Exciting New Developments with Nuclear-Weapon Free Zones

by Alyn Ware

On a large lake there is a small lily pad which in a month produces another lily pad. The following month the lily pads produce another lily pad each making four lily pads on the lake. This doubling of lily pads occurs every month. For the first year or so it is not noticed as the lake is very large. However, one day after a couple of years, people notice that about 1/8th of the lake is covered. The next month of the lake is covered. The next month the lake is covered. Now they realize that in just one more month the whole lake will be covered.

Since the first atomic bomb was used in World War II, people have been establishing Nuclear Weapon Free Zones (NWFZs) at local, national and regional levels. The regional ones started slowly, first with Antarctica, then outer space, Latin America, South Pacific and others. Now however, half the world is covered by NWFZs. The momentum they are generating, like the multiplication of lily pads on the lake, could enable the whole world to become a NWFZ in the not-too-distant future. There is a new buzz about NWFZs - existing ones are starting to work together, new ones are being established in difficult environs and old proposals for other zones are being dusted off and revamped to meet new political conditions and opportunities.

What started with the Antarctica Treaty in 1959 as a measure to keep certain landmasses free from the deployment of nuclear weapons, has now developed into a powerful tool for deligitimising and excluding nuclear weapons, building regional stability and establishing stepping stones to a nuclear weapons free world.

For the past few months I have been swept up in a whirlwind of conferences, meetings and other events in North America, the Middle East, Europe and Asia concerning NWFZs in those regions.

Central Asian NWFZ

In October 2006 I was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly at which Kazakhstan reported on the recent establishment of a Central Asian NWFZ involving their own country along with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. This was a very significant achievement as it includes a former nuclear-weapons-possessing country (Kazakhstan), some countries that have a close security relationship with Russia under the Tashkent Treaty, and others that are developing security relationships with the United States.

Prior to the Central Asian NWFZ being established, it was possible that such security relationships might permit the deployment or transit of nuclear weapons during times of conflict. The United States, which does not like to see restrictions placed on its forward (external) deployment of nuclear weapons, thus opposed the treaty vigorously, as did France and Britain. Such was the opposition from the US that immediately prior to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev's meeting with President Bush in early October, Kazakhstan ran large advertisements in both the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times in order to highlight Kazakhstan's peace and nonproliferation credentials and to weaken US opposition to the treaty.

European NWFZ

In March I was in Austria, Sweden and Switzerland for a series of meetings and conferences with parliamentarians and nongovernmental organisations to discuss proposals for the establishment of a Central European NWFZ.

The break-up of the Warsaw Pact has led to a corridor of countries from Eastern and Western Europe that could form a NWFZ. Such a zone could also be open for membership of those NATO States that commit not to accepting deployment of nuclear weapons on their territories. As such, it would provide a political impetus for NATO countries currently hosting nuclear US weapons (Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Turkey) to end such deployment (as Greece recently did), and for all NATO States to affirm that they would not host nuclear weapons even in wartime.

Belarus called for such a Central European NWFZ at the United Nations General Assembly in October 2006. The Belgian Senate and House of Deputies have adopted resolutions without opposition calling for such a zone. Other parliaments are also discussing the idea.

Nordic/Arctic NWFZ

In November I spoke in Ottawa to the Canadian Section of the cross-party Parliamentary Network for Nuclear Disarmament (PNND), chaired by Alexa McDonough MP. The key topic was the possibility for a Nordic/Arctic NWFZ which could include Canada. PNND Canada has now taken this on as one of their projects for 2007-2008 and has started discussions with parliamentarians in the Nordic countries.

Middle East NWFZ

In May I was in Egypt and Israel meeting with parliamentarians, diplomats and NGOs to discuss possibilities for progress towards a Middle East NWFZ or Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

The establishment of a Middle East NWFZ has been called for on many occasions by the United Nations General Assembly and the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conferences (especially in 1995 and 2000). Currently the one State in the region possessing nuclear weapons (Israel) agrees with the aim of a NWFZ but says that it must come after peace in the region and full recognition of Israel by all States. Other States in the region believe that peace cannot be achieved while Israel continues to possess nuclear weapons - which they see as a threat to their security.

This stalemate has prevented progress for some time, but there are now signs that it could be broken. There is growing concern in Israel about the nuclear developments in Iran and the recent announcements by a number of Arab States that they are also planning to develop nuclear energy. Such programmes could be used to develop a nuclear weapons capability raising the spectre of nuclear proliferation in the region.

A number of academics, parliamentarians and NGOs in Israel are becoming more open to the idea of a NWFZ as it could provide a way to prevent the development in their neighbouring countries of more sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle such as uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing. These have been prohibited, for example, in Central Asian NWFZ. Greenpeace has thus found some resonance with its new campaign for a Nuclear Free Middle East which was launched by the recent visit of the Rainbow Warrior to Egypt and Israel. A number of other international organisations, including the Parliamentary Network for Nuclear Disarmament, have started to facilitate a process of dialogue on this issue between parliamentarians, academics, scientists, disarmament experts, diplomats and NGOs from Israel, Egypt and other Middle East countries.

40th Anniversary of Tlatelolco Treaty

On Valentines Day this year (February 14) the Hon Marian Hobbs (MP for Wellington) and I participated in the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Latin American and Caribbean NWFZ (Tlatelolco Treaty) in Mexico City. Atomic Mirror, a non-governmental organisation founded by Pamela Meidell and Janet Bloomfield, gave all the delegates Valentines Day cards and chocolates to express love and appreciation for this, the first NWFZ comprising populated countries.

Government, academic and civil society representatives at the conference:

Collaboration between NWFZs

For a number of years New Zealand and Brazil have been promoting the idea of a Southern Hemisphere and Adjacent Areas NWFZ. This began with a UN resolution which has been widely supported. Then in April 2005 Mexico hosted a Conference of States Parties to NWFZs - the first time the 108 NWFZ countries (now 113 with Central Asian NWFZ in 2006) had ever come together. The conference adopted a strong and forward looking declaration on nuclear non- proliferation and disarmament which was then presented to the 2005 NPT Review Conference.

The Mexico conference was primarily for governments. However, Mexico also invited NGOs to participate helping make the conference rich with ideas and political strategy. One idea to emerge from the NGOs, and which gained particular attention from governments, was for the establishment of a new political grouping comprising the States parties to NWFZs to work in international forums such as the United Nations General Assembly, Conference on Disarmament and NPT Review Conferences, in order to initiate and build political momentum for nuclear disarmament initiatives.

Mongolia Single-State and NE Asia NWFZs

One of the most interesting NWFZs to be established is the Mongolian single-State NWFZ established in 2000 and the only zone of its kind. Where-as a number of countries have adopted domestic legislation to prohibit nuclear weapons (such as New Zealand's 1987 nuclear weapons free zone act) which has authority over those actors under the jurisdiction of the State, a single State NWFZ in addition seeks binding commitments from the NWS to honour the zone making it more like a regional NWFZ.

I attended a conference in Mongolia in May, organised by the former Mongolian ambassador to the United Nations, which aimed to highlight the experience of Mongolia's Single State NWFZ and encourage the possibility of similar NWFZs in other places. The conference also looked at the possibility of establishing a NWFZ in North East Asia. Such a zone would encompass Japan, South Korea and North Korea. Such a zone would also involve the Nuclear Weapon States (particularly Russia, China and the US) giving binding assurances that they would not deploy nuclear weapons in the region or use nuclear weapons or pre-emptive force against the States parties to the zone. In this way, the security needs of the NE Asia States could be met without relying on the nuclear weapons either of their allies (in the case of Japan and South Korea) or on possessing nuclear weapons themselves (as in the case of North Korea).

NWFZs adapting to the circumstances

Each NWFZ had political difficulties to overcome in order to be established. Antarctica includes several NWS (UK, Russia and the US) competing for territory and possible future resource control. The Latin American zone includes Cuba, which had hosted Soviet nuclear weapons and at the time maintained a strong military relationship with USSR. It also includes Brazil and Argentina which were involved in competitive programmes to develop nuclear weapons capability. The South Pacific zone includes Australia, which continues to accept nuclear deterrence under its military relationship with the US, and territories of France where they still tested nuclear weapons at the time of the treaty's negotiation. The African zone includes Egypt, which continues to be concerned about the nuclear weapons possessed by its neighbour Israel, and South Africa which used to possess nuclear weapons itself.

Skilful negotiations and treaty text drafting have enabled countries in these regions to establish NWFZs even if not all aspects are immediately implemented. In fact, the very establishment of each zone has generated political momentum for further denuclearisation in the region - whether it be the curtailment of the Brazilian and Argentinian nuclear weapons programmes, the end to French nuclear testing, acceptance by the NWS of restrictions to their deployment policies or other progress.

From NWFZs to a nuclear weapon free world

The NWFZs have thus been very successful in delegitimising nuclear weapons and excluding them from large areas of the world. If current trends continue leading to the establishment of additional NWFZs and an increase in cooperation and collaboration between these zones, the prospects of an inexorable movement to achieving a nuclear weapons free world look positive.

For further information contact alyn@lcnp.org or visit www.pnnd.org or www.lcnp.org