The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty : a comparison of realist, liberal and constructivist views
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was negotiated to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons, resulting from the dangers associated with the use of these weapons well visible during 1945, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and a nuclear arms race as seen during the Cuban Missile Crisis. During NPT Review Conferences, held every five years, the strength and integrity of this treaty is tested. Evident in NPT review conferences is the disagreement between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states over the role and importance placed on nuclear weapons and the slow pace of nuclear disarmament. The NPT has been in force for over 40 years; however the threat of nuclear weapons still exists. It then becomes necessary to understand what role the NPT plays in the international system, which differs depending on the theoretical lens used to interpret the NPT. A realist perspective of the NPT reveals that this treaty is an instrument used by dominant states to safeguard and legitimise their hold over nuclear weapons, while denying other states access to these weapons, instead protecting their allies through extended nuclear deterrence. A liberal perspective of the NPT highlights the moral influence of this treaty as an instrument for the benefit of the greater good, to shield humanity from the dangers of a nuclear explosion by delegitimizing nuclear weapons, key to shaping the perceptions of the decision makers of states regarding state security and nuclear weapons particularly. A constructivist interpretation of the NPT argues that this treaty is a social construction by states to impose a measure of order in their relations. At particular times in history, the NPT moves between a realist and liberal interpretation based on critical events that inform its direction. Social agents (decision makers of the state) through their thinking and ideas construct and give meaning to “reality” which is constantly negotiated. With that in mind, no interpretation of the NPT is fixed and for that reason, a constructivist conclusion seems ultimately applicable, namely that the NPT is what states make of it.