There are 189 countries that are parties to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) that entered into force in 1970. Only India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea have remained outside the treaty regime so as to be free to acquire the weapons. The nuclear weapons states have done an incredibly successful job, especially the United States, in getting a free ride, continuously modernizing their arsenals while keeping the weapons out of most unwanted hands.
But the NPT was negotiated as a world order bargain. The non-nuclear countries would forego their weapons option in exchange for receiving the full benefits of nuclear energy and a pledge by the nuclear weapons states to seek nuclear disarmament in good faith. After 40 years it seems time to question both the benefits of nuclear energy (especially so after Fukushima) and even more the good faith of the members of the nuclear weapons club. Back in 1996 the World Court unanimously concluded that the nuclear weapons states needed to fulfill their treaty obligation to seek nuclear disarmament as a matter of urgency, and yet nothing resembling disarmament negotiations has taken place. It seems time to declare that the good faith obligation of Article VI of the treaty has been violated, and that this is a material breach that allows all states to disavow any obligation.
Two mind games have kept the non-nuclear majority of states in line so far: first, convincing the public that the greatest danger to the world comes from the countries that do not have the weapons rather than from those that do; secondly, confusing the public into believing that arms control measures are steps toward nuclear disarmament rather than being managerial steps periodically taken by the nuclear weapons states to cut the costs and risks associated with their weapons arsenals and programs and to fool the world into thinking they are living up to their obligation to phase out these infernal weapons of mass destruction.
There are other problems, too. Israel has been allowed to acquire nuclear weapons by stealth without suffering any adverse consequences, while Iraq was invaded and occupied supposedly to dismantle their nuclear weapons program that turned out to be non-existent and Iran is under threat of military attack because its nuclear energy program has a built in weapons potential. Such double standards and geopolitical discrimination severely erode the legitimacy of the NPT approach.
Barack Obama earned much favorable publicity and probably was given the Nobel Peace Prize because in 2009 he made an inspirational speech in Prague announcing his commitment to a world without nuclear weapons. Although the speech was hedged with qualifications, including the mind-numbing reassurance to nuclearists not to worry, nothing would happen in Obama’s lifetime, it still gave rise to hopes that finally there would be a genuine attempt to rid the world of this nuclear curse. But it was not to be.
As with so many issues during the Obama presidency, the early gestures of promise were quietly abandoned in arenas of performance.
Has not the time come for the too patient 184+ non-nuclear weapons states to stand together with the peoples of the world to challenge the world nuclear weapons oligopoly? One way would be to declare the treaty null and void due to non-compliance by the nuclear weapons states. Such a move would be fully in accord with international treaty law.
Another way, perhaps more brash, but also maybe more likely to have a political impact, would be for as many non-nuclear states as possible to take a collective stand by way of an ultimatum: if the nuclear weapons states do not engage in credible nuclear disarmament negotiations designed to eliminate the weapons within two years, the treaty will be denounced.