Arms Control Treaties

Arms Control Treaties

Arms Control Treaties

Arms control treaties are useful because they have legal standing in international law and, consequently, are more difficult to violate or overturn. Verification mechanisms accompanying arms control agreements provide transparency, deter violations, and eventually reduce misperception between states, allowing for confidence-building that leads to further arms reduction. Arms control accords themselves offer a framework for follow-on talks and deeper cuts. In the future, if the value of military power declines, mechanisms such as unilateral force reductions, a slowdown in force modernization and procurement, and deeper confidence-building transparency measures, may acquire greater significance than traditional structural arms control.

New Start treaty

  • The New START treaty is formally known as the Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms.
  • The term ‘strategic offensive arms’ applies to nuclear warheads deployed by Strategic Nuclear Delivery Vehicles (‘SNDVs’).
  • SNDVs are Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (‘ICBMs’) with a range exceeding 5,500 kilometers, strategic bombers, warships (including strategic submarines ), and cruise missiles, including air and sea-launched cruise missiles.
  • It is the last remaining arms control treaty between the world’s two main nuclear powers, the US and Russia.
  • It is one of the key controls on the superpower deployment of nuclear weapons.
  • It was signed by Barack Obama in 2010 and extended by Joe Biden till 2026.
  • It took effect in February 2011.
  • The treaty will remain in force till 4 February 2026.


  • It restricts both countries to a maximum of 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads each and limits launchers and heavy bombers to 800.
  • It also outlines mutual inspections and regular data exchanges on warheads and delivery mechanisms.
  • It includes an agreement to notify each other about the status of some ballistic missiles.


It is a successor to the START framework of 1991 (at the end of the Cold War) that limited both sides to 1,600 strategic delivery vehicles and 6,000 warheads.

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

  • The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, commonly known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, is an international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament
  • Between 1965 and 1968, the treaty was negotiated by the Eighteen Nation Committee on Disarmament, a United Nations-sponsored organization based in Geneva, Switzerland. However, the treaty entered into force in 1970.
  • More countries are parties to the NPT than any other arms limitation and disarmament agreement, a testament to the treaty’s significance
  • Four UN member states have never accepted the NPT, three of which possess or are thought to possess nuclear weapons: India, Israel, and Pakistan. In addition, South Sudan, founded in 2011, has not joined.

Important Treaty Articles

Articles I and IIThe nuclear-weapon states(NWS) agree not to help non-nuclear-weapon states(NNWS), develop or acquire nuclear weapons, and the NNWS permanently forswear the pursuit of such weapons
Article IIIThis article tasks the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with the inspection of the non-nuclear-weapon states’ nuclear facilities
Article IVIt acknowledges the “inalienable right” of states-parties to research, develop, and use nuclear energy for non-weapons purposes. It also supports the “fullest possible exchange” of such nuclear-related information and technology between NWS and NNWS
Article VIIt commits states-parties to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control

Treaty structure

The treaty is interpreted as a three-pillar system, the details of which are as follows:


  • The five NWS agree not to transfer “nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices” and “not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce” a non-nuclear weapon state (NNWS) to acquire nuclear weapons (Article I)
  • Further, NNWS parties to the NPT agree not to “receive”, “manufacture”, or “acquire” nuclear weapons or to “seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons” (Article II)


Under this, all Parties undertake to pursue good-faith negotiations on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race, to nuclear disarmament, and to general and complete disarmament

Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy

This provides for the transfer of nuclear technology and materials to NPT Parties for peaceful purposes in the development of civilian nuclear energy programs in those countries, subject to IAEA safeguards to demonstrate that their nuclear programs are not being used for the development of nuclear weapons

India and the NPT

Before the Treaty Decision

  • Even when initial disarmament negotiations in the early years of the 1960s veered around issues like ‘non-spread’ and ‘non-dissemination’ of nuclear weapons, the Indian quest was largely for a comprehensive disarmament instrument that could also address issues like nuclear test ban, ending production of fissile materials as well as delivery systems, reducing stockpiles and facilitating their total elimination
  • However, the Indian approach began to change on the eve of the impending Chinese nuclear test in 1964.
  • So, India’s position on the NPT was probably set in concrete when it became clear that the treaty would recognize NWS only those countries that had exploded a nuclear device before January 1, 1967.
  • That meant China would be included and India excluded, and this would be discriminatory on India’s part who had contributed so much to Nuclear development earlier

Why India hasn’t signed the treaty yet?

  • India argues that the NPT creates a club of “nuclear haves” and a larger group of “nuclear have-nots” by restricting the legal possession of nuclear weapons to those states that tested them before 1967, but the treaty never explains on what ethical grounds such a distinction is valid
  • India considers NPT as a flawed treaty and it did not recognize the need for universal, non-discriminatory verification and treatment
  • Further, the demonstration of a nuclear weapons capability in the 1974 explosion guaranteed India the ability to effectively hedge in an asymmetric international system.
  • India’s assertion to maintain a degree of Political Autonomy has shaped better foreign policy choices as well.

Has not signing NPT, cost India?

  • Reduced accessibility to Nuclear Energy
    • If India had signed the Treaty, it would probably have had ten times more than the 6,780 MW of nuclear power that it has today.
    • Nuclear power, if one goes strictly by the book, is safe and also clean, and cheap; and this could have had a multiplier effect on the economy as well
    • A good example is the 500 MW Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor that India began building in 2004, at Kalpakkam and is yet to complete apparently, because of the fear of handling the tricky coolant, liquid sodium
  • Despite India testing its Nuclear bomb first, it has lost its superiority with Pakistan
    • In 1998, Pakistan first tested its Nuclear weapon
    • Now, India and Pakistan both are nuclear weapon owners, but this rendered India’s conventional military superiority irrelevant
    • Had India signed NPT after its first Nuclear test in 1974, it would have been difficult to see Pakistan being assisted by China; which would retain the military edge over India

Concessions, India secured in Nuclear Perspective

  • India despite being a non-signatory to NPT has secured the following concession from a nuclear perspective:
  • In 2006, India and the United States finalized an agreement, in the face of criticism in both countries, to restart cooperation on civilian nuclear technology. Under the deal, India has committed to classify 14 of its 22 nuclear power plants as being for civilian use and to place them under IAEA safeguards
  • In 2006, the United States Congress approved the United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act, endorsing a deal, which allowed for the transfer of civilian nuclear material to India
  • In 2011, Australia announced to allow Uranium exports to India, with strict safeguards to ensure it would only be used for civilian purposes, and not end up in nuclear weapons

Criticism against NPT

  • Over the years the NPT has come to be seen by many Third World states as “a conspiracy of the nuclear ‘haves’ to keep the nuclear ‘have-nots’ in their place”
  • India has criticized the NPT, because it “discriminated against states not possessing nuclear weapons on 1 January 1967
  • The “NPT has one giant loophole“:
    • Article IV gives each non-nuclear weapon state the “inalienable right” to pursue nuclear energy for the generation of power.
    • The United Nations has argued that it can do little to stop states from using nuclear reactors to produce nuclear weapons
  • Further, the NPT has been explicitly weakened by a number of bilateral deals made by NPT signatories, notably the United States

Related Links:

New Start TreatyNon-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)
Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation)