Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones

April 7th, 2009 - by admin

Adam Shapiro / United Nations Chronicle – 2009-04-07 22:34:49

Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones
The Solution to Nuclear Disarmament?

NEW YORK (April 6, 2009) — With tens of thousands of nuclear weapons left over from the Cold War, only a small fraction of which is capable of obliterating this planet many times over, nuclear disarmament is perhaps the most vital issue on the global security agenda. Despite the hazards associated with these weapons, nations continue to proliferate out of fear and insecurity.

Although significant strides have been taken—the cornerstones of the disarmament regime are the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT)—nuclear disarmament is still in its early stages. It has not been completely successful thus far because nuclear-weapon States wish to retain their weapons for reasons of security and prestige, and aspiring nuclear States wish to obtain these weapons to become more powerful. The most promising disarmament mechanisms to date have been the so-called “nuclear-weapon-free Zones” (NWFZs). An offshoot of Article VII of the NPT, which gives regions the right to make treaties establishing NWFZ, these progressive alliances may hold the answer to the future success of nuclear non-proliferation and, perhaps, total disarmament.

The rationale behind NWFZ is that there is a direct correlation between denuclearization and peace. Most States seek nuclear weapons for their deterrent qualities, often pursuing them because they fear that their neighbours are developing such weapons. Nuclear-weapon-free zones are intended to fix this security dilemma because they prohibit the possession, testing, transporting and stationing of nuclear weapons within a specific area. Without the presence of nuclear material in a region, no country should feel insecure enough to seek or develop such weapons. At its foundation, NWFZs are confidence-building measures aimed at improving trust and transparency among neighbouring countries.

The first nuclear-weapon-free zone was established in 1967 in Latin America and the Caribbean under the Treaty of Tlatelolco. All 33 Latin American countries, are parties to the Treaty, which bars nuclear material from the area except for peaceful purposes. A nuclear-free region symbolizes more than just advancement in nuclear disarmament; it is a major step towards general disarmament as well. In the Treaty, it is established that “militarily denuclearized zones are not an end in themselves but rather a means for achieving general and complete disarmament at a later stage”.

After the success of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, the NWFZ initiative achieved global recognition in 1975 when the United Nations adopted a formal definition for NWFZ. According to United Nations General Assembly resolution 3472 B, these zones must: correspond only to those nations within the clearly specified application regions; recognize the full and complete absence of nuclear materials in the application zone; establish a verification and control system for their nuclear facilities; and be formally recognized by the General Assembly.

To date, four more NWFZs, consisting of 110 countries, have been created. The first region established since the one in Latin America was in the South Pacific. The initiative, proposed by the South Pacific Forum, opened for signature in 1983 and was adopted in 1985 as the Treaty of Rarotonga. The zone includes Australia, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Nieu, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Western Samoa. Unlike the Treaty of Tlatelolco, the Rarotonga Treaty prohibits nuclear States from carrying out nuclear tests, even for peaceful purposes, in the application zone. The next to be signed was the Bangkok Treaty in 1995, creating a NWFZ in Southeast Asia. Arising from cold-war security concerns and a perception of Asian unity, the seven members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN)—Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam—as well as the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic, Cambodia and Myanmar, decided to collectively forego nuclear aspirations.

The spread of NWFZs continued into Africa in 1996, with the signing of the Pelindaba Treaty. The call for an African regional agreement on denuclearization originated when France conducted its first nuclear tests in the Western Sahara desert in November 1961. Leaders at the Organization for African Unity (OAU) Summit in 1964 concluded that a prohibition on the production and control of nuclear material was necessary for the entire continent. However, the agreement could not be feasibly attained until 1991, when South Africa—the only African nation to have ever developed nuclear technology—decided to relinquish its nuclear programme and join the NPT as a non-nuclear State, thereby obliging the country not to seek or attain nuclear capability in the future. Although the Pelindaba Treaty is still awaiting ratification—so far, only 19 of the necessary 28 nations have ratified—and has not yet entered into force, it is nonetheless a landmark agreement since a former nuclear-weapon State is part of the zone. A total of 54 African nations could potentially be included in this NWFZ. Rounding out the five current zones is Antarctica, where nuclear explosions and radioactive waste disposal were outlawed in 1959 under the Antarctic Treaty.

The mechanics of the treaties involve more than the ban on nuclear material. Aside from prohibition, the treaties include a protocol by a nuclear-weapons State that lays out negative security assurances for that particular NWFZ, guaranteeing that these States will neither use nor threaten to use their nuclear weapons against States parties. In addition to reinforcing trust between the nuclear-weapons States and the NWFZ States, the treaties increase transparency among the NWFZ States. NWFZs permit the United Nations nuclear-monitoring branch, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to conduct regular ad hoc and special inspections of the region’s nuclear activity.

The strength of the NWFZ initiative lies in its commitment to cooperation and trust. It recognizes that confidence-building is the most important ingredient for the future of nuclear safety. Specifically, the nuclear-free regions provide concrete evidence that participating States are fulfilling their obligations under Article VI of the NPT, which requires non-nuclear States to remain as such, and nuclear States to negotiate “in good faith” to relinquish their nuclear programmes. The intrusive inspection measures established in the NWFZ provide valuable supplements to the verification structure of the NPT and inhibit States from opting for nuclear weapons in response to future security needs.

Under the umbrella of nuclear disarmament initiatives but not fitting into the nuclear weapon-free “zones” are individual States which have agreed to remain non-nuclear and are subject to the same rules and regulations as those nations which are part of the five official zones. Examples of single-State zone are Austria and Mongolia, which announced their non-nuclear posture in 1999 and 2000, respectively.

In the post-cold-war era, several factors have impeded nuclear disarmament. These issues include the standstill in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the United States and the Russian Federation, the uncertainty as to the success of the CTBT, as well as the NPT, missile defense systems that threaten the integrity of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, and the new incentives for strengthening nuclear technologies for nuclear-weapon States.

While the NWFZ initiative has so far been a great success in its five application zones, there are nonetheless very real obstacles for it. These challenges include gaining full ratification of treaties and protocols—the inability to do so is the reason the Pelindaba Treaty has not yet come into force—as well as continuing the verification of compliance. Additionally, the framers of NWFZ have struggled with the question of transporting nuclear materials: should NWFZ be able to prevent nuclear materials from being transported in their seas? Though the Treaty of Tlatelolco specifies a nuclear-free region in Latin America, for instance, there has been debate among nations in the region over whether fissile material should be allowed to be transported through the zone by nuclear-weapon States.

Other challenges facing NWFZ arise from the shortcomings of the NPT. In January 1992, for instance, North Korea and South Korea signed a declaration that would end all nuclear activities on the Korean Peninsula, aside from peaceful nuclear research. However, the agreement was frozen when North Korea withdrew from the NPT in January 2003, and no progress has since been made.

A core problem of the NPT is that it allows some nuclear-weapon States to possess nuclear devices while it prohibits others from doing so. Though it requires nuclear States to negotiate “in good faith” to relinquish their weapons in the future, there has been no effective enforcement mechanism to guarantee compliance with this demand. The only way to achieve substantial disarmament is if nations have the will to disarm. The progress made by the NWFZ treaties is due largely to the sentiment that all States parties want to live in a nuclear-free zone. At the 2000 NPT Review Conference at UN Headquarters in New York, Secretary-General Kofi Annan highlighted the deficiencies associated with the NPT, noting that the existing 35,000 nuclear weapons, many of which are on hair-trigger alert, have not yet been dismantled because “much of the established multilateral disarmament machinery has started to rust—a problem due not to the machinery itself but to the apparent lack of political will to use it”.

Until States are willing to live without these weapons and the nuclear disarmament regime adopts measures such as NWFZ, which completely prohibit them, there will be no guarantee of nuclear safety. In his article, How to Stop Nuclear Terrorism, Graham Allison underscores one simple solution for eliminating the nuclear threat: “No nuclear weapons or materials means no nuclear terrorism.”

It is generally acknowledged that the creation of an NWFZ, by inhibiting the proliferation of nuclear weapons, is a step in the right direction for nuclear disarmament. Recent growth of NWFZs suggests that these regions will continue to expand. On 30 September 2002, a resolution put forth by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to establish a Central Asian Nuclear-Free Zone was adopted by consensus by the General Assembly. On 19 December 2003, the Assembly proposed a resolution for the Middle East to become nuclear-weapon-free, and will try to pass it in its fifty-ninth session or beyond and create new regional NWFZs in South Asia, Northeast Asia and Central Europe. In addition, the Assembly has supported a declaration between existing regions.

The five existing NWFZ treaties are:
1. Antarctic Treaty (1959);
2. Treaty of Tlatelolco (1967): Latin America and the Caribbean;
3. Rarotonga Treaty (1985): South Pacific (Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu);
4. Bangkok Treaty (1995): Southeast Asia (Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Viet Nam, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Cambodia and Myanmar)
5. Pelindaba Treaty (1996, not yet ratified): Africa

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