The NPT and why it matters
The NPT is an international treaty which aims to:
- prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology
- promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy
- pursue negotiations in good faith on disarmament measures
This treaty is important because it contains commitments made by China, France, Russia, the UK and the US. The NPT refers to these countries as the Nuclear Weapon States (NWS). It came into force in 1970 and its core aims continue to be relevant to this day.
How the NPT works
The NPT is commonly said to have 3 sections, referred to as ‘pillars’.
Pillar I: nuclear disarmament
The Treaty obliges all States, which have signed and ratified it, to pursue negotiations in good faith on disarmament measures. It does not establish any timetable for nuclear disarmament.
Pillar II: non-proliferation
This means making sure that States that do not have nuclear weapons do not acquire them. The NPT establishes a safeguards system through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The system ensures that Non-Nuclear Weapon States are complying with the Treaty. The 5 NWS, including the UK, have also agreed voluntary safeguards agreements to further strengthen the system.
Pillar III: peaceful uses of nuclear technology
This promotes cooperation between States to share the benefits of peaceful uses of nuclear technology, whilst making sure the technology cannot be used for weapons.
The Treaty also establishes a process to review the Treaty every 5 years, called a Review Conference or ‘RevCon’. The next RevCon is scheduled for January 2022, following delays due to COVID-19.
The next NPT Review Conference
Review Conferences for the NPT are scheduled to take place every 5 years. The 10th NPT Review Conference was planned for March 2020, but has been postponed due to COVID-19. It is now expected to take place in 2022.
Working papers for the NPT Review Conference
The UK produced these papers to support the 10th NPT Review Conference:
Getting to a world without nuclear weapons: a food for thought paper: UK views on possible steps towards to achieving a world without nuclear weapons with undiminished security for all, with suggestions on areas that should be pursued
Verifying nuclear arms control and disarmament: United Kingdom perspective and research: the UK Verification programme and how we collaborate internationally. To achieve a world without nuclear weapons we will need to verify that:
- every relevant state has eliminated all its nuclear weapons, and
- any attempt by any state to reverse elimination or to retain a threshold nuclear weapons capability would be detected in time and dealt with
The Quad Nuclear Verification Partnership: Norway, Sweden, UK and USA set out the purpose of the Quad and its future work to verify nuclear disarmament
Transparency and nuclear disarmament: sets out what transparency means for nuclear disarmament, why it matters, and what this Review Conference should aim for
Irreversibility in the context of the NPT: recommendations for the 10th Review Conference: the UK and Norway set out a basis for shared understanding of what irreversibility means
Strategic risk reduction: the Nuclear Weapon States’ (UK, China, France, Russia and the US) set out their shared understanding of strategic risk reduction, and how to reduce the risk of nuclear conflict between nuclear powers
Peaceful uses of nuclear energy, science and technology: the Nuclear Weapon States set out their shared commitment to support access to the peaceful uses of nuclear technologies
Facilitating dialogue to support enhanced peaceful uses cooperation as envisioned under Article IV of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons: benefits of peaceful uses are an important success of the NPT, and should be accessible to all States Parties. The UK, Canada, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the US set out the need for sustained dialogue on peaceful uses, to promote global awareness and identify new opportunities to support development challenges