The rise and fall of the NPT: an opportunity for Britain



Long seen as an unexpectedly successful example of international cooperation, the NPT is now like a wisdom tooth that is rotten at its root and the abscess is poisoning the international body politic. The price for agreement to the substance of the treaty was the inclusion of Article 6, which committed the Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) to the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons. With the strategic arms race underway, in 1968 the NWS saw Article 6 as an empty aspiration; 25 years later it had acquired a whole new significance. The first half of the 1990s was a period of constructive optimism as non-signatories hastened to sign the treaty and the non-nuclear weapon states were persuaded to agree to its indefinite extension. The second half brought disillusionment as it became increasingly clear that the NWS had no intention of meeting their Article 6 obligations or the promises made at the five-yearly review conferences (1995, 2000, 2005), and that Washington was set on developing useable nukes for pre-emptive prevention. The bad faith and double standards fuelled wide-spread resentment (particularly in the Non-Aligned Movement) and contributed to the post-9/11 image of the 'The West against the Rest', a corrosive concept that is reinforced by US rhetoric. Rather than 'cooperative security', America is explicitly set on global military supremacy, which will evoke countervailing power and inevitably lead to nuclear arms racing and the renewed danger of inadvertent nuclear war. The likely long- and short-term consequences of the present situation require a fundamental response involving a major policy initiative. Only Britain is in a position to take such an initiative, but it will require us to withdraw from our self-appointed role of 'loyal vassal' to America and to adopt a role that has the potential of being not only more important and influential, but also more appropriate to our history, capabilities and talents.