zero are gathered here in the topics-section

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The International Atomic Energy Agency, an international body independent of but reporting to the UN, monitors NNWS’ compliance with the treaty through Comeprehensive Safeguard Agreements, bilateral treaties to be signed between states and the IAEA. The IAEA gives technical assistance with the development of peaceful nuclear programs and monitors these in order to avoid materials being diverted for military purposes. The IAEA is supposed to be a technical, non-political body, but has a rather politicized Board of Governors, as it is composed by ambassadors to the IAEA. In its fact-sheet in preparation of the 2010 RevCon, the IAEA states that both Iran and Syria are currently not in compliance with their Safeguards-obligations, while it has become increasingly vocal about Iranian incompliance since a November 2011 report, based largely on undisclosed intelligence provided by some member states, which Iran builds upon to rebuke the allegations as politically motivated. 

IAEA-Safeguards and Additional Protocols

Article III paragraph 2 of the NPT states that certain substances and materials may be delivered only to states implementing safeguards, and will trigger safeguards if exported (the so-called Trigger-list is compiled by the Zangger-committee, an amplified version of which is used by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the NSG). IAEA-Safeguards are bilateral treaties states sign with the IAEA and provide the legal basis for the IAEA’s inspections. These include detailed accounts of nuclear materials entering and leaving NNWS’ civilian nuclear facilities, physical protection of the stored nuclear material and surveillance by seals and (partially) CCTV-cameras.

Additional Protocols go further in their requirements and were meant as a confidence building measure when introduced in 1993. They empower the IAEA to carry out spontaneous inspections, even in undeclared facilities, and take samples of any materials. The EU and Canada want to see Additional Protocols as the NPT compliance standard, which is opposed by most NAM states and stands no realistic chance of being achieved in the absence of far-reaching disarmament concessions. As of 2010, 133 countries have signed them, of which 104 are implementing them.


Iran joined the NPT in 1970, under the Shah-regime, and soon undertook a civil nuclear program with US-backing. After the revolution in 1979, construction on facilities (and payments) by western firms are halted and damaged during the war against Iraq. During the 1990ies, Russian companies begin an effort to rebuild the reactor in Bushehr.

In 2002/03 it became clear that Iran had failed to declare materials as well as facilities in Arak and Natanz, a great blow to international confidence in their nuclear program. In 2003 additional protocols were signed, but not ratified, yet implemented, enrichment activity was also paused. In 2005, enrichment started over, while in 2006 the IAEA Board of Governors referred the case to the UN Security Council, which declares it illegal for Iran to continue enriching. Iran denounced the referral to the UNSC itself as illegal and pledged to ignore the resolution, while discontinuing its additional protocols. As a reaction, the UNSC imposes a first of four rounds of economic sanctions (as of 2010). In 2007 and 2009, National Intelligence Estimates (produced by the consensus of the US’ 16 intelligence agencies) sees Iran as being at least 3 years from a breakthrough capability. An allegedly Iranian official’s laptop examined by the IAEA in 2010 revealed Iran’s enrichment capabilities to be limited to 20% (roughly 90% is needed for weapons). The new enrichment facility in Qom is thought to be enrich to higher. Nonetheless, Iran has encountered serious problems with its centrifuges, delayed by months or years in part by assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists and the most sophisticated ever computer virus, Stuxnet, which was designed to penetrate Iranian enrichment facilities and spin centrifuges to maximum and out of control while having controls simulate normal monitoring activity.

Iran aches under the discriminatory nature of the NPT, with its president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeatedly asking while NWS should possess them if they could not. Yet under the rules of the NPT, Iran has no right whatsoever to acquire nuclear weapons. This is not disputed by Iran, which has consistently denied the existence of a military dimension to its nuclear program, yet sometimes underlined they could, if they wanted to. The supreme leader Ali Khamenei has repeatedly emphasized an Islamic fatwa forbidding nuclear weapons.

Yet it is understandable that Iran feels a threat from Israel, its nuclear armed regional counterpart, while Israel fears Iran due to its president’s anti-Zionist and at times anti-Semite rhetoric.
Israeli politicians are for the most part convinced that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has, since 2011, repeatedly resorted to rhetoric implying a return of the Nazi holocaust through the Iranian regime. While much of the world is persuaded Israel would not act alone, the US is preoccupied about preventing an Israeli air-strike on Iranian facilities while the Obama-administration is still trying to make the diplomacy-card work. Furthermore, a pre-emptive strike short of regime change is thought to bolster anyone within the Iranian regime arguing in favor of the deterrent benefit of nuclear weapons for the sake of the regime’s security.

Suspicious elements of Iran’s program include the sheer number of announced enrichment facilities, Iran’s stubbornness in enriching and limiting the IAEA’s access, a constant back-and-forth in negotiations (which is matched by the P5+1’s approach). Furthermore, Iran avidly pursues a missile program (it already has mid-range ballistic missiles), with intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) either to be used to launch satellites into orbit (as the regime claims), or to deliver nuclear warheads (ICBMs are far too inefficient to use with conventional weapons due to their limited payload), a classic dual-use problem.

Iran actually has a right to every means of help and cooperation with its civil nuclear program under article IV, NPT. But Iran only enjoys this right as long as it is in compliance with IAEA-Safeguards, which it is, according to the IAEA itself, no longer. For an up-to-date analysis on the Iranian nuclear program, see the British American Security Information Council’s Iran Update.

“If he [Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] brings some good constructive proposal in resolving the Iranian nuclear issue, that will be helpful, the onus is on you, and you have not satisfied the requirements of the international community that your nuclear development program is for peaceful purposes, as you claim.”

- Ban Ki-moon, UN-Secretary General


Videos concerning the Iranian nuclear program are provided here in the topics-section

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The Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty has been opened to ratification in 1996, as demanded in the 1995 RevCon decisions, but the Republican-majority US-senate has failed to ratify it in spite of the democratic president Clinton’s signing. China and many others have not ratified it either, but are widely believed to do so as soon as the US’ resistance is overcome. President Obama has pledged in his historic speech in Prague that he will undertake to have the US senate ratify the CTBT, which was scheduled for 2011 but postponed as of 2012. The CTBTO, the treaty’s organization, is based in Vienna and is pursuing its work as a “Preparatory Commission”, due to the need for entry into force of the treaty prior to the founding of the organization. Still, its International Monitoring System is already operational, including, once completed, 170 seismic monitoring stations, 11 hydro-acoustic stations, 60 infra-red stations and 80 radio-nuclide stations all pursuing the aim of monitoring nuclear activities carried out in breach of the treaty. It is today virtually impossible to conduct an undetected nuclear detonation. The systems partly publish their findings online and have been used for the monitoring of earth- and seaquakes, most notably during the tsunami of 2004.
See also our -interview with Jean Du Preez of the CTBTO.

All Videos on the CTBT are gathered here in the dedicated topics-section


The Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty is a proposed treaty aiming at stopping all weapons-grade enrichment of Uranium as well as the separation of Plutonium from spent fuels. This way, the production of new fissile materials and the inherent proliferation-risk is thought to be diminished. A call for a FMCT is included in the 13 steps of the 2000 RevCon and is considered to be a valuable part of any comprehensive, incremental strategy towards a world free of nuclear weapons. Obama has called for a FMCT in his famous Prague speech, yet the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, tasked with negotiating it, has not had a program of work since 1996, stalling on precisely that issue. Pakistan is blocking, which China is rather comfortable with.


Treaties such as the NPT need to be universal in order to carry out their purpose, especially if complete worldwide disarmament is to be achieved. India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea are currently the last hold-outs not parties to the treaty. Yet in order to enter, they would have to dismantle all of their nuclear weapons, as they could only join as NNWS: the treaty defines as an official NWS only such states that carried out nuclear tests prior to January 1967. This is supposed to keep states from withdrawing from the treaty as NNWS and re-entering as NWS. However, it also means that universality cannot be achieved in the short term, as the continuing tensions between Israel and Iran, Pakistan and India and the two Koreas respectively linger on, which has made many call for a Nuclear Weapons Convention to side-step this constraint.

Negative Security Assurances

NSA should be a self-evident pledge of the NWS towards the NNWS. If a discriminatory treaty such as the NPT keeps states from acquiring “adequate” protection from nuclear weapons, than these states should not have to fear be confronted with such horrendous threats altogether. All NWS have expressed some kind of security assurance. Still, no country has proclaimed one as comprehensive and progressive as the People’s Republic of China, which has even given Positive Security Assurances (PSA) to any state, by that declaring it will assist NNWS that fall victim of a nuclear attack. The US have, with Obama’s Nuclear Posture Review of 6th April 2010, made a considerable improvement to their NSA, stating they would not use nuclear weapons against NNWS, but making some significant exceptions: states not party to the NPT (Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea), states in breach of their NPT-obligations (Iran, Syria) and states that carry out severe chemical or biological attacks on US-soil. However, such constraints have traditionally been employed to urge states to adhere to the NPT.

NSAs would constitute major confidence-building measures and strengthen non-proliferation.
See also UN-SC Resolution 984 of 1995 on the issue of NSAs.

Nuclear Weapon Free Zones

are explicitly encouraged by the treaty. Zones have been established in South America, in Southeastern Asia, Mongolia (a one-country NWFZ), Central Asia (primarily former soviet republics), the South Pacific and Oceania (including Australia and New Zealand) as well as Africa (a de-facto NWFZ, which has not been ratified by all states of the region). The establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East (and thus the acknowledgement that someone, namely Israel, so far have nuclear weapons) is part of the outcomes of the 1995 RevCon, but without making further progress. Expectations concerning a conference on the WMD-free zone in the Middle East scheduled for 2012 in Finland as part of the 2010 Final Document’s Action Plan are generally very low, and Israel is likely not participating.
NWFZ are supposed to be recognized by NWS, extending additional guarantees against the potential use, threat of use or stationing of nuclear weapons. NWFZ are part of the incremental approach to nuclear disarmament, progressively covering much of the world (and the whole southern hemisphere, for instance).

Find all videos on NWFZ in our topics-section here

Nuclear Weapons Convention

The NWC is one of the hot topics for civil society, since it is thought to be the most direct way toward a Global Zero. It is an envisioned convention banning nuclear weapons, just as the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons Convention do for the other types of Weapons of Mass Destruction and, more recently, the Ottawa Convention on Landmines or the 2010 Convention on Cluster Munitions. The convention would have to include verification measures intrusive enough to appease states’ enormous mutual mistrust, with NWS fearing incomplete disarmament and advanced NNWS suspecting each other of “hedging” a virtual nuclear weapons capability. Inspection mechanisms along with confidence building measures would have to make sure, once all NWS - both from with and without the NPT – are on board, that nuclear disarmament becomes feasible. The advantages over the NPT include the possibility to engage the de-facto NWS that are not parties to the NPT, a stronger emphasis on disarmament than in the NPT, the inclusion of timelines and the implementation of a framework for effective, intrusive and reliable mechanisms for the verification of both disarmament and irreversibility (none of which has yet been drafted).

Arguments against a NWC include the timing (with many arguing Russia and the US should first reduce their arsenals to levels comparable to fellow NWS for them to join the disarmament effort),fear of undermining the almost universal NPT and its non-proliferation effects, the difficulty in convincing NWS to join in (especially in light of the regional situation in the Koreas, the Kashmir (India/Pakistan) and the Middle East ).
There are massive campaigns in favor of a NWC, the most prominent being the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) whose head we spoke to.
You can also watch Beatrice Fihn of Reaching Critical Will explaining the NWC, as well as the Chair of the 2010 Review Conference with Right Livelihood Award Laureate Alyn Ware supporting a NWC.

A collection of videos relating to a NWC are provided here in the topics-section!

2010 US Nuclear Posture Review

The Nuclear Posture is the military doctrine of the US concerning the role of nuclear weapons within the broader defense strategy. It thus defines when nuclear weapons are an option. Obama’s review of this posture, the NPR, was issued on 6 April 2010, as part of a broad launch of nuclear issues by the US-administration, along with the signing of New START (8 April), the Nuclear Security Summit (12/13 April, the biggest gathering of heads of state in the US since the foundation of the UN in 1945) in the run-up to the 2010 RevCon in New York.

The NPR turned out to be far less progressive than some expected after initial remarks by President Obama, due mostly to compromises that had to be made in order to get New START ratified in the Senate, where Republicans could easily have blocked it. Consequently, the NPR refrains from giving a full Negative Security Assurance, granting it exclusively to those NNWS who are parties to the NPT and in compliance with their NPT-obligations (without stating clearly that the IAEA, and not the US, are to interpret whether a state fulfills these or not), yet also reserving the right to retaliate with nuclear weapons against states that launch major biological or chemical attacks on US-soil or allies. Also, the NPR does not contain an action plan regarding NATO nuclear sharing in Europe, which was left to the 2010 NATO Strategic Posture Review and, subsequently, the NATO Defense and Deterrence Posture Review (as of 2012). Moreover, the NPR grants the nuclear weapons complex a higher long-term budget than the Bush-administration had planned and allegedly includes funds for new research and development sites for nuclear weapons.
Still, some commentators are impressed with the NPR, such as former ambassador for nuclear policy James Goodby.

Read the full NPR online or watch videos relating to it in the dedicated topics-section.

NATO Nuclear Sharing

Nuclear Sharing is the practice, within NATO, of stationing American “tactical” (or sub-strategic, as the damage is nowhere near as limited as the word theatre nuclear weapons may imply) nuclear weapons (currently B-61 gravitational bombs to be dropped from fighter jets) in US-bases on European soil and, most importantly, have allied pilots train the dropping of such bombs with the respective air force’s planes equipped for nuclear weapons. If the US-President gave authorization, Germany, Turkey, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy would have the capability to use nuclear weapons. Most state parties to the NPT deem this a breach of articles I and II of the NPT (no passing on of weapons, no receiving of weapons, respectively). This can hardly be denied and thus further undermines the NPT.

The agreements with NATO had first started as a means to credibly extend deterrence against the Soviet Union to Europe, since political scientists and policy makers had cast doubt on whether the US could be expected to risk nuclear war to safe Europe. Due to the western superiority in terms of conventional forces, they no longer have any military role whatsoever, though a political (“symbolic”) role is asserted as a “nuclear glue” binding the alliance together through the sharing of the moral burden that would go with the actual use of the weapons. Of the 28 NATO member states, only three want to keep nuclear sharing in place, but NATO is having considerable problems in the negotiation process toward changing the status quo. For an in-depths look into the issues surrounding Nuclear Sharing, check out our great video with Paul Ingram.
Leo Hoffmann-Axthelm
All Videos on NATO Nuclear Sharing are gathered in the respective topics-section

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