Myths and Facts Regarding the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and Regime

U.S. State Department
Fact Sheet
Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation

(1) Myth: The NPT has failed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has enjoyed tremendous successes over the 45 years since its entry into force. The NPT is the most widely adhered to nuclear treaty in history. It has established an international legal framework against the proliferation of nuclear weapons to which 190 countries have subscribed. Among them are states that abandoned nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons programs with the NPT serving as an impetus. The vast majority of NPT parties meet their obligations and benefit every day from the security the Treaty provides. For the few that do not, the NPT provides a common international basis for resolving noncompliance where the actions of a country contravene the treaty’s principles.

(2) Myth: Not enough is being done to pursue nuclear disarmament.

When the NPT entered into force in 1970, the United States had a nuclear stockpile of over 26,000 nuclear weapons. By 2013 that number had been reduced by about 82 percent to 4,804 operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads. From October 1993 through September 2013, the United States dismantled almost 10,000 nuclear warheads. Several thousand additional nuclear weapons are currently retired and awaiting dismantlement. Nuclear weapons reductions continue as we fulfill our obligations under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). When the New START Treaty limits are reached in 2018, the United States and Russia will have reduced our respective operationally deployed strategic forces to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads, their lowest level since the 1950s. The United States has reaffirmed our commitment to additional arms control measures, and has proposed negotiations with Russia to achieve another one-third reduction in our strategic nuclear arsenals. We also remain committed to bringing into force the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and we seek the immediate start to negotiations on a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty.

Beyond nuclear arms control negotiations, we seek to broaden our cooperation with non-nuclear weapons states on disarmament verification issues through a new initiative, the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification. This program aims to develop technical solutions to challenges involved in verifying future nuclear agreements.

(3) Myth: Modernization of nuclear weapons and related infrastructure is a step backwards on disarmament and inconsistent with NPT disarmament obligations.

The United States is committed not to pursue new nuclear warheads, and life extension programs will not provide for new military capabilities. U.S. stockpile stewardship and life extension programs are designed to service the existing nuclear arsenal in order to ensure it remains safe, secure, and effective so long as nuclear weapons exist. The United States is pursuing life extension for a number of warhead types that will enable us to eliminate many of the weapons we maintain in our stockpile as a hedge against technical contingencies.

Modernization of nuclear infrastructure has nothing to do with developing new nuclear weapons. These investments are needed to replace aging infrastructure that will allow us to safely, securely, and more rapidly reduce the total stockpile. Simply put, infrastructure modernization, stockpile stewardship, and life extension programs for U.S. warheads will contribute to and do not detract from progress on our NPT nuclear disarmament obligations.

(4) Myth: There is insufficient cooperation among the nuclear weapons states on promoting nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation and peaceful uses.

The NPT Nuclear Weapon States (P5) are working to strengthen implementation of all three pillars of the NPT. Since 2009, the P5 have met annually to jointly pursue an agenda of strengthening the global nuclear nonproliferation regime and have institutionalized regular dialogue on nuclear weapons-related issues. One notable result of these meetings has been development of a common reporting framework on implementation of the 2010 NPT Review Conference Action Plan. We are also pursuing technical work on nuclear terms and definitions that can help lay the foundation for future cooperation or agreements. P5 engagement is a long-term investment to strengthen and advance the NPT, build trust and create a stronger foundation to achieve the Treaty’s disarmament, nonproliferation and peaceful uses goals.

(5) Myth: Nuclear Weapons States are insensitive to the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.

This is simply not true. Underpinning all of our nonproliferation and disarmament efforts, stretching back decades, has been our clear understanding and recognition of the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons. The United States remains firmly committed to the view that it is in the interest of all states that the 70-year record of non-use of nuclear weapons be extended indefinitely. The United States participated in the Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Vienna, Austria, last December to reinforce the message that it is precisely because of the destructive power of nuclear weapons that we give the highest priority to ensuring these weapons remain safe and secure for as long as they exist. While we share some of the frustration with the slow pace of nuclear disarmament, we also recognize that the realization of a world without nuclear weapons will require significant changes in the international system. For this reason, the practical path of step-by-step, verifiable nuclear reductions remains the only realistic route to our shared goal of a nuclear weapons- free world.

(6) Myth: “Hair-trigger” alert status and failures to take proper care of nuclear weapons are accidents waiting to happen, and demonstrate the urgent need to eliminate all nuclear weapons.

U.S. nuclear forces are not on “hair-trigger” alert and the U.S. employs multiple, rigorous and redundant technical and procedural safeguards to protect against accidental or unauthorized launch. Only the President can authorize the employment of U.S. nuclear weapons and we are taking further steps to maximize decision time for the President in a crisis. These steps enhance stability before and during a crisis and avoid the instability and compressed decision times that are inherent to changes in alert status.

The United States is also actively working to reduce the numbers and role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy. These steps include taking all of our non-strategic nuclear bombers and nuclear-capable heavy bombers off day-to-day alert, engaging in the practice of open-ocean targeting for ICBMs and SLBMs, and reducing the number of warheads each ICBM carries to a single warhead. Converting ICBMs to a single warhead makes these weapons less attractive targets and therefore more stabilizing. Continuing at-sea patrols for submarines carrying nuclear weapons have a similar effect.

(7) Myth: Export controls and discriminatory policies are impeding nuclear cooperation and preventing developing countries from exercising their inalienable right to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

The United States fully supports the right of all Parties to the NPT to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, in conformity with their nonproliferation obligations. An effective, transparent export control regime helps build confidence among states that assistance provided for peaceful nuclear development will not be diverted to illegal weapons purposes. The United States and other major supplier nations do not apply export controls in order to impede legitimate nuclear commerce. Rather, U.S. export controls are designed to maximize legitimate trade while raising barriers to high risk transfers that could result in the diversion or retransfer of U.S. technology, equipment and material to weapons purposes.

The United States actively lends support to NPT Parties that are in compliance with their NPT obligations to help them develop the infrastructure needed for peaceful nuclear applications and safe, secure, and safeguarded nuclear power programs. The United States is by far the largest contributor to IAEA peaceful use programs, including about $142 million in voluntary contributions to the Technical Cooperation program since 2010 and another $50 million toward the IAEA Peaceful Uses Initiative (PUI) that we helped launch. PUI programs have addressed the sustainable development needs of more than 120 Member States in areas such as human health, water resource management, food security, environmental protection, and nuclear power infrastructure development.

(8) Myth: The United States has a double standard with respect to opposing nuclear proliferation.

The United States remains committed to universality of the NPT and has consistently urged the few countries that have never signed the Treaty to accede as non-nuclear weapon states and in the interim to take actions that are supportive of NPT principles and provisions. We have also been consistent in advancing international efforts to hold NPT Parties to account for noncompliance with the Treaty – as President Obama said in his 2009 Prague Speech, rules must be binding, violations must be punished and words must mean something. We are very encouraged with process underway to address Iran’s noncompliance and we remain steadfast in our insistence that North Korea return to the NPT and IAEA safeguards and comply fully with its UN Security Council and nonproliferation obligations.

(9) Myth: The United States is not doing its part to promote a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction.

The United States remains firmly committed to the goal of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems. We continue to work with Russia, the UK, the UN and the Conference Facilitator, Ambassador Laajava, to convene the proposed conference to discuss a regional zone. We have supported five rounds of consultations between Israel and Arab states and encourage these talks to continue. Regional states bear the responsibility to reach consensus on arrangements for the conference. Efforts to turn the NPT process into a referendum on this issue should be rejected.

(10) Myth: Nuclear cooperation with India is inconsistent with the NPT.

Nothing in the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement or in the 2008 policy decision of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to enable civil nuclear cooperation with India violates the NPT. Such cooperation is permitted provided the supply of material or equipment is under safeguards. Under the parameters of the initiative, India committed to separate its civilian and military nuclear facilities and has placed all civilian-designated nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards. All U.S. civil nuclear cooperation with India is subject to such safeguards, and cooperation on sensitive nuclear technologies is ruled out. India has also worked to bring its export controls into line with internationally-recognized standards and committed to continue its voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing and support negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty. These commitments constitute significant gains for global nonproliferation efforts.

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