What is “non-proliferation”?

Nuclear era began in 1945, when the USA became the first state, which tested the nuclear weapon, and it was the first (and the only) state, which applied it. The USSR inevitably followed the USA, thus in 1949 it tested the first nuclear explosive device. In 1952 nuclear weapon was developed in Great Britain, in 1960 – in France, and in 1964 – in China. The pressing issue of prevention of nuclear war was simultaneously brought up, since the experience of Japan turned out to be too horrible to consider nuclear weapon only as “more powerful bomb”.

The meaning of non-proliferation regime

In 1950-s it seemed that the world would resort to the proliferation of nuclear weapon, as it traditionally happened with all new types of weapon. Most states including Australia, Egypt, Switzerland and Sweden, having more or less developed science and economy, launched their own nuclear programs. Nonetheless, at the turn of 1950-1960s the situation began to change.

It became clear what the consequences of nuclear weapon uses could be; people began to realize that nuclear weapon was of a little use for such traditional military purposes as acquisition of a territory, achievement of limited political goals etc. because of its huge destructive force; there was a mass anti-nuclear movement of society; it became obvious for many countries that expenses for its development were prohibitive; group of states that had already acquired nuclear weapons, was ready to prevent the appearance of new nuclear nations.


Blue Danube – the first operational British nuclear weapon

A growing number of states began to refrain from acquiring of nuclear weapon upon condition of certain security guarantees, first of all guarantee that their neighbors and potential enemies would also be non-nuclear.

On the other hand, countries that had already developed nuclear weapons, did not show their desire to eliminate nuclear arsenals, at least in the nearest future (complete nuclear disarmament was declared by them as long-term objective). Therefore, attempts of the most of countries to prevent nuclear aggression by means of creation of nuclear-free world could not have been realized completely.

It is necessary to take into account that military nuclear programs of the most of countries were not planned as a response to the nuclear weapons of the main nuclear states. Thus, Israel program was mainly connected with lack of regional situation proper regulation, in particular with threatening feeling caused by Arab countries. Egyptian nuclear program was provoked with threatening feeling from Israel side, and, particularly in 1950-s, with fear of policy of Great Britain and France (in 1956 they tried to capture control under Suez Canal).

Therefore, by 1960s it was controversial situation. On the one hand, the very fact that nuclear weapons belonged to the small group of countries, provoked its proliferation, on the other hand – most countries were interested in abolition of nuclear weapons in order to prevent its proliferation.

In 1960-s, as a result of protracted official and private negotiations, it was achieved a sort of compromise, that is Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) according to which only five states that had had nuclear weapons by the time of entry into this treaty, reserved the right to possess it officially, while the vast majority of other countries voluntarily resign this right. From the viewpoint of neighbors’ relations, the fact that most countries considered uses of nuclear weapons only for the regional purposes, essentially facilitated the achievement of this compromise.


Within the framework of NPT, the reverse side of this tacit recognition of five countries uniqueness was their obligation to work towards nuclear disarmament. However this responsibility is one of the weakest links of non-proliferation regime, since the process of disarmament is a complicated, long-term and quite expensive issue, as it turned out at the end of 1980s.

Nowadays only a small group of countries is beyond the non-proliferation regime, and almost all of them, namely Israel, India and Pakistan, possess nuclear weapon, although they refrain from its military expansion. Besides, the small group of countries showed their unreliability. This is, first of all, Iraq, which in 1980s implemented secret military nuclear program in contravention of its duties. and North Korea, which developed complete plutonium cycle that allows in prospect to negotiate about elaboration of nuclear weapons, and in 1994 it announced its intention to withdraw from NPT. And North Korea, which declared itself a nuclear power in 2005 and conducted three nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013, but in 2003 the DPRK has finally ceased to be a member of the NPT.

Despite the complexity and contradictions of non-proliferation regime and threats to its existence, the very regime became a part of international relations system and one of the cornerstones of legal infrastructure of international security.

Definition and context of non-proliferation regime

The context of the meaning of non-proliferation regime is intuitively obvious, since it refers to the actions that prevent nuclear weapon proliferation and provide unreversed decisions of countries that refused nuclear weapons acquisition. At the same time this regime is so complicated, that intuitive definition is rather insufficient. It is required not only more rigorous definition, but the understanding of context, in which the very regime exists, in particular its connection with the regimes of non-proliferation of other types of mass destruction weapon and reduction of armaments.

Non-proliferation regime is the complex of international agreements and organizations, the participants of which are nuclear as well as non-nuclear states, and domestic legislations of member states, the aim of which is to prevent those nations from acquisition of nuclear status that had not had it till 1967.

The subject of the regime is all possible nuclear explosive devices (since it was not possible to recognize nuclear explosive devices that are used for military and peaceful purposes, although in most cases it refers to weapon) as well as materials, tools and technologies intended for its production.

The mechanism of the regime lies in the regulation of member states behavior that includes preservation of non-nuclear status of members that had not had nuclear weapon till 1967; non-transfer of nuclear explosive devises, materials, equipment and technologies intended for its elaboration and production for countries that do not participate in regime or intend to violate it; refusal of non-nuclear states of acquiring of materials, equipments and technologies, as well as nuclear explosive devices; and the conduct of negotiations among nuclear member states of nuclear weapon elimination regime.

Definition given above includes a range of significant aspects that require special examination.

Firstly, this regime is mentioned in the number of interrelated international agreements of different status, among which Treaty of Non-proliferation holds a central position. There are other important agreements along with it, such as Statute of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and conventions concluded under the aegis of Agency.


The complex of agreements on reduction of nuclear weapon, including bilateral agreements between the USSR (Russia) and the USA, and a number of multilateral treaties (for instance, on nuclear weapon test ban, on nonconformity of weapons in Antarctic, on the Moon and other celestial bodies, and at the bottom of seas and oceans etc.) joins the system of treaties directly related to non-proliferation regime. Treaties on Establishment of Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (NWFZ) are directly connected to non-proliferation regime.

Secondly, non-proliferation regime is institutionally developed, that is it includes an essential amount of organizations and other forms of regular cooperation of members. Thus, IAEA became the part of regime, and key functions were transferred to it. The aim of these functions is to ensure effectiveness of the regime, also determine what materials are subjected to control, and control the activity of nuclear and non-nuclear member states on-site.

Two international mechanisms are the part of regime. Officially these mechanisms do not belong to the given regime, but in the sphere of expert control they play a key role in formulation of joint actions of advanced countries (that is those countries which have something to transfer to potential violators). This is Nuclear Exporters Committee, known as Zangger Committee, which was set up in 1971, and Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), established in 1974.

Dense network of various institutions that unite all participants of regime, strengthens its stability and ability to respond to the changes of situation in time, elaborating measures to improve efficiency.

Thirdly, domestic legislation of every member state of regime is the part of it, especially those states which have highly developed nuclear industry. It concerns, particularly, the legislation on accounting and control over fissile materials and nuclear explosive devices, and legislation on export control system that prevents illegal and contraband exportation of items abroad that are subjected to control. In this sphere national legislation is based on the system of guarantees elaborated by IAEA, and documents of Zangger Committee and NSG. At the same time each party uses these documents in their own manner in their legal practice, establishing even more severe restrictions than it is required in international documents, and in addition it settle an issue of their implementation.

Nuclear weapons are defined as nuclear devices with uncontrolled release of energy that is produced during fission and fusion of fissile materials, and it is used for military purposes. There is no generally accepted definition for nuclear explosive devices: for example, each Treaty on Establishment of NWFZ has its own definition, though all of them are similar.

Nuclear weapons, alongside with chemical and biological weapons are the parts of broader concept of weapons of mass destruction. Distinctive feature of all types of WMD is ability to kill people massively and unselectively. Nuclear weapons attract close attention because of its demolition character, ability to destruct not only people but buildings and material values, and serious long-term environmental impact. That is why it is paid so careful attention to it in the sphere of disarmament activity, and the first and the most developed non-proliferation regime was connected to it not by chance.

The practice has shown that it is easier to restrict the spread of nuclear weapon than other types of WMD, since its development requires specific materials and equipment, that are more manageable, and significant financial resources.


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