Five Decades of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: Time to Pass the Baton to the UN Security Council?




NPT, nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament, NPT weaknesses, potential role of UN Security Council, Security Council Resolutions 1540 of 2004 and 1929 of 2010


The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) came into force in 1970. After renouncing its nuclear weapons programme, South Africa became a party to the NPT in 1991. The NPT is the principal international instrument aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. The NPT has generated various other treaties with similar aims, which, together with the NPT, constitute the ‘nuclear non-proliferation regime’. The NPT has, for various reasons, not been a success. Whether the NPT has achieved nuclear non-proliferation is a moot point–a concept which implies nuclear disarmament. For example, there is evidence of a network of covert operations marketing nuclear technology; some non-NPT states have clandestinely embarked on nuclear weapons programmes, and some NPT states have threatened to adopt a policy of actual or pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons even against non-nuclear weapons states for its deterrent value. Alarm bells are ringing regarding the interpretation of ‘peaceful’ and ‘non-peaceful’ uses of nuclear energy. Despite the NPT, nothing prohibits the testing and refinement of existing nuclear weapons technology. Certain questions need to be answered. Has the NPT not become an instrument of rhetorical posturing by the five major nuclear weapon states–the ‘Club of Five’? Why has none of the Club of Five given their nuclear weapons up? Where do the Club of Five get the moral authority to declare that introducing new members on the Club is unacceptable? Instead of concentrating on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons as the NPT does, should there not rather be an emphasis on the total prohibition of all nuclear weapons? It is submitted that a more active role for the UN in nuclear non-proliferation issues be considered. All UN Secretaries-General have made nuclear non-proliferation one of their top priorities. Kofi Annan concluded that the NPT was the victim of insufficient progress in not only nuclear non-proliferation but also nuclear disarmament and that the world was sleepwalking towards a nuclear disaster. The basis for greater involvement of the UN Security Council in nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament is to be found in the Statute of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Statute of the NPT, the UN Charter and in Security Council Relations 1540 of 2004 and 1929 of 2010. The argument is put forward that as the Security Council has the legal authority to determine threats to the peace or acts of aggression and make recommendations or decide what measures shall be taken regarding it, utilising that body may be a more meaningful route to follow than the NPT which appears to have reached its sell-by date.

Author Biography

George Napier Barrie, University of Johannesburg

Professor Emeritus


Albright C and Hinderstein C, ‘Unravelling the AQ Kahn and Future Proliferation Networks’ (2005) 28 Washington Quarterly <> DOI:

Allison G, ‘Nuclear 9/11: The Ongoing Failure of Imagination’ (2006) 62 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists <> DOI:

Barrie G N, ‘International Law and the Civil Use of Nuclear Energy’ (1976) 2 South African Journal of International Law.

Barrie G N, ‘The Non-designation of South Africa to the IAEA Board of Governors’ (1977) 10 Comparative and International Law Journal of Southern Africa.

Barrie G N, ‘The Requirement of “Awareness” as a Precondition for the Existence of a “Legal Dispute” under Article 36(2) of the Statute of the ICJ’ (2018) 43 South African Yearbook of International Law.

Barrie G N and Reddy K, ‘The ICJ’s Advisory Opinion on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons’ (1998) 115 South African Law Journal.

Blix H, Disarming Iraq (New York Pantheon 2004).

Blix H, ‘Weapons of Terror: Freeing the World of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Arms’ (2006) Stockholm: Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission.

Boulden J, Thakur R and Weiss TG (eds), The United Nations and Nuclear Orders (UN University Press 2009).

Boutros-Ghali B, New Dimensions of Arms Regulation and Disarmament in the Post-Cold War Era (UN Press 1992).

Butler K, Salama S and Spector LS, ‘Where is the Justice?’ (2006) 62 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists <> DOI:

Clary C, ‘Dr Kahn’s Nuclear Walmart’ (2004) 76 Disarmament Policy.

Claude I, Swords into Plowshares (Random House 1971).

Cohen A, Israel and the Bomb (Columbia University Press 1998).

Cortright J and Lopez G, Sanctions and the Search for Security (Lynne Riener 2002) <> DOI:

Davis K, ‘Hurting more than Helping’ (2016) 15 Minnesota Journal of International Law.

De Wet E, The Chapter V11 Powers of the United Nations Security Council (Hart 2004).

Dugard J, Dugard’s International Law (Juta 2018).

ElBaradei M, ‘Preserving the Non-Proliferation Treaty’ (2005) 4 Disarmament Forum.

Garvey J, ‘A New Architecture for the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons’ (2007) 12 Journal of Conflict and Security Law <> DOI:

Johnstone I, ‘Security Council Deliberations: The Power of the Better Argument’ (2008) 14 European Journal of International Law <> DOI:

Joyner A, ‘Non-Proliferation Law and the United Nations System: Resolution 1540 and the Limits of the Power of the Security Council’ (2007) 20 Leiden Journal of International Law <> DOI:

Kang C, Nuclear North Korea (Columbia University Press 2003).

Kile S, ‘World Nuclear Forces 2008’ in SIPRI Yearbook 2008: Armament, Disarmament and International Security (Oxford University Press 2008).

Krepon M, ‘Looking Back: The 1998 Indian and Pakistani Tests’ (2008) 4 Arms Control Today.

Kristensen H and Norris R, ‘Nuclear Notebook’ (2006) 62 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 64. <> DOI:

Lewis P and Thakur R, ‘Arms Control, Disarmament and the United Nations’ (2004) 1 Disarmament Forum.

Lopez G and Cortright J, ‘Containing Iraq: Sanctions Worked’ (2004) 83 Foreign Affairs <> DOI:

Matheson M, ‘The Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons’ (1997) 91 American Journal of International Law <> DOI:

McMillan J, Sokolsky R and Winner N, ‘Towards a New Regional Security Architecture’ (2003) 26 Washington Quarterly <> DOI:

Obama B, A Promised Land (Viking 2020).

Pande S, ‘Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in the Middle East’ (1998) 9 Strategic Analysis <> DOI:

Perkovich G, India’s Nuclear Bomb (Columbia University Press 1999).

Schnell J, The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger (New York Metropolitan 2007).

Sidhu W and Thakur K, Arms Control After Iraq (UN Press 2006).

Talmon S, ‘The Security Council as World Legislature’ (2005) 99 American Journal of International Law <> DOI:

Van Ham P and Bosch O, Global Non-Proliferation and Counter-Terrorism: The Role of Resolution 1540 and its Implications (New York Metropolitan 2007).

Waldheim K, In the Eye of the Storm (Adler and Adler 1986).

Weiner A, ‘The Use of Force and Contemporary Security Threats: Old Medicine for New Ills?’ (2006) 59 Stanford Law Review.

UN General Assembly Resolutions and Declarations

Resolution on the Non-Use of Force in International Relations and Permanent Prohibition on the Use of Nuclear Weapons, Resolution 2936 XXVII: UN Doc A/Res/2936 XXVII.

Declaration on the Prohibition of the Use of Nuclear and Thermo-Nuclear Weapons, Resolution 1653 XVI: UN Doc A/Res/1653 XVI.

UN Security Council Resolutions

UN Doc S/Res/255 (1968).

UN Doc S/Res/487 (1981).

UN Doc S/Res/687 (1991).

UN Doc S/Res/1540 (2004).

UN Doc S/Res/1718 (2006).

UN Doc S/Res/1929 (2010).


Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons 1996 ICJ Reports 226.

Marshall Islands v India 2016 ICJ Reports 255.

Marshall Islands v Pakistan 2016 ICJ Reports 552.

Marshall Islands v United Kingdom 2016 ICJ Reports 883. DOI:



How to Cite

Barrie, George Napier. 2023. “Five Decades of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: Time to Pass the Baton to the UN Security Council?”. South African Yearbook of International Law 48:23 pages.
Received 2021-06-01
Accepted 2023-07-11
Published 2023-08-17