The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) came into force in 1970 and is the only legally-binding agreement where the nuclear weapons states promise to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.
'As long as nuclear weapons exist, it is inevitable that some country, at some point, will experience the horror that Hiroshima and Nagasaki already know.' --Former Hiroshima mayor Takashi Hiraoka
The NPT was a bargain. Under the terms of the Treaty, the nuclear weapons states agreed to eliminate their nuclear weapons. In return, the non-nuclear weapons states agreed not to manufacture or acquirenuclear weapons.
Unfortunately the NPT has not lived up to the dream of its founders - that nuclear weapons would be eliminated within 25 years. This is partly because the nuclear weapons states have simply failed to meet their side of the bargain. But also partly because the NPT is not a perfect treaty - it has one large contradiction.
Part of the bargain reached in 1970 includes a reference in Article 4 to nuclear energy as an "inalienable right". In other words, the treaty that seeks to eliminate nuclear weapons simultaneously claims the very material to make those weapons as a right. Greenpeace has always said that it is absurd to promote nuclear energy and think it is still possible to control nuclear weapons.
However there has been progress. In 2000, all States parties agreed to a package of practical steps for the systematic and progressive disarmament of the world's nuclear weapons, usually referred to as the 13 Practical Steps. One hundred and fifty eight countries agreed to this 13-point plan at the 2000 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Review Conference.
This consensus-based agreement was a monumental achievement, reinstating much of the faith in the NPT that had been lost after years of little progress on disarmament. But these 13 Steps are in serious danger. The US and China have refused to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the American government has withdrawn its support for a number ofthe points. However, what puts the NPT in the most danger is the fact that nuclear weapons have not been given reduced value in security policy. In fact "mini-nukes" and new designs for nuclear weapons are being developed by the US, Russia and other states. This completely violates the NPT and makes a new arms race possible.
Only with an end to the promotion of nuclear techonology and a serious programme of verifiable, transparent and irreversible steps to abolish nuclear weapons in the world will the NPT survive and the world be able to step back from the nuclear abyss.