The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty came into force on the 5 March 1970, following widespread international concern about the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation and the spiraling nuclear weapon stocks of those states that had developed them. It is a binding multilateral treaty with the goal of general and complete nuclear weapons disarmament.

The UK is one of five states that had already acquired nuclear weapons before the treaty was signed. The other nuclear weapon states are the United States, Russia, China and France.

The treaty establishes that those states without nuclear weapons agree not to acquire them and those with nuclear weapons agree to disarm. It also gives states the right to develop civil nuclear power. The UK does not have any right to possess nuclear weapons under the treaty; instead it is legally bound to disarm.

Three states, Israel, India and Pakistan did not sign the NPT. They stayed outside the treaty framework and have developed nuclear weapons. North Korea signed the treaty but withdrew from it in 2003.

Article 6 of the treaty provides for nuclear 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.

Disarmament at an impasse

Donald Trump leading the US away from multilateralism poses a major threat to nuclear disarmament. With the 2020 Review Conference of the NPT taking place between 27 April – 22 May 2020, Britain should be one of the states making the case for global abolition. The alternative is the speeding up of the nuclear arms race and the rising threat of nuclear war.

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