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The nuclear non-proliferation treaty: aims, limitations and achievements

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-07, 14:58 authored by Norman DombeyNorman Dombey
Across a largely pacified international landscape, nuclear proliferation remains one of the few issues capable of igniting military conflagration. It was yellow­cake uranium that headlined Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN of the casus belli against Iraq in February 2003. Clinton signalled a war alert over North Korea’s research reactor in 1994, while Bush followed suit in lower key in 2002. Embryonic nuclear facilities in Iraq and Syria have been bombed by the IDF. Iran’s uranium-enrichment programme incurs threats and sanctions from Congress and the Security Council, and more sabre-rattling from Israel. American officials have begun to speak of a zero-enrichment option for selected states. The normative legal framework at stake in these conflicts is the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. A product of détente-era American–Soviet diplomacy, famously privileging the rights of the established nuclear powers over all newcomers, the NPT has been given a new lease of life since the end of the Cold War; its abrogation of national sovereignties chiming well with current superpower needs. Yet with scant exception, states facing UN-sanctioned coercion for breaching their obligations under the Treaty—Iran, for instance—still cling to it, rather than exercise their right to withdraw; while the Bush Administration has regularly been accused of flouting its provisions. For mainstream and much liberal-left opinion, the NPT betokens a moral pledge to a future world without weapons, as much as a shield against the calamity of nuclear war. Yet the Treaty itself has received little attention since its unconditional extension in 1995. With this number, New Left Review begins a discussion on the political meaning of the NPT, the evolution of its institutional apparatus, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and broader questions of nuclear non-proliferation. In his opening contribution Norman Dombey, Emeritus Professor of Theoretical Physics at Sussex, surveys the aims, limitations and achievements of the Treaty, while Peter Gowan, author of The Global Gamble, argues that attempts by the Bush Administration to bypass the NPT have ended in failure. The editors hope to return to this theme in future issues.


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New Left Review




New Left Review



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