Law, College of


Date of this Version



ASIL Proceedings 101 (2007) pp. 438- 442.


Many observers in 1963 might have viewed the proposition that only nine nations would have nuclear weapons in the year 2007 as highly unlikely.1 What prevented the cascade of new nuclear weapons states that was anticipated forty years ago, and how could the answer benefit modem attempts to limit nuclear proliferation? Even though the pillar of the current nonproliferation regime, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (the NPT),2 may make it somewhat harder or costlier for states to acquire or develop nuclear weapons technology, it is difficult empirically to establish a causal link between the NPT and the limited number of states with nuclear weapons in their arsenals today.

Some commentators praise the NPT regime and assert that it has played a critical, if not all-important, role in constraining nuclear proliferation. Yet in analyzing the reasons behind this phenomenon, it is difficult to disassociate or dismiss other possible interests, issues, or considerations that can also motivate states to forego possession of nuclear weapons. For example, basic factors such as the great expense associated with the development of nuclear weapons or the lack of perceived catastrophic security threats may in some cases discourage states from choosing the nuclear path. Additionally, in a recent case in which restraint failed, the NPT appears to have been largely irrelevant: North Korea simply announced its withdrawal from the treaty in 2003 and then proceeded with the apparently successful development and testing of a nuclear bomb in 2006.