The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: Looking Back and Looking Ahead

November 9, 2009 — Theodore Sorensen, former Special Counsel and Adviser to President John F. Kennedy, and Ambassador Thomas Graham, Jr., former Special Representative of the President for Arms Control, Non-proliferation and Disarmament (1994-1997), joined us for a discussion on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Ambassador Graham began the briefing by discussing the history and significance of the NPT. During the 1960s, one of President John F. Kennedy’s fears was that the number of nuclear states would increase dramatically throughout the world, but as a result of the NPT, this fear was not realized. Instead, though the NPT is far from perfect and the number of nuclear states has increased, proliferation has been significantly limited. He highlighted the risks of eliminating nuclear weapons but emphasized the importance of maintaining a strong and vibrant NPT, both to prevent future proliferation as well as to eventually reduce existing stockpiles. Ambassador Graham delved into the perception of the NPT in comparative countries and stressed that, if the treaty is viewed as biased or as treating countries unequally, it will not produce effective results. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was also discussed, along with the fact that the debate over test banning became the primary issue throughout most of the latter half of the twentieth century. Ambassador Graham concluded his opening remarks by talking about the threats to the NPT, such as Iran’s pursuit in acquiring nuclear weapons, and of the need for political leadership to accomplish what is politically possible to strengthen the NPT.

Mr. Sorensen shared his experience of being involved in President John F. Kennedy’s inner circle during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He discussed the different views and options that were deliberated within the administration over how to handle the crisis, while also describing those thirteen days as the closest time the world has come to nuclear warfare. He continued his historical narrative by touching upon the significance of holding the briefing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, because Senator Everett Dirksen made a significant difference in limiting nuclear weapons through the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Mr. Sorensen articulated that in order to avoid living through an experience similar to the Cuban Missile Crisis, action needs to be taken to strengthen the NPT.

The Question and Answer session examined the relevance of nuclear deterrence and the transformation and accessibility of nuclear knowledge in present-day. The issues concerning verification were deliberated, as well as, the role of leadership in reducing nuclear weapons. The START treaty, CTBT, and the Article 14 conference were also further explored during the session.

Security for a New Century is a bipartisan study group for Congress. We meet regularly with U.S. and international policy professionals to discuss the post-Cold War and post-9/11 security environment. All discussions are off-the-record. It is not an advocacy venue. For more information, please call Mark Yarnell at (202) 224-7560 or write to [email protected].


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