Obama has vowed that he will do 'whatever it takes' to stop the Iranian enrichment programme. The threat of military force must stay on the table—'As President, I will use all elements of American power to pressure Iran'. He will have support in Europe: French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warned over a year ago that 'the world should prepare for war over Iran's nuclear programme'. The legal pretext for an attack is provided by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which has emerged in the post-Cold War era as a cornerstone of the 'international community'. Recent articles in this journal have examined the formal aims and practical record of the NPT in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, and the policies of the Bush Administration towards it.  What follows will look at two further questions. Firstly, what is the political history of the Treaty as an international agreement—which powers conceived it, and for what reasons; which accepted it, and why; which have rejected it, and with what consequences? Secondly, what has been the effect of the Treaty in world politics, understood as an arena of conflicts involving not only states, but movements and ideals?
These questions hold a particular relevance for New Left Review. Its founding editors in 1960 were leading participants in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the largest mass movement in Britain since the War, and crucible for a new youth-protest culture. No cause was more central to Edward Thompson, Stuart Hall and the New Left of the time than opposition to the British Bomb and to the deadly arms race between the superpowers.  Yet CND faded, once its adherents had been beaten back inside the Labour Party. It was solidarity with the National Liberation Front in Vietnam, rather than the threat of atomic devastation, that would mobilize the great protests of the 1960s. Two decades later, however, when the arrival of US Cruise and Pershing missiles in Western Europe once again revived nuclear fears, a European-wide campaign against the arms race sprang into being, with Edward Thompson once again at its fore. Setting out to unite dissenters in both West and Eastern Europe against the Cold War, end rallied huge demonstrations against nuclear weapons on an international scale and produced a more developed set of debates than its predecessor. Of these, perhaps the most sustained took place in the milieu of this journal, with the publication in 1980 of Thompson's famous essay, 'Notes on Exterminism', followed by contributions from Raymond Williams, Noam Chomsky, Lucio Magri, Mike Davis and others.  But by the mid 1980s end, too, had receded, leaving little mark on the course of events in the final years of the Cold War. Its aftermath was not the expansion of protest that had been the sequel to CND, but the capitulations of Gorbachev and Yeltsin, and the triumph of the West.
Twenty years on again, popular protests against the invasion of Iraq—officially designed to stop it getting nuclear weapons—mobilized far greater numbers than even end, not only in Europe but throughout the world. But this time the peace movement was even shorter-lived, as an effective political force. Nor has there been any movement of anti-imperialist solidarity against the extended military occupation of Iraq, of the kind that played a critical role in ending the war in Vietnam. Now, when an attack is menaced against Iran, there is less sign than ever of any vocal or organized resistance to the rationale for it. Nuclear disarmament, once the cause of a movement for peace, has become the prime justification for acts and threats of war. In this transformation, the role of the NPT has been central. Level-headed analysis of it is overdue.