July 1 marked the 50th anniversary of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). I was honored to have been one member of the U.S. government team that helped secure the indefinite and unconditional extension of this historic agreement in 1995.
While most celebrations of this anniversary are focused on the diplomatic triumph of the treaty, it is important not to overlook the contributions of other key stakeholders. This includes the civil nuclear industry and NGOs that have supported the peaceful uses of nuclear power and the strengthening of the non-proliferation and security regimes.
Beyond the legal requirements of the NPT, the nuclear industry in many nations has been an important partner in the prevention of nuclear proliferation and terrorism. Many observe the guidelines and restrictions of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and supported the regulations and “stress tests” that were implemented in the U.S. and Europe after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The nuclear industry also was a full participant in all four of the Nuclear Security Summits. More recently, some nuclear companies and organizations have collaborated with NGOs to support Principles of Conduct for power plant exporters and the Global Nexus Initiative, which is focused on the intersection of nuclear power, climate change, and international security issues.
However, the changes now occurring in the international nuclear landscape are raising questions about whether the effectiveness of the nuclear non-proliferation and security regimes will be maintained though this century. The U.S. and its allies are losing ground to Russia in exports and influence just as nuclear power is expanding in security-challenged regions like the Middle East. And China has set its sights on becoming a globally dominant provider of nuclear technology, including the next generation of small reactors, which are particularly suited for developing economy nations.
We should celebrate the anniversary of the NPT at 50 and recognize the full range of supporters that have made it effective. But, new geopolitical challenges are emerging that will test the durability and adaptability of the treaty in this century. Responding to them will require new thinking and partnerships if we hope to celebrate its successful second half-century.
Kenneth Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security
Photo Credit: Council on Foreign Relations