The most important upcoming decision on Britain's future might be made three days before the general election, when representatives from 188 countries gather in Manhattan to consider the future of the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The NPT codified a bargain between the five states which then possessed nuclear weapons - Britain, China, France, the Soviet Union and the United States - and the rest of the world. Countries ratifying the treaty as non-nuclear weapon states agreed not to develop or acquire such weapons. In return, they would be given access to nuclear technologies for energy production, the development of medicines and other purposes. They also obtained a commitment that the nuclear weapon states would 'pursue negotiations in good faith . . . on general and complete disarmament'. The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an arm of the United Nations, monitors compliance with the treaty by sending inspectors to nuclear facilities worldwide. The NPT has been remarkably successful, in that none of the 183 ratifying non-nuclear states has subsequently acquired nuclear weapons. The only three countries to have acquired nuclear arms since 1970 - India, Pakistan and Israel - exercised their sovereign right to stay out of the treaty.
LRB 5 May 2005 | PDF Download