In the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy warned that as many as twenty-five countries might be on the path to acquiring nuclear weapons by the end of the 1970s. But this threat never materialized, thanks in large part to the Treaty of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, or NPT.
NPT Parties work closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency to make sure international safeguards are in place to verify that nuclear material is not diverted from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons.
These protections have enabled the expanding use of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy that diagnose and fight diseases, develop new crops, manage scarce water resources, and broadly apply nuclear science and technology that meet UN Sustainable Development Goals. Nuclear commerce is also thriving, providing clean electric capacity around the world.
The maintenance of a strong nonproliferation regime grounded in the NPT has also helped create a more secure and stable security environment conducive to progress on nuclear disarmament.
Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. nuclear stockpiles have fallen by 85 percent from their peak, and under the “New START” Treaty between the United States and Russia, stockpiles will reach low levels not seen since the 1950s.
Any proliferation of nuclear weapons would upset the prospect for further reductions, and would increase the risks of a nuclear war. It could also increase the likelihood of nuclear escalation, miscalculations, and accidents, as well as the chances that non-state actors such as international terrorists might themselves acquire nuclear weapons.
The repeated missile launches by North Korea are creating instability and threaten the security of millions of people, including in the United States. The NPT is playing an important role in helping isolate North Korea’s illicit plutonium and uranium production and development of nuclear weapons.
The Non-Proliferation Treaty, said Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation Eliot Kang, "is a tool that we need now more than ever."