Nuclear treaty isn’t perfect, but it’s all we’ve got

The idea of a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was first proposed in the 1950s when the US, Russia and Britain had nuclear weapons, and France and China were developing them. (France exploded its first nuclear bomb in 1960, China in 1964.) Since the US was in the lead, it had the greatest interest in limiting the arms race, so from the beginning of the 1950s it pushed for nuclear containment. President Dwight Eisenhower proposed to the UN General Assembly on 8 December 1953 that an agency be set up to control the use of nuclear material.

For the sake of world peace and maintaining their status, the other nuclear powers, and those about to become so, assessed the situation: a mechanism that recognised their progress while halting the spread of a powerful weapon would be in their interest. The project had no shortage of allies of convenience.

Eisenhower’s idea gained ground, although for a long time it was hostage to the power struggle between the US and Russia. In October 1956, after many stormy debates, the UN created the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA. Article 3.5 of its charter defines its mission as “to establish and administer safeguards designed to ensure that special fissionable and other materials, services, equipment, facilities, and information made available by the Agency or at its request or under its supervision or control are not used in such a way as to further any military purpose”. In return, Article 3.1 explains, the IAEA offers “to encourage and assist research on, and development and practical application of, atomic energy for peaceful uses throughout the world.”


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