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Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons: a Mirage

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Dr. Strangelove portraits the possible aftermath of the nuclear race between any rival nations. After WWII, the entire world witnessed what nuclear weapon was capable of when the US dropped two bombs in Japan. Since then, it became the symbol of a nation’s military strength. Any nation that has a military rival such as India and Pakistan, China and the US, Russia and the US, or Israel and Palestine developed and armed themselves with more than one nuclear arsenals. Even North Korea’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon is now officially confirmed. Despite the nation’s relentless attempts of achieving nuclear weapons, the international community tried its best to sustain the spread of the deadly weapon that could end the human civilization by ratifying a treaty called the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. This treaty basically ensures that no States would develop and arm themselves with nuclear weapons. However, this treaty may seem to guarantee a silver lining for the international community, it is not as effective as the States would want it to be for several reasons.

In Dr. Strangelove, it starts with a scene at Burpleson Air Force Base. At the base, Mandrake transmits “attack Plan R” to the bombers. Shortly after the plan is transmitted to the 843rd bomb wing, General Ripper destroys every possible way for the outside to contact the base. Then Ripper initiates defense protocol. He orders his soldiers to attack anyone approaching from outside because they are communists. Major Kong and other members adjust their course to its primary target after the transmission from the base. Spontaneously, Merkin Muffley, president of the United States, orders the closest armed forces to retake Burpleson base and get Ripper on the phone. The Russian ambassador is invited to the room to negotiate.

Through the ambassador, Muffley attempts to deal with the urgent danger with Soviet Prime Minister, Dimitri. Eventually, the deployed armed forces retake the Burpleson base and make the soldiers surrender after a violent exchange of fires. Witnessing surrendering soldiers, Ripper commits suicide because he realizes that he failed. Meanwhile, the Soviet defense force successfully eliminates all of the bombers. Due to the attack, Kong’s bomber takes serious damage, which breaks some major parts of the bomber. However, the bomber regains stability because the crew managed to fix the crucial parts. At the base, Mandrake desperately goes through Ripper’s notes. He successfully finds a note with “Peace on Earth” and “Purity of Essence” on it. From the note, he realizes that the cancellation code must be from a combination of “P-O-E”. After Mandrake figures out the recall code, he directly informs the War room.

Although the War Room receives and acknowledges the code, it turns out that Major Kong’s plane is still successfully executing its mission. The President urges the Soviet Premier to eliminate the bomber. Soviet forces move its major defenses at Laputa and Bordkov. Due to the critical condition of the bomber, Major Kong decides to switch its target to an ICBM base at Kodlosk. Major Kong opens the bomber’s doors manually because of the door malfunction due to the damage. The doors finally open. The bomb drops and explodes. While Major Kong is struggling with the bomber’s door, Dr. Strangelove immediately explains about this plan to save mankind from the Doomsday machine. He advises utilizing landmines to a shelter to hold a small population until the half-life of radioactive residue dies out. The people in the war room agrees with Strangelove’s insane plan without hesitation. Then near two minutes long montage of mushroom cloud ends the film.

Even though the movie is based on the unrealistic plot which contains an insane general starting an all-out nuclear attack, it is still a possible scenario that NPT would like to prevent. Nevertheless, its ultimate goal has been shattering for three reasons.

First, the number of nuclear weapons in the world is not decreasing. Despite the relentless attempts to reduce nuclear technology and weapons, nuclear weapons are being further developed and being spread. The United States alone spends some $355 billion for its modernization of nuclear weapons arsenals and their delivery systems. Also, there were 5 states with nuclear weapons in 1995; however, there are nine nuclear weapons armed states as of 2015. Also, Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was negotiated to regulate nuclear test; however, China and the United States, which are two NPT nuclear weapons states and Egypt, India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan are blocking its entry into force. As we can see, States do not believe in giving up the ultimate power, which can guarantee their international influence. Hence, it is a mirage to hope that nuclear-armed States will voluntarily hand over their greatness source of power.

Second, States just calculated cost-benefit analysis, and nuclear-powered technology will always be their choice. Even if States do not use nuclear technology to arm themselves, they will always use it for economic reasons. One of the examples is the unprecedented nuclear transaction between West Germany and Brazil. They agreed to transfer nuclear fuel cycle including enrichment and reprocessing plants (Jaishankar and Mohan, 798). Also, Canada, Japan and the Republic of Korea are other examples of ‘near-nuclear’ states, which have nuclear technology, material, and equipment to build a nuclear explosive device. Due to their political reasons, they have not armed themselves with nuclear explosive devices yet. However, there is a high possibility of them arming themselves with it if the right political incentive is given. Thus, States will not let go of the nuclear plants or technologies because of their domestic economic and political incentives, and pressures from the well-entrenched interest group as well.

Third, leaving or violating NPT does not have any detrimental effect; therefore, it is de facto non-binding. Under the United Nations regime, there have been continuous attempts to implement legal deterrence measures. For example, the Marshall Islands took the nine nuclear weapons armed states to the ICJ.

The claims against the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China were made under the NPT and customary international law, and the claims against India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea were made under customary international law. However, the opinion of ICJ cases does not have any binding authority as a precedent for future ICJ cases. Also, the States realistically do not need to follow the court’s decision as well. The very example is the United States. Also, another example would be North Korea. By leaving NPT, North Korea surely suffered some aftermath; however, they are now sitting with the United States with equal rights to negotiate by arming themselves with nuclear weapons. This is because nuclear weapons, unlike biological and chemical weapons among weapons of mass destruction, and antipersonnel landmines and cluster weapons as inhumane conventional weapons, have not been outlawed under international conventions.

States only follow their own interest. Most of the times, arming themselves with nuclear arsenals or developing nuclear technology benefits States’ interest more than abiding international treaties from time to time. It is highly unlikely for mankind to face the ending the Dr. Strangelove depicts; however, it also does not decrease the possibility to zero either. Therefore, the most effective way to deter the spread is to present an incentive for States to give up nuclear technology. At the same time, international law should have authority over those who breach the regulation with tangible force.


  1. Jayantha Dhanapala. (2015). The 2015 Review Conference for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear weapons: A Review or a Requiem?. Global Governance(Brill), 21(1), The Global Forum
  2. S. Jaishanakr and C. Raja Mohan. (1977). Nuclear Cartelisation: Theory and Practice. Economic and Political Weekly(Economic and Political Weekly), 12(20).
  3. Victor Zaborsky. (1998). What to Control and How to Control: Nonproliferation Dilemmas. World Affairs(Sage Publications, Inc), 161(2).

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