July 1, 2008 marks the 40th anniversary of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) being opened for signatures. The true purpose of this treaty has always been two-fold: to prevent nuclear proliferation and to achieve nuclear disarmament; in other words, to create a level playing field in which there are no nuclear weapons. In the preamble to the treaty, the parties declare “their intention to achieve at the earliest possible date the cessation of the nuclear arms race and to undertake effective measures in the direction of nuclear disarmament.”

The treaty recognized five states as nuclear weapons states: the United States, Soviet Union (now Russia), United Kingdom, France and China. Three countries never joined the Treaty – Israel, India and Pakistan – and all three have subsequently developed nuclear arsenals. One country, North Korea, withdrew from the treaty and tested a nuclear device in 2006.

Thus, at the 40-year anniversary, the number of nuclear weapons states in the world has not quite doubled. Actually, four other states became nuclear weapons states during this period, but gave up their nuclear arsenals. South Africa developed a small nuclear arsenal and then dismantled it. Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus inherited nuclear weapons when the Soviet Union broke apart, but turned them over to Russia for dismantling.

The greatest failure of the NPT at the 40-year mark is in the area of nuclear disarmament. In 1968, when the NPT was opened for signatures, there were 38,974 nuclear weapons in the world. By 1986, the number of nuclear weapons reached its height at 70,481 nuclear weapons. By the time the NPT turned 25 (from its entry into force in 1970), there were 40,344 nuclear weapons in the world, more than when it was opened for signatures. There remain some 26,000 nuclear weapons in the world, with over 95 percent of these in the arsenals of the US and Russia. Yet, there are some hopeful signs.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has created an International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament with the purpose of forging a global consensus on how to reinvigorate the NPT at its 2010 Review Conference. “We cannot simply stand idly by” Rudd said, “and allow another review conference to achieve no progress – or worse, to begin to disintegrate. The treaty is too important. The goal of nuclear non-proliferation is too important.”

In Europe, 69 members of the European Parliament from 19 European Union member states issued a Parliamentary declaration in support of the Nuclear Weapons Convention, a draft treaty for the total elimination of nuclear weapons. Angelika Beer, a member of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Security and Defense, said, “Only a serious commitment to disarmament provides the moral ground for demanding non-proliferation from others.”

In their endorsement of the Nuclear Weapons Convention, the parliamentarians stated, “We take seriously the universal obligation, affirmed by the International Court of Justice, to achieve nuclear disarmament in good faith in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”

It is also hopeful that over 2,300 mayors of cities from throughout the world have recognized the particular danger that nuclear weapons pose to cities. They have joined the Mayors for Peace 2020 Campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons by the year 2020.

Despite the United States voting against every one of the 15 nuclear disarmament measures to come before the 2007 United Nations General Assembly, there is hope on this front as well. Both major party candidates for US president have endorsed the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, and have indicated that they would take steps to realize this goal. With serious US presidential leadership for achieving the nuclear disarmament obligation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, there will hopefully be far more to celebrate on the 50th anniversary of the treaty.


David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org), and a councilor of the World Future Council (www.worldfuturecouncil.org).