Should the Entire NAM Collectively Withdraw from the NPT?

Since Hossein Mousavian wrote his powerful piece a few weeks ago on the choices Iran’s new leadership has in dealing with its dispute with the West over its nuclear problem, there’s been a good deal of discussion about one of the options he outlined in particular: withdrawal by Iran from the NPT.  In my post about Mousavian’s article, I cited to some things I’ve written on this subject recently as well.

Others have, however, written very thoughtful pieces on whether it would be wise or productive for Iran to withdraw from the NPT, reaching mostly negative conclusions. See here and here in particular for quality pieces.

I think overall these commentators are correct to say that it would be imprudent for Iran to unilaterally withdraw from the NPT, for the reasons they discuss.

But I also think, and have said before, that the NPT is in serious need of replacement. The basic facts are these: the NPT was never intended to be the final agreement on the subject of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. It was understood at the time of its drafting to be a “halfway house” on the road to a treaty that would ban nuclear weapons outright.  The concept of nuclear weapons haves and have nots as the legal status quo both was and still is understood not to be indefinitely sustainable. What utility there was in the NPT for decades has now been eclipsed by the problems the treaty causes as the cornerstone treaty governing nuclear energy in all of its applications. First, the NPT is woefully out of date and has become problematically anachronistic. The landscape of states that have nuclear weapons has changed drastically since 1968, and the treaty is incredible in not including these countries in some manner within its scope. This causes all sorts of problems – from civilian nuclear tech sharing with India, to the thorny problem of Israel’s nuclear weapons stockpile in the Middle East. Second, the two primary obligations to which the nuclear weapon states committed themselves, in exchange for non-nuclear weapon states’ promises not to acquire nuclear weapons, have become so thoroughly undermined and marginalized as to now be almost farcical. I’m referring to Article IV and Article VI of the NPT. There is a strong, and well supported view, among the states of the NAM, that the NWS are in breach of their obligations pursuant to Article VI, and that the rights and obligations in Article IV have been so diluted and abused by supplier states through the NSG, that there really is very little left that the NPT accomplishes in this area. And this of course goes to the heart of the original grand bargain of the NPT.

Of course, NAM states still in general strongly support the nonproliferation aims of the NPT.  For this reason, and for the cost reasons associated with unilateral withdrawal which the pieces noted above explain, no one NNWS (with the exception of NK) has so far been willing to go out on the limb of international opinion to unilaterally withdraw from the NPT on these principled grounds.

But what if the member states of the NAM, comprising about two-thirds of the NPT NNWS, collectively agreed that the NPT is no longer a viable paradigm for governing nuclear energy and nuclear nonproliferation, and decided to finally bring the issue to a head and withdraw from the treaty collectively, on a coordinated date? The benefits of such an approach would be several. First, no one state would bear the stigma of outlier in unilaterally withdrawing from the treaty, with the implication of “something shady” going on in their territory. This would be a collective action more persuasively based in mutually agreed principle.  Second, it would in fact force the issue of producing a new treaty to take the place of the NPT. For all of the reasons mentioned above and more, the NPT has been perceived less and less credibly by NAM states for many years now.  However, when you talk with officials about amending or replacing the NPT, they just roll their eyes at the enormity of the task, and the improbability of ever achieving consensus on a new treaty. The result has been that the NPT is simply left in place to limp along as it has for 45 years, becoming more and more problematic by the year. Surely this is not an acceptable long term approach to the issue. At some point the NPT will have to be replaced. If not, it will continue to slide into disdain and irrelevance among the states of the NAM, comprising by far the majority of states in the world, as it already has in large measure, because of the fundamental principled inequity of the treaty’s structure, along with the previously discussed failure of the NWS and supplier states collectively to maintain their obligations under it.

I have no delusion that this scenario is likely to be played out soon. But I think that it may be the only realistic way in which to bring the issue of the NPT’s essential unfitness for purpose to the fore, and to bring about the necessary conditions for serious work to be commenced on a replacement treaty.


34 Comments on “Should the Entire NAM Collectively Withdraw from the NPT?”

  1. yousaf says:

    Would the various CSA’s automatically become void if nations left the NPT ?

  2. Michal says:

    “the member states of the NAM, comprising virtually all of the NPT NNWS”

    patently false. Think about European countries (other than FR and UK), Central Asian countries, East Asian countries, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand….

    • Dan Joyner says:

      There are 184 NPT NNWS by my count, and 120 members and 17 observer states in the NAM (with a number of the states you name being included as observers). So that’s about 2/3 of the NNWS. That puts it more precisely.

      • Cyrus says:

        There are also about 195 nations on the planet, so NAM is by far “the international community” which the US presumes to speak for, and yet NAM has consistently backed Iran’s right to enrich.

    • Dan Joyner says:

      Agree with Cyrus.

  3. Bibi Jon says:

    Probably neither the NAM, nor the NWS and their affiliates/protectorates are capable of anything other than the current dystopia. By NAM I’m referring to those countries who technologically could not build a weapon even if they wanted to. Those developing countries do not have the moral credibility that virtual nuclear weapon states (VNWS) have. IMO, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Japan, and I would include a fatwa-volunteered Iran need to fill the void and give direction to NPT.

    As for Iran staying/leaving NPT, notwithstanding Amb. Jenkins threats of “you’ve seen nothing yet,” and in contrast to Mr. Shirazi, I think Iran will do precisely what facilitates her nuclear technology development which for her, after all these years of imposed deprivation, it must be understood to be a strategic goal. She shall do whatever advances that goal.

    Oddly, I feel it was Ahmadinejad that could have been a partner for a deal. Rohani, I am afraid will be the guy to X out of NPT.

  4. masoud says:

    The NPT isn’t the problem. It’s basically the best treaty one can get. The problem is the IAEA. Can the IAEA be disolved/reconstituted with a different BOG by the NAM without altering the NPT? What would happen to the IAEA as a legal entity body if 120 countries simultaneously withdrew from it?

    • Dan Joyner says:

      Hi Masoud,
      I have to respectfully disagree about the NPT. Its a fundamentally inequitable treaty, that doesnt even reflect some sort of realpolitik status quo anymore. As they say in the UK, it passed its ‘use by’ date long ago. It simply is not the long term answer to the problem of international law on the subject of nuclear energy, and again, was never intended to be. The problem is that we’re stuck with it because there isnt enough political will to take on the admittedly very daunting task of creating a new treaty. What I’m proposing is a way to bring the issue to a head, and force serious work to be done on a replacement for the NPT.

      • masoud says:

        What terms of the NPT do you believe make it unacceptable? Obviously, it would be nice that instead of the circuitous language requiring NWS to negotiate an end to to nuclear weapons, it had a hard date by which all parties would have to dismantle their stockpiles. But that aside, what’s wrong with it?

        If a new non-proliferation regime were negotiated today, would you suggest it leave states such as India, Pakistan, and North Korea completely out of the picture, or contain that keep some kind of membership open to them in the hopes that they can be persuaded to disarm?

        If you beleive these states should be left out of any such non proliferation regime, what would be the point of such a treaty? Sates that don’t want to develop nuclear weapons simply won’t develop them. Nuclear weapons states have much more technological know how than NNWS, nor do the NNWS have much in the way of economic leverage over the NWS.

        Would setting a hard date by which members need to dismantle their programs be any different?

        I think any possible replacement to the NPT would look a lot like the NPT, but more honestly administred, by international organs whose make up and governance more properly reflect the will of the international community.

      • yousaf says:

        I don’t know Dan’s concerns w/ the NPT, but mine are more with the poor implementation and administration of its “pillars”, and its imprecision and consequent misuse.

        The hard to implement disarmament clause is a _huge_ flaw that undermines faith of NNWSs in the treaty. (flaw 1)

        More controversially, I also don’t think the state-subsidized version of nuclear power is the best incarnation of nuclear power (from a safety/security and waste perspective) and I don’t think such technology should be necessarily promoted among developing nations (flaw 2) — not that such expertise is actually shared (flaw 3).

        Flaw 4 is that the only pillar of the NPT that is selectively (and hysterically then) enforced is the non-proliferation one: why is only one Pillar of the NPT enforced?

        I posted this before (below) but here goes again — my rough outline for an NPT 2.0:

        As I mentioned in a recent Asia Times piece:

        It appears that Samuel Huntington’s prediction about the future of arms control draws closer every day:

        “In the post-Cold War world the primary objective of arms control is to prevent the development by non-Western societies of military capabilities that could threaten Western interests … The West promotes nonproliferation as a universal norm and nonproliferation treaties and inspections as means of realizing that norm …The attention of the West focuses, naturally on nations that are actually or potentially hostile to the West.”

    • fafnir says:

      But Masoud does raise a good point,the iaea as it currently is especially under mr Amano is far from satisfactory,both the npt and the iaea need to be fixed.

  5. Marianne says:

    What an extraordinarily odd notion. What condition would be created that would be “necessary” to negotiate a treaty to replace the NPT? Or induce anyone to do so?

    Is it the threat that many NAM states would acquire nuclear weapons? The disruption of nuclear supply arrangements? The increase in regional tension? What is it that would, for example, lead China or India or Pakistan to enter into such a negotiation? Where would this treaty be negotiated? The Conference on Disarmament? It has been unable for 20 years to begin a negotiation on cutting off the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. A new forum?

    Since the majority of NAM states are parties to nuclear weapon free zones that require full-scope safeguards and prohibit acquisition of nuclear weapons, do you suggest that they simultaneously denounce them?

    Sorry, but my goodness!

    • Dan Joyner says:

      So your prescription is to just keep the NPT in place forever? You think that’s practical? You may well think so if you are closely affiliated with the USG or other NWS government. The NPT serves their interests quite well in giving them the upper hand of law on which to base their nonproliferation designs, while completely disregarding Articles IV and VI because they dont like them, with nobody being able to do anything about it because of their power.

      All the naysayers always point to how difficult it would be to negotiate a replacement. It would be difficult. But not impossible. It was negotiated once, wasnt it? So was the UN Charter. So were the Geneva Conventions. So were the law of the sea treaties. Big important treaties on sensitive subjects can be negotiated and have been many times. What I’m saying is its time to do so in the nuclear area, and my proposal would bring the issue to a head.

      • Johnboy says:

        Marianne does make one good point, though I doubt that she intended it.

        It is her reference to all those Nuclear Free Zones.

        Think about it…. think about it…..

        If the cartel… sorry, if the Nuclear Suppliers Group…. restricts the supply of nuclear technology regardless of anything that the NPT has to say on the matter then there is very little justification for remaining in the NPT to “further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes”.

        Obviously so, since the NSG can – and does – lock you out if they so choose….

        Q: So if *that* leg of the Grand Bargain is kicked out then what’s left?
        A: The *other* leg, which is the non-proliferation of nukes.

        But as Marianne points out *that* concern is already met for most of the NAMs thanks to all those Nuclear Free Zones.

        So they:
        a) have already negotiated all the “non-proliferation” they need outside of the NPT
        b) they aren’t getting the “development of nuclear energy” that was promised by the NPT
        c) what’s the point of them remaining in the NPT?

        As far as I can see the answer is this: nothin’

      • Johnboy says:

        Dan: “So were the Geneva Conventions.”

        Important point that, considering that what we call the Geneva Conventions is actually the THIRD iteration of those conventions; the first in 1864, the second in 1928, and the third iteration in 1949.

      • Dan Joyner says:

        I’ll have to think about it some more, but on first read I think your analysis here is quite profound, Johnboy. With the NWFZs in place, there is a redundancy to the NPTs nonpro provisions for many if not most NNWS. And if the rest of the NPT is now a farce, why continue it? I’ll have to think more about this idea and its implications. Does it argue for just having the NWFZs from now on? Possibly.

      • Johnboy says:

        Dan, the vocal non-proliferation pundits (you know who you are) are always thinking “globally”, and expect everyone else to think that way too i.e. to assume that even the minnow countries are sitting around thinking like a superpower.

        But of course the minnows don’t think that way: they are REGIONAL actors, and so their view is concentrated on their REGION, and anything that happens outside that is Someone Else’s Problem.

        For those countries a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in *their* region is more than good enough for them, and if they have that in place then they couldn’t care less about the IAEA’s “concerns” with a country that is on the other side of the globe.

        They’ll worry about GLOBAL powers meddling in their pond, sure.
        They’ll worry about REGIONAL troublemakers kicking up a stink, no doubt.

        But that’s about as far as their horizons go, and rightly so.

        If it were a choice between a Nuclear Free Zone in their neighbourhood or an NPT that doesn’t really to do anything for them then….. I know which one they’ll care more about.

      • Dan Joyner says:

        Again, I think you are really onto something here. Placing primacy on regional NWFZs for all of the reasons youve mentioned. I think theres alot to that idea. Would you be interested in writing a guest post to explain the idea more thoroughly? I think its potentially very significant.

      • yousaf says:

        Especially for Marianne, I have a new piece out in TNI on Misinterpreting the NPT:

      • Marianne says:

        yousaf, Your TNI article doesn’t have things just right. For example:

        TNI: NPT and CSAs are completely independent legal instruments. But ratification of the NPT obligates NNWS to conclude safeguards agreements with the IAEA. No independence there.

        TNI: Violation of a CSA does not necessarily violate the NPT. You provide two references for this. Neither makes that point, and the one by Carlson contradicts your point. Carlson: “Noncompliance with an NPT safeguards agreement constitutes violation of Article III of the NPT, the obligation to accept safeguards on all nuclear material, and, depending on the circumstances, possibly a violation of Article II, the obligation not to acquire nuclear weapons.”

        TNI: The NPT (unlike CTBT or CWC) does not name any institution as the agent to verify States’ compliance with its obligations. Maybe not explicitly, but the maintenance of international peace and security falls within the purview of the Security Council. An effort to manufacture a nuclear weapon by a NNWS certainly fits within its mandate. That’s why CSAs and the IAEA statute all can lead to the Security Council. In fact, if the IAEA believes that there is a violation of the NPT, even independently of a CSA, it needs to notify the Council. Take a look at Article III.b.4 of the Statute, which says, “if in connection with the activities of the Agency there should arise questions that are within the competence of the Security Council, the Agency shall notify the Security Council, as the organ bearing the main responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security….”

        Mr. Joyner may object, but the UNSC has ordered Iran not to enrich, so the path(s) to the UNSC make that part of the NPT “package.”

        Well, as Donna Summer sang,

        Enough is enough is enough
        I can’t go on, I can’t go on, no more no
        enough is enough is enough



      • yousaf says:

        No actually it does have things right, but as it is not an academic publication some editorial discretion was taken in eliminating some references and simplifying and re-arranging text.

        The CSA and NPT are independent to the extent that violation of one does not constitute violation of the other. I should perhaps have been even more explicit about that.

        To determine a finding of NPT violation needs e.g. the ICJ intervention.

        I did provide a reference for this: see Dan’s book on Interpreting the NPT. Read the book and then feel free to post.

        Also, I provided explicit statement by Blix just in case it is not obvious that non-compliance with CSA does not mean non compliance with the NPT. They are different treaties: a very simple fact that even most laypeople can fathom.

        In any case, Iran is now in compliance with its CSA as all declared nuclear material has been accounted for, and all legal CSA issues resolved as of 2008.

        So your objections are not only incorrect, but also irrelevant.

  6. Johnboy says:

    I’m probably reading too much into this, but has anyone considered that Mousavian’s article might signal a deliberate Iranian effort to gauge the level of support for a mass exodus from the NPT?

    It does appear to lay down some very powerful markers.

    And while it may seem axiomatic to the navel-gazers in the USA and Europe that he was sending his message to THEM (after all, in the cosmic scheme of things who else matters?) maybe, juuuuust maybe, he doesn’t really give a rats-arse what they think.

    Their antagonism towards Iran is a given, and is as inflexible as it is irrational.

    So maybe he’s pitching his message to an entirely different – and much more receptive -audience i.e. the NAMs who are also getting pissed off with the hypocrisy of the nuclear-haves attempting to shove it to the nuclear-havenots.

    After all, stranger things have happened.

  7. Marianne says:

    Imputing to me what I never said: “just keep the NPT in place forever,” is unfair Be a little skeptical and get tarred with the brush of USGism. It’s your idea that all the NAM just say No at the same time, it is your onus defend the proposition. What next. What do they negotiate and where?, What’s the end-game.

    All skepticism or criticism cannot be UGism

    By the way, I suspect that you have been talking to an unrepresentative sample of NAM states if all you hear about the NPT is disdain and irrelevance. There was an indefinite extension of the NPT without a vote in 1995 and there were agreed final documents in 2000 and 2010. Maybe regional NAM states like the idea that S, Africa, or Australia, or Argentina and Brazil or Kazakhstan are committed to a network of treaties that prohibit them from having nuclear weapons themselves or on their territories. And they like that more than a presumed failure on the part of NWS to eliminate nuclear weapons.

    And, as well, very few NAM states have or want nuclear programs and most of them that do, if not all (except Iran and Syria), have agreements for nuclear cooperation with the US or others.

    • Bibi Jon says:

      “Maybe regional NAM states like the idea that S, Africa, or Australia, or Argentina and Brazil or Kazakhstan are committed to a network of treaties that prohibit them from having nuclear weapons themselves or on their territories.”

      Indeed, I think it is only the virtual NWS that have what it takes to give NPT a new lease on life. I’d like to see them step into the breech and give NPT a regional, grass roots flavor.

  8. Dan:

    As far as I know, a member state cannot simply leave the NPT. Many conditions must be satisfied, including things about its nuclear infrastructure. Is that not true?

    The number of NAM nations is 116, by far the largest international block.

    In my view under Amano the IAEA has been totally politicized:


    • Dan Joyner says:

      Hi Muhammad, good to hear from you. And I recommend to all your extensive and excellent writing on these topics. I certainly agree with you 100% on the politicization of the IAEA under Amano and what a problem that is.

      Regarding withdrawal from the NPT, I wrote these two pieces on this subject recently, with the intention of explaining NPT withdrawal and its implications:

      Click to access ESIL%20Reflections%20-%20Joyner.pdf

      Click to access ESIL%20Reflections%20-%20Joyner%20II.pdf

      I think the short answer is that a state can in fact with relative administrative ease withdraw from the NPT. It would have legal as well as political implications to be sure, but the “how” of doing it is relatively straightforward.

  9. Dan Joyner says:

    This is a really good article I recently found, that lays out well the problems with the NPT. Its a little bit dated, but I don’t think all that much has changed in fundamentals.

    Click to access CSP-27-3-Carranza.pdf

  10. […] this reasoning has been previously been analyzed by many analysts, including myself, and some Iranian politicians, it has never been so forcefully and systemically […]

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