This week begins a series of discussions on arms control. Whilst we’ve looked at this topic before, this series (and the next two) are all the suggestions of TTAC21 member Maaike Verbruggen. We thank her for the great spread of interesting articles she has found and submitted to the rest fo the group.
The paper this week is ‘Do Arms Control Treaties Work? Assessing the Eﬀectiveness of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty’ by Matthew Fuhrmann and Yonatan Lupu (International Studies Quarterly 60, no. 3 (2016): 530–39; available here).
Without further ado, here is what we think. Please let us know your thoughts in the comment below.
In this paper the authors outline research that addresses the question of whether the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) has limited the spread of nuclear weapons. While the authors point to the range of debates on this subject, with significant studies falling on both sides of the fence, the authors’ study demonstrates that the NPT has had a significant impact on reducing the probability that States will pursue or acquire nuclear weapons.
While this study is of course interesting in its own, one of the other useful contributions it makes is its role in demonstrating that international treaties can indeed make a significant impact on the global landscape. As the authors argue: ‘Policymakers therefore should not be overly dismissive of treaties as a tool for meeting key challenges in the 21st century’ (23). However, while I find the conclusions of the study encouraging, I would still question the wider context surrounding the NPT itself, as the NPT does not exist in isolation, and sits within the context of many decades of Cold War anxiety that has left an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of many people, which may then have fed into the likelihood of State actors ratifying and then adhering to the strictures of the NPT. Can we ever say for certain that the NPT is the defining causal factor behind the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons? I’d argue perhaps not.
Mike Ryder, Lancaster University
The main thrust of this article is to show that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) works. I would have expected it to for those states who are signatories. Seeing as states cannot be bound by rules they do not consent to in international law, it makes sense that only states who agree with the NPT rules would sign up to abide by them. Considering that nuclear proliferation is in nobody’s interest, this also makes sense from a security perspective. However, North Korea are notable state parties who have left the treaty. We see currently the US, South Korean, and international attempts to get North Korea to dismantle its nuclear warfare capability. Considering this is outside of the NPT, it would seem that the attempted de-nuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula is taking place using pure diplomacy (including altering sanctions). If concerted diplomatic efforts (and possibly even military action) is needed to keep states with WMD ambitions in check, then the NPT alone is not enough. Preventing the spread of WMDs is something which all states have an interest in, and the NPT should be recognised as a part of the solution, as this article claims.
Joshua Hughes, Lancaster University
UPDATE: Added 29/4/2019, written earlier
The author attempt to assess whether NPT ratification correlates positively with nuclear nonproliferation, controlling for a range of variables such as the side taken in the US-USSR rivalry, membership of an existing rivalry and whether they are a ‘personalist regime’. Not only do the authors discover ‘the strongest evidence to date of a causal relationship between the NPT and nuclear proliferation’, but the use of multiple controls enable them to also find that ‘the size of the effect of NPT ratification on the probability of nuclear weapons pursuit is about 3 times the effect of belonging to an enduring rivalry and about 7 times the size of the effect of belonging to an alliance with the U.S. or Soviet Union’ (although that one’s a binary-encoded value, which rather leaves the Non-Aligned Movement in the cold). The conclusions seem promising for future arms control regimes, although as we shall see in a later paper that may not always be the case.
Ben Goldsworthy, Lancaster University
Let us know what you think!