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Should All Countries Be Free To Pursue Nuclear Defense? - Facts & Infographic

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Known Nuclear Nations Of The World

How It Started

The first known nuclear bomb was developed by the USA in the Manhattan Project. USA was assisted by the United Kingdom and by Canada in this project. By the close of April 1945, Hitler was dead and Japan seemed close to surrender. Japan’s surrender, was delayed by the uncertainties about the position of the Japanese Emperor following the surrender. The opportunity was perfect for America to declare its dominance by deploying the newly developed atomic bomb. In August 1945, USA deployed atomic bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan - the first and only use of nuclear weapons in warfare till date. USA’s hopes of retaining a monopoly on nuclear arms were soon crushed when erstwhile USSR successfully tested its first nuclear weapon in 1949. A number of countries including the United Kingdom, France, and China soon followed suit. The possibility of an imminent arms race seemed a grim one.

  Country Total Nuclear Warheads Active Warheads First Tested Code Name (First Test)
NPT Russia 10000 2430 1949 RDS - 1
United States of America 8500 1950 1945 Trinity
France 300 290 1960 Gerboise Bleue
China 240 180 (reserve) 1964 596
United Kingdom 225 160 1952 Hurricane
Non - NPT India 80 - 100 Undisclosed 1974 Smiling Buddha
Pakistan 90 -110 Undisclosed 1998 Chagai - I
North Korea <10 Undisclosed 2006 2006 Test
Undeclared Israel 80 Undisclosed 1979  

Nuclear Non-Proliferation

In June 1968 the UN Security Council adopted resolution 255 on security assurances to non-nuclear-weapon States parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and in July the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was opened for signature; the treaty stipulated that five declared nuclear nations – USA, USSR, UK, France, and China and no other would lawfully be allowed to possess nuclear weapons. This was a clear attempt to curb the number of nuclear nations in the world. What the treaty did not prohibit, though, was the acquisition of civilian nuclear technology. The “Nuclear Club” as the league of these nations was called, was also required to reduce and eventually eliminate its atomic arsenal.

Initially the NPT was valid for twenty-five years. The treaty may be considered a success as the NPT signatory nations did not further pursue an acquisition of nuclear arms during the period. In 1995, the NPT was reviewed and extended indefinitely. Of the 178 nations who had signed the NPT initially 175 attended the review conference and 111 sponsored the renewal for an indefinite period. By December 2000, the NPT had 187 signatory nations. Among these, 185 were member states of the United Nations. The major countries that have not signed the NPT – Pakistan, India, and Israel - are now known nuclear powers. India and Pakistan cannot sign the treaty as they retain their arsenals. Israeli capabilities, though undisclosed, are largely estimable. North Korea withdrew from the NPT in 2003. Though Taiwan is not an official signatory, the country abides by the NPT.

With the break-up of erstwhile USSR, Russia was regarded as the member of the “Nuclear Club”. The other nations – Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus – had initially inherited nuclear weapons but these were handed over to Russia as each of the nations subsequently signed the NPT.

Other Nuclear Arms Restriction Treaties


Treaty Signatories Year Terms
Antarctic Treaty 40 1963 Prevents testing or stationing of nuclear warheads in Antarctica
Nuclear Test Ban Treaty USA, USSR, UK 1963 Prohibits nuclear testing
Outer Space Treaty 93 1967 Prohibits nuclear testing or detonation in outer space
Limited Test Ban Treaty 120 1968 Prohibits nuclear testing
Seabed Treaty 88 1971 Prohibits nuclear testing beyond marine boundaries
Threshold Ban Treaty USA, USSR 1974 Prohibits nuclear testing beyond 150 kilotons
South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty 11 1985 Prohibits nuclear testing or acquisition in the South Pacific region
INF Treaty USA, USSR 1987 Destruction of all mid and short range nuclear warheads


USA and USSR, the two largest nuclear powers, have held talks from time to time and the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks, the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks, and the Strategic Offensives Reduction Treaty, have posed a number of restrictions on the nations. This has led to a significant reduction in their nuclear capabilities as well.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), adopted by the United Nations in 1996, has been ratified by 157 states. The treaty is still not in force as over twenty-five nations including USA, India, Pakistan, Israel, Iran, and North Korea are yet to ratify the treaty. The treaty places a comprehensive ban on the states from pursuing any nuclear tests.


North Korea had ratified the NPT in December 1985. North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT in 1993 but has suspended the withdrawal notice. In January 2003, the country faced allegations of pursuing an enriched uranium weapons program. USA placed sanctions by withdrawing fuel oil shipments to the country. With effect from April 10, 2003, the country finally withdrew from the NPT and declared its intention to build up an indigenous nuclear arsenal. With the nuclear test conducted in October 2006, North Korea declared its successful acquisition of nuclear fission armament.

South Africa had developed its nuclear program under the threat of regional disruption and of communist onslaughts. In 1991, South Africa signed the NPT but when the country admitted its nuclear capabilities in 1993 a mounting international pressure resulted in an accession to open up to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). By 1994, IAEA confirmed the dissemination of the country’s nuclear defense program.

Libya’s non-compliance and secret perusal of nuclear armaments was flagged up in October 2003. Subsequently the country opened up to IAEA inspection and the country’s chemical weapons were destroyed under international supervision.

In 2010 China and Pakistan were reportedly involved in a civilian nuclear deal. The deal, despite its intents, is in clear violation of the NPT.


What’s Happening in Iran?

Iran signed the NPT in 1968 and the treaty was ratified in 1970, thus assuring the IAEA of compliance and subjecting the country’s nuclear program to IAEA verification. Following a failure to disclose its uranium enrichment program, Iran faced allegations of non-compliance with the IAEA safeguards in 2003. Following diplomatic negotiations with the international community, the program was suspended in 2005. The UN Security Council passed a resolution in 2006 directing Iran to permanently suspend uranium enrichment but this resolution was disregarded and Iran once again resumed enrichment activities. Since 2006 Iran has faced international sanctions following allegations of building up its nuclear might.

The IAEA has been working to verify the absence of undeclared nuclear activities in the country. Despite Iran’s insistence that the IAEA guidelines have been complied with and that the country’s nuclear program is essentially civilian in nature, USA and other European nations stepped up sanctions in 2010. These sanctions have been opposed by a number of Asian countries including China and India.


Nuclear Suppliers Group

The Nuclear Suppliers Group or the NSG was formed in 1974 to reduce nuclear proliferation by restricting the trade of material required in the development of nuclear arms. Member states are forbidden from sharing technology with or exporting material essential to the development of nuclear missiles to non-NPT states. This becomes significant when we consider that uranium reserves are concentrated in countries like Australia and Kazakhstan. In 2006, USA agreed to provide India with civilian nuclear technology. The decision caused huge outcry in the international community as India is not an NPT signatory state. The fears were allayed when India agreed to place fourteen of its twenty-two nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards and declared that these were for civilian purposes. Besides, India has a clear “No First Use” Policy and a clean non-proliferation record. In 2008 the NSG granted India a waiver. NSG prohibitions against export to Pakistan and Israel remain unaltered.


Is It Time To Change The Framework?

The early intent of the NPT was to restrict the use of nuclear ammunition to the five major countries. The two pronged approach, to restrict other countries from developing nuclear warheads and to reduce the capability of known nuclear nations, envisaged to make the world a nuclear arms free zone. This, however, still remains a distant dream. CTBT is yet to be ratified by many major nations. With the US stand on Iran being endorsed and criticized by various nations the question of a nation’s right to nuclear defense still remains unanswered. The implications of a nuclear war may be severe but going by India’s argument the NPT reinforces the might of the “Nuclear Club” while advocating disarmament among the others. The disparity is, again, a matter of huge concern. Article VI of the NPT calls for the disarmament of the nuclear nations but thus far no significant progress has been made to that effect. The lack of a concrete roadmap to disarmament is not conducive to creating an environment of trust. Failing this, countries will remain tempted to develop clandestine nuclear programs.

Should All Countries Be Free To Pursue Nuclear Defense.

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