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The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which came into force in March 1970, is designed to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. The 190 states parties are split into two categories -
  • Nuclear-weapon-states (NWS) - US, Russia, China, France and UK.
  • Non-nuclear-weapon-states.
The treaty requires -
  • All nations to pursue disarmament
  • NNWS nations must not develop or acquire nuclear weapons.
  • All nations to have access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, with safeguards.
Only India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea and South Sudan are still refusing to sign.

In 1991 South Africa signed the treaty. The South African government confessed that it had secretly built six nuclear weapons, but destroyed them before joining the NPT.

In 1992 Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine joined as NNWS nations. All had had nuclear weapons while they were Soviet Republics.

The INF Treaty

At the height of the Cold War US nuclear weapons were based at Greenham Common and Molesworth, making the UK a prime target in the event of nuclear war.

In 1987, partly in response to peace campaigners, Ronald Reagan, the US President, and Mikhael Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, signed the bilateral Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. This led to the destruction of 2692 cruise, Pershing and SS20 missiles with a range of 500 to 5500 kilometres 310-3400 miles), and to US nuclear missiles being removed from British soil in 1991. Unfortunately it also permitted the construction of the Trident missile system: submarines at sea equipped with nuclear missiles.

INF Treaty expired

The INF Treaty expired on 2 August 2019. Neither Donald Trump nor Vladimir Putin is willing to renew it.

This leaves the US and Russia free to resume the production and deployment of intermediate range missiles, threatening a renewed arms race. Missiles launched from the US would not reach Russia, and vice versa; so the US would look to site them in Europe, and probably in the UK.

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START)

New START, which was signed in April 2010 and came into force in 2011, replaced the 1991 START I treaty. It remains in force until February 2021.

It is a bilateral treaty in which Russia and the US have agreed to limit the number of nuclear warheads and launchers, including Trident submarines. It does not cover missile defence programmes, previously included in the INF Treaty (see above).

If the New START Treaty is not renewed in 2021, there will be no restraint left on Russian or US nuclear arsenals, and little to stop a nuclear arms race, now that the INF Treaty has been abandoned.

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban-Treaty (CTBT)

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban-Treaty would prohibit a nation from permitting or carrying out nuclear test explosions, whether civilian or military.

The treaty was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in September 1996.

It will not enter into force until 180 days after the 44 states listed in Annex 2 of the Treaty have ratified it. These Annex 2 states are the ones that took part in the CTBT negotiations between 1994 and 1996, and that possessed nuclear reactors in those days.

The following Annex 2 states have signed but not ratified the treaty: China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and the US.

The following have still not signed: India, North Korea and Pakistan. All three have carried out nuclear test explosions since 1996.


The 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was adopted by 122 Member States of the United Nations on 7 July 2017. It was opened by the Secretary General of the United Nations, for signature, on 29th September 2017. It would forbid states to acquire, produce, station, deploy, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons.

25 States have now signed the Treaty. 50 signatory States are needed before it is formally adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations. Note however that the General Assembly does not have powers of enforcement. These lie with the UN Security Council, each of whose Permanent Members has a veto. None of the nuclear powers, including the UK, has agreed to support the Treaty.

Hastings against War supports the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).