How can the NPT treaty be improved?

New arms race?

Annette Schaper

To person

holds a doctorate in physics and is a research assistant at the Leibniz Institute Hessian Foundation for Peace and Conflict Research (PRIF) in Frankfurt am Main. There she heads the project "Technology and Politics of Nuclear Disarmament, Non-Proliferation, and Arms Control". She was also a technical advisor in the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts on Nuclear Disarmament Verification 2018/[email protected]

With the invention of nuclear weapons came the danger that humanity could extinguish itself within a very short time. Nevertheless, the "logic" to contain this danger has long been a deterrent, which was the case in the Cold War despite some efforts at restriction - such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968 or the ABM Treaty of 1972 (Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty) anti-ballistic missile defense systems) - led to immense nuclear armament. The peak was reached in 1986, with around 23,000 US and 40,000 Soviet nuclear warheads. Although humanity has been spared a nuclear war so far and the nuclear arsenals have meanwhile been reduced - nuclear arms control is still one of the greatest challenges for the international community today.

After a few years of hopeful steps and bilateral and multilateral disarmament agreements after the end of the Cold War, disillusionment soon ensued, and many more far-reaching plans for more mutual control or the ban on the manufacture, testing and proliferation of nuclear weapons have once again become a long way off . Old fronts have hardened anew, and with the termination of the INF Treaty (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty) in early 2019, which initiated disarmament between the superpowers in 1988, a new low seems to have been reached.

What could the international regime of nuclear weapons control look like in the future? In the following I will give an overview of the most important treaties on nuclear disarmament and arms control as well as outline their current status and possible developments.

Bilateral agreements between the USA and the USSR / Russia

With the INF Treaty, which was signed in December 1987 by US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet head of state and party Mikhail Gorbachev and which came into force in June 1988, the USA and the Soviet Union agreed to the complete annihilation of an entire class of nuclear weapons, namely all land-based cruise missiles and medium-range missiles with a range between 500 and 5500 kilometers. The associated infrastructure, such as starting devices, should also be destroyed within three years. At the same time, unprecedented far-reaching measures for the mutual review and control of disarmament were agreed upon (verification). The appendix to the contract alone with the details of inspections, data exchange, observations, national technical means, satellite observation and other things comprised 174 pages. The treaty is seen as a key milestone in the policy of d├ętente. By the end of May 1991, over 1,600 carrier systems had been destroyed; the mutual on-site inspections ended in 2001. [1]

In 1991 and 1993 the START treaties (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) were signed between the USA and the Soviet Union and Russia, respectively. While START-I made it possible to considerably reduce the number of strategic weapons - i.e. those with greater explosive power and greater range than tactical weapons - START-II never came into force. Russia ratified the treaty in 2000, but terminated it two years later because the USA withdrew from the ABM treaty in order to be able to expand its own missile defense. Instead, in May 2002, both countries signed the much more lax SORT (Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty), which did not provide for any verification regime or final scrapping of the warheads. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin promised such a verified scrapping of the warheads (not just the delivery systems) in a joint statement in March 1997 at a summit in Helsinki. [2] This would have ushered in a new quality of nuclear disarmament.

There was only real progress again with the signing of the New START treaty in April 2010 by Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitri Medvedev. The treaty not only allowed the USA and Russia to inspect each other on a regular basis, but the agreed targets - reducing the number of operational warheads to 1,550 each and limiting strategic delivery systems to 800 per country by February 2018 - were achieved ahead of schedule. [3] However, the term of the contract ends in 2021, and whether it will be extended is questionable. This is all the more true since the uncoordinated withdrawal of both countries from the INF treaty after they had accused each other of breaching the treaty.

Multilateral nuclear arms control has also been largely at a standstill for years; Here, too, there was some progress, especially from the early 1990s - such as the unlimited extension of the 1995 Non-Proliferation Treaty, the promising negotiations on a test ban treaty from 1994 to 1996, and the signing of the Bangkok treaties in 1995 and Pelindaba in 1996 on nuclear-weapon-free zones in Southeast Asia and all of Africa . In 2006, the Treaty of Semei created a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Central Asia. All multilateral nuclear arms control undertakings serve two purposes: nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation. States that have nuclear weapons often weight these goals differently than states without nuclear weapons, which is the core of many disputes. A look at four of the most important multilateral treaty projects makes this clear.