Nuclear Proliferation: A Real International Challenge

  • 1 July 2008

The world barely remembers the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) except on its anniversary dates when experts and observers regurgitate the same calls about the necessity for its revision so that it can accommodate the ongoing challenges to the spread of nuclear weapons.

As the most comprehensive agreement to keep nuclear weapons programs in check, the treaty has experienced repeated tests about its ability to deal with one of the most contentious international issues since its ratification on March 5, 1970.

There is no doubt that nuclear proliferation and possession represent a qualitative boost to states' powers and abilities and to their potential for gains in regional and international political and security negotiations. However, such a situation can only be seen as anathema to international security and stability, especially since the NPT has shown its inability to limit the number of the "nuclear club" members, including the official and unofficial ones. But despite these limitations, augmenting the treaty and taking changes in the international scene into consideration remain an urgent demand to help preserve international security and peace. The treaty itself may not contain great structural shortcomings; but it has limitations resulting from the international cover allowed for activating its provisions to truly save the world of nuclear weapons and rid it of a nuclear nightmare in many of its regions. It is quite difficult to keep the stability of many parts of the world hostage to nuclear weapons, whether they were in the form of an actual nuclear arsenal or an ambition waiting to be officially realized. It is just as difficult to accept nuclear weapons as a "sword of Damocles" over the necks of the human race, hanging by a thread that could be severed anytime, unintentionally or erroneously, or as a result of a misunderstanding.

Although the NPT has been in force since 1970, statistics indicate that nine states control about 30,000 nuclear weapons that, according to experts, can destroy the planet many times over. This does not include weapons of states belonging to the club unofficially, or those that practice a policy of nuclear ambiguity, or those that from time to time are said to possess readymade weapons bought on the nuclear "black market" that has existed since the 1990s, and others.

Indicators show that the nuclear danger is not limited to this situation. There are reports about available plans to manufacture "small nuclear devices," ongoing interstate smuggling operations, and gangs, networks, and mafias connected to the nuclear black market. The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency has described what's happening as a "supermarket" for states willing to acquire an atomic bomb. What threatens the non-proliferation system is the state of international division about what needs to be done. There are nuclear powers that have not yet joined the treaty and others that have actually joined but are suspected of not being serious enough about their commitment to its provisions. All this prevents progress in conferences intended for revising the NPT.