A 50-year-old compromise that helped pull the world back from the brink of nuclear disaster now faces an uncertain future (as does the world).
The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), signed in 1968 by the United States, Russia and other major world powers, stipulated that countries with nuclear weapons would take steps to reduce their stockpiles, and those without wouldn't attempt to acquire any.
It was a last ditch effort to stem the spread of nuclear weapons technology and reduce the risk of catastrophic nuclear war, particularly between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
As our latest Above the Noise video points out, the treaty didn't stop proliferation altogether, but it did help dramatically slow down the nuclear arms race of the Cold War.
As a result, 16 nations agreed to abandon their budding nuclear programs. Nearly every nation in the world has now signed on to it (with a handful of notable exceptions). And while Russian and the U.S. still posess the vast majority of the world's nuclear weapons, the total number of warheads worldwide has dropped sharply: there are roughly 15,000 today, down from around 70,000 in the 1980s. Only nine nations are currently known to have them.
But with U.S.-Russian tensions again on the rise, and both of its hawkish leaders increasingly determined to rebuild their nuclear arsenals, the NPT faces its biggest challenge yet. That’s particularly worrisome given the pace of nuclear weapons development in North Korea and Iran, two of the countries that are not part of the deal and who both pose some degree of threat to the U.S.