chapter  2
27 Pages

The long road to the NPT: from superpower collusion to global compromise


Any attempt at historical contextualization of the origins of and progress towards the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), commonly referred to as the Nonproliferation Treaty, has to contend with an idealized ex post facto view of a global bargain between nuclear “haves” and “have-nots” – the view that it was an epochal step in taming the nuclear dynamics that were endangering the world order, and in regulating and stabilizing the Cold War system, as well as the system which followed. Examined in its actual historical context, however, the NPT does not look much like an early cornerstone of an emerging global security governance system. On the contrary, it leaves a much more parochial impression. This is because it was a process driven and dominated by the two superpowers, and tied – at least until late in the negotiations – to more narrow Cold War imperatives, i.e., the perceived need to freeze the status quo in Europe, rather than global concerns regarding looming proliferation cascades. At the same time, instability and nuclear crises and confrontations on the global level were having an effect on Europe as well, since these developments affected perceptions of balance and threat along the Iron Curtain. It was this interdependence between the regional nuclear dimension in Europe and the global nuclear dimension which convinced the superpowers of the need to find a universal solution to the proliferation problem. This volume deals with the perspectives, motivations, and actions of the actual “targets” of the NPT, the non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS), during the time of the negotiations. To aid understanding, and to allow the reader to contextualize the many references to details of the ongoing negotiations between Moscow and Washington and, later on, between the superpowers and the other UN members, this chapter will provide a critical historical overview of the negotiations. Given the NPT’s salience, it is surprising that no multi-archival examination of its origins has been written, and that there is no single account of the superpower negotiations which led to the treaty’s conclusion.2 Our current knowledge of the circumstances and forces that created the present nuclear order comes mostly from the writings of former officials involved in the NPT negotiations.3 In view of this gap, this chapter will provide an overview of the negotiations, divided into three specific time periods in the trajectory that led to the point at which the NPT was opened for signature in July 1968. Each section will

identify and discuss the basic developments and events that took place during the specific period, then conclude with an analysis of the main dynamics that drove progress towards a global nonproliferation agreement and offer some alternatives to established interpretations.