Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT): our dossier

What makes the NPT the cornerstone of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime?

Nuclear non-proliferation is defined as the effort to limit the quantity of nuclear weapons in the world. A Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was adopted in 1968 and took effect in 1970.

The NPT is based on a balance between three pillars: non-proliferation, disarmament and peaceful uses.

The Treaty identifies five nuclear-weapon States, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, which tested nuclear weapons before 1 January 1967 – France, China, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – and non-nuclear-weapon States (all other States).

The five nuclear-weapon States are undertake not to transfer nuclear weapons and not assist, encourage or induce any non-nuclear-weapon State to manufacture or acquire such weapons (Article I).

The non-nuclear-weapon States explicitly undertake not to acquire them, in return for facilitated access to peaceful applications of nuclear energy (Article V).

Lastly, countries that acceded to the NPT undertake to work towards general and complete nuclear disarmament (Article VI).

Which States have not signed the NPT?

Today the NPT is close to becoming universal since only four States are not parties to it: India, Israel, Pakistan and South Sudan, while 191 States are parties. In January 2003, North Korea initiated a withdrawal procedure.

Who verifies NPT commitments?

The verification of commitments made pursuant to the NPT is entrusted to an independent, impartial body: the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Agency was established in 1957 and is responsible for developing civilian nuclear applications and limiting military applications.

Each non-nuclear-weapon State undertakes to conclude a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA to govern any present or future peaceful nuclear activities. Moreover, the five nuclear-weapon States have concluded voluntary offer safeguards agreements, despite not being required to. To strengthen its inspections, the IAEA has concluded additional protocols with more than 130 States.

Are there no other ways of combating proliferation?

As its 50th anniversary approaches, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has proven its effectiveness. The NPT is now one of the foundations of our collective security system and an irreplaceable mechanism maintaining international peace and security.

Thanks to this stable environment, many countries have chosen not to seek to acquire nuclear weapons, or have voluntarily halted an ongoing military nuclear programme.

In the NPT framework, France actively combats proliferation:

  • it supports the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) on the Iranian nuclear programme;
  • it voted to adopt the United Nations Security Council resolutions enhancing international sanctions against the North Korean regime;
  • it participates in the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) created in 2003, which seeks to strengthen international cooperation so as to interdict transfers of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems and related materials.

Why does France not support a total ban on nuclear weapons?

France is determined to uphold its nuclear disarmament commitments. France, like many other States committed to nuclear disarmament, has decided not to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which was opened for signature in 2017. The TPNW is unsuited to the international security context, which is marked by renewed threats of the use of force, Russian military rearmament, regional tensions and proliferation crises. It is aimed solely at Western democracies, meaning that it places no pressure on States other than those in Europe. That means it will not serve the disarmament cause, as no State with nuclear weapons will sign it. It undermines a realistic, step-by-step approach to disarmament.

What tangible action has France taken for nuclear disarmament?

Nuclear disarmament cannot be achieved by decree – it must be built, through tangible action. France has an exemplary, and in some areas, unparalleled record, as:

  • it was the first State, with the United Kingdom, to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT);
  • it was the first State to have decided to close and dismantle its plants for the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons;
  • it was the only nuclear-weapon State to have transparently dismantled its nuclear testing site in the Pacific;
  • it is the only State to have dismantled its nuclear ground-to-ground missiles;
  • it is the only State to have voluntarily reduced its number of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines by a third;
  • it has reduced its nuclear weapons and missiles and the aircraft in its airborne component by a third.

France remains actively committed to nuclear disarmament. Its priorities include:

  • the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT);
  • negotiation at the Conference on Disarmament of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT);
  • continued reduction of Russian and American nuclear arsenals (90% of global stockpiles);
  • continuation of work on the verification of nuclear disarmament.

Why does France still have a nuclear arsenal?

Almost 60 years on from its creation, France’s nuclear deterrent remains the ultimate guarantee of our security and independence from any aggression, in an international context marked by growing tensions and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The French deterrent is strictly defensive. It is permanently operational, based on a deterrence posture that is always effective. It is credible, based on two components (sea-based and airborne) that are complementary in terms of range and precision and have different penetration modes. Moreover, it complies with a requirement of strict sufficiency, meaning that the scale of the arsenal is adjusted to the country’s defensive needs.

What civilian uses are covered by the Treaty?

Electricity production is one of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Because nuclear energy is available, economical and not greenhouse gas-emitting, many countries wish to make use of it. Worldwide, there are around 450 active reactors, and some 50 are under construction. In this context, France, as a responsible nuclear actor, conducts all cooperation activities in the field of civil nuclear energy in compliance with the highest safety, security and non-proliferation standards.

There are also many non-energy nuclear applications, such as in the areas of human health (prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases), agriculture and food security (improvement of agricultural techniques), environmental protection (study of ocean acidification) and industrial applications (preservation of cultural heritage).

Updated: April 2019