As Washington opens its talks with the Russians over nuclear arms control and increases pressure on Iran and North Korea to get them to negotiate, there’s one nuclear diplomatic effort that’s going all but unnoticed— the tenth review of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Slated for late April, the NPT Review Conference at the United Nations in New York will celebrate the treaty’s 50th anniversary. The question is how much longer might this treaty last.
As I argue in the attached version of a piece to be published in the March issue of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the jury is out. Several countries — Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia — have recently threatened to withdraw from the treaty. The means to go nuclear are increasingly available and our security reliance, and that of our adversaries, on nuclear weapons and their early use is again drifting upward.
Should we worry? The short answer is yes. If we care about deterring nuclear war, we have to care about limiting the fundamental uncertainties that come with increased numbers of nuclear and near-nuclear armed states.
What can be done? Plenty. As I argue in the essay below, we need to work with Russia and others to make NPT withdrawals far less likely. We also need to stop pushing the most dangerous and uneconomical forms of civilian nuclear energy and modernize our military in ways that deemphasize the military value of nuclear arms. The good news is we still have time.