50 years after ratification of the NPT by the Soviet Union and its entry into force


MOSCOW. MARCH 5, 2020. PIR PRESS - “The NPT is the foundation of our life. It is the most important contemporary international treaty. There is just no treaty more important than the NPT. We must fight for this treaty at all costs; we are doomed without it”, – Ambassador Roland Timerbaev (1927 - 2019), one of the negotiators of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ratification and entry into force of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, a key element of the entire international security system. The most important multilateral treaty in the field of global nuclear policy, which became the foundation of the international non-proliferation regime, was positively accepted by the global community and received great support as an “agreement in the interests of all states,” as an instrument for “ending the nuclear arms race, moving forward with the general and complete disarmament".

However, after half a century since the USSR and the USA simultaneously ratified the NPT, having postponed mutual disagreements, the Treaty faced a number of serious challenges inherent in the contemporary international situation that could cause significant damage to the nuclear non-proliferation regime and international architecture as a whole. Nowadays there is an urgent need for the parties to the Treaty to adhere to the norms and principles of the NPT and to deny the very idea on the use of nuclear weapon, to realize the significance of reaching compromises and fulfilling promises made, active participation in the process and work on contentious issues of international security to rid the world of the threat of nuclear war and for the long-term perspective of a nuclear-free world.

Vladimir A. Orlov, Founder and Director of the PIR Center, shared his opinion about the role of the key treaty of the international security system.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is half a century old today. “The NPT Instruments of Ratification were submitted by two of the NPT Depositary States, the Soviet Union and the United States, at a special ceremony at The Reception House in Moscow,” the Izvestiya newspaper reported on its front page on March 5, 1970. Under the terms of NPT Article IX, the Treaty entered into force on the same day following the submission of the Instruments of Ratification by the three depositary states (the Soviet Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom) and 40 other State Parties. “Our goal is to keep the future generations safe from the calamity of war,” the Soviet prime minister Aleksey Kosygin announced at the ceremony.

After 50 years, the NPT is looking remarkably well for its age. It has survived the Cold War, the détentes, the Ice Ages, and other ups and downs in international relations without losing its integrity or crumbling into irrelevance. Only a handful of states still remain outside the Treaty.

That is undoubtedly a resounding success, and our planet is all the better for it. We are already plagued by such woes as global pandemics and climate change. Imagine for a second if we also had to contend with an uncontrolled spread of the most devastating weapons that ever existed, with more and more countries acquiring an instrument of total self-annihilation of the entire mankind. The few existing flashpoints, such as the Indo-Pakistani border and the Korean peninsula, are already giving us a nervous twitch. Just imagine how much worse it would get if we had dozens of such flashpoints! Would the world be more secure? According to Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF), a total of 27 national nuclear weapons programs had been initiated globally, and only three discontinued prior to the NPT’s entry into force. But since the treaty came into effect in 1970, only nine nuclear weapons programs have been initiated, and 23 discontinued.

Some well-deserved congratulations are therefore entirely in order – but once we’re done with congratulations, late us also take a minute for sober reflection. For all its success, the NPT’s health isn’t all it could be. The Treaty undergoes regular medical check-ups every five years at the NPT Review Conferences. The results of the latest checkup in 2015 were very worrying: the State Parties failed to reach a consensus, and after bitter recriminations, the delegations left the Conference without agreeing a Final Document.

The 50-year-old Treaty has two serious conditions, both of them chronic. First, the nuclear disarmament process has ground to a halt. Efforts to negotiate a treaty on “general and complete” (not just nuclear!) disarmament, clearly stipulated in Article VI of the NPT, are entirely off the agenda and seen as a utopian aspiration by most of the parties involved. Meanwhile, the United States is currently laying waste to the entire architecture of arms control, raising the prospect of nuclear havoc. Second, the NPT has failed to become a universal instrument as several nations that possess a nuclear arsenal are refusing to join. These nations are Israel, India, Pakistan, and the DPRK. The situation in the Middle East is especially perilous, with a grave risk of an uncontrolled escalation.

Another NPT health check-up is scheduled for late April, when the next Review Conference kicks off in New York. The event has not even started, but predictions of its utter failure are already rife – and some of the reasons cited for such forebodings are entirely real. At the height of the Cold War, Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko described the US-Soviet dialogue on nuclear nonproliferation as “the only silk thread” connecting the two superpowers at the time. Despite the flareups such as the Soviet campaign in Afghanistan or the deployment of the US Pershing missiles in Europe, that thread remained strong, and substantive US-Soviet dialogue on nuclear matters never ceased. But now, this silken thread is being torn right before our eyes. The Americans have either gone a bit deaf to Russian reasoning, or become a bit too self-confident for their own good. The mantra in Washington these days is that “Russia is part of the nonproliferation problem, not part of the solution”, making a boomerang effect a distinct possibility.

Indeed, things are looking so gloomy that Tariq Rauf, one of the leading nonproliferation specialists, has even suggested that the Review Conference should be postponed until next year. He has chosen a plausible pretext, arguing that large gatherings should be avoided amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. But I think that a large gathering, with everyone contributing to the common cause and helping to draw up an effective prescription, cannot and should not be delayed: otherwise, the fragile health of the NPT can quickly deteriorate beyond repair.

Vladimir Orlov, Director, PIR Center
The author's version of the column published in the Kommersant newspaper on March 5, 2020

On March 12, 2020 an extended meeting of the Trialogue Club International dedicated to the 50th anniversary after ratification of the NPT by the Soviet Union and its entry into force. The keynote speaker is Sergey Ryabkov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. 

On March 12, 2020 the PIR Center, jointly with the Center for Global Trends and International Organizations of the Institute of Contemporary International Studies of the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, conducts a seminar entitled: “50 years of ratification of the NPT by the Soviet Union and its entry into force: lessons of the past, projection into the future". The event will take place with the participation of leading Russian experts, young professionals, and media representatives.

Experts' presentations and discussions of the seminar participants will address key issues related to the past and future of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the role of the Russian Federation in the structure of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime, as well as issues of nuclear non-proliferation, disarmament and peaceful use of nuclear energy on the agenda of the 2020 NPT Review Conference, which will be held in late April, 2000 in New York.

Following the seminar, its materials will be posted on the websites of the PIR Center, the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian MFA, as well as in the media.

Also, as part of the seminar, there will be a presentation of the archive of Roland Mikhailovich Timerbaev (1927 - 2019)  - Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. Ambassador Timerbaev is one of the most influential specialists in the world in the sphere of nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear arms control. He is acclaimed by international expert community primarily as one of the authors of the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the cornerstone of entire nuclear nonproliferation regime.
Roland Timerbaev actively participated in drafting several key international agreements in the sphere of strategic stability and nuclear non-proliferation, including the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Agreement on the Prevention of Nuclear War, the IAEA safeguards system, the Treaty on the Limitation of Underground Nuclear Weapon Tests, and the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty. In 1974-1978 the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary participated in establishing the Nuclear Suppliers Group. In 1990 Roland Timerbaev put forward an initiative to create national non-governmental organization that would be purposed to contribute to nuclear nonproliferation.
Roland Timerbaev stood at the origins of the PIR Center. From 1994 to 1998 Roland Timerbaev was PIR Center President and from 1999 to 2010 - Chairman of the Executive Board. 
Numerous publications of Roland Timerbaev on arms control, nonproliferation and disarmament are well known and highly renowned in the expert community. Ambassador's works include ‘The Peaceful Atom in the International Arena’ (1969), ‘Verification of Arms Control and Disarmament’ (1983), ‘The Complete Prohibition of Nuclear Tests’ (1986), ‘Russia and Nuclear Non-proliferation, 1945-1968’ (1999), ‘International Control of Atomic Energy’ (2003), and ‘The Current Status of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Regime and its Prospects: Towards the Upcoming 2005 NPT Review Conference’ (2004). Roland Timerbaev is also the co-author of textbook ‘Nuclear Nonproliferation’ (2002) and encyclopedia of the same name (2009) – these are first comprehensive study guides on nuclear nonproliferation in Russia.

“Roland was my teacher and tutor. And Roland is still with us. His books are the must for the Russian and international nonproliferation community. In fact, his major book on NPT history is now being translated into English. Russian students, post-graduates, and junior researchers are exploring his rich archive devoted to the NPT exactly on the day of the Treaty’s 50th birthday. Roland was passionate defender of the NPT regime and a strong believer in critical importance of the world without nuclear weapons. He was never peaching, but teaching, all if us, softly, with his great sense of humor and with irony – but in the iron-strong way when it was coming to the key principles of the NPT and its integrity”. – Dr. Vladimir A. Orlov, Founder & Director, PIR Center

The PIR Center delegation will participate actively in the 2020 NPT Review Conference in New York.  Also, several side events will be conducted within the Conference on topics of non-proliferation and disarmament education, one of which will be a meeting of young experts from Russia and the United States on key issues of Russian-American dialogue in the field of nuclear non-proliferation.

A page dedicated to the NPT anniversary has been created on the PIR Center website today.

For questions related to the PIR Center's program “The Future of the NPT and Russia's Interests”, you can contact Vladimir Orlov by e-mail orlov@pircenter.org