The independent resource on global security

9. Nuclear arms control and non-proliferation


I. Introduction

II. Russian–US strategic nuclear arms control

III. Iran and nuclear proliferation concerns

IV. The impasse over North Korea’s nuclear programme

V. Proliferation concerns in Syria and Myanmar

VI. Developments related to multilateral treaties and initiatives

VII. New nuclear weapon-free zones

VIII. Conclusions

Table 9.1. Summary of Russian–US nuclear arms reduction treaties’ force limits

Table 9.2. Nuclear weapon-free zone treaties


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The year 2009 saw new momentum behind global efforts to promote nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Russia and the USA opened formal negotiations on a new strategic arms reduction treaty to succeed the 1991 Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START Treaty) and the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty (SORT). The main points of contention centred on simplifying the START Treaty’s verification provisions and adapting its rules for counting deployed nuclear warheads. The two sides failed to conclude the negotiations prior to START’s expiration in December 2009 but did so in the spring of 2010. The resulting New START Treaty, which mandated modest additional reductions in Russian and US deployed strategic nuclear warheads and associated delivery vehicles, was signed in Prague on 8 April 2010.


Other positive developments in 2009 included the entry into force of two new nuclear weapon-free zone treaties, one covering Central Asia and the other Africa. In September the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a politically binding resolution that codified a broad consensus on a range of actions to promote nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and to address the threat of nuclear terrorism. An apparent breakthrough was also achieved at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, when the 65 member states agreed to open negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT) after a 12-year impasse; however, the negotiations were subsequently blocked by procedural reservations from Pakistan.


In 2009 little progress was made towards resolving the long-running controversies over the nuclear programmes of Iran and North Korea, which have been the focus of international concerns about the spread of nuclear weapons. These concerns were heightened by North Korea’s decisions to conduct a second nuclear test explosion in May 2009 and to resume production of plutonium for nuclear weapons. The controversy over the scope and nature of Iran’s nuclear activities intensified during the year with the revelation that Iran was building a previously undeclared uranium enrichment plant. In November the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) criticized Iran for not fulfilling its safeguards obligations and for not complying with previous demands by the Board and the UN Security Council that it suspend all uranium enrichment-related activities.



Shannon N. Kile (United States) is a Senior Researcher and Head of the Nuclear Weapons Project of the SIPRI Arms Control and Non-proliferation Programme. 

Shannon N. Kile