With the number of nuclear weapon states steadily rising, and tensions between the Cold War superpowers continuing to intensify, world leaders on both sides of the Iron Curtain recognized that “the proliferation of nuclear weapons would seriously enhance the danger of nuclear war.”
The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) became effective on March 5, 1970, when the United States and the Soviet Union, along 41 other individual states, submitted their depositions of the treaty in Washington, London, and Moscow.
Although the decade long process to produce the treaty began before Nixon’s presidency, the NPT was the first of several important international agreements signed between the US and the USSR under the Nixon Administration. At the time, many believed that non-proliferation through international cooperation was essential to protecting human lives around the world. For President Nixon, who ratified the treaty in November 1969, the NPT formed a crucial component of what he referred to as his “era of negotiation” with communist leaders.
While peaceful negotiations proved to be a hallmark of President Nixon’s policy towards the USSR, support for his course of action was not universally felt among all Americans. In 1969, Senator Barry Goldwater voiced his opposition to the NPT to the President, speaking for conservatives across the United States who felt a firmer hand was needed when dealing with communism, and its perceived threat to the American way of life. In a memorandum dated March 5, 1969, a year before the enforcement of the NPT, Henry Kissinger, acting as President Nixon’s National Security Advisor, detailed Senator Goldwater’s objections to the treaty in preparation for a meeting between the Senator and the President. However, the Administration was more than prepared to defend the NPT, and the security it brought to the American people.