United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs
Nuclear Weapon Free Zones (NWFZs) have been established by negotiations to cover Antarctica, Latin America and the Carribean, South Pacific, South East Asia, Africa, Central Asia, the Sea Bed, Outer Space and the moon.
Prior to the establishment of these zones, most of these areas experienced nuclear weapons activities, such as nuclear weapons deployment or testing by the nuclear weapon States or fledgling nuclear programs by States in the zones. The establishment of the zones has thus played an important role in reversing nuclear proliferation and consolidating a nuclear non-possession norm.
NWFZs contain non-nuclear commitments that go beyond those in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The zones proscribe deployment of nuclear weapons on the territories of the States parties, and also include additional protocols for the Nuclear Weapon States under which they commit to respect the zones and not to threaten or use nuclear weapons against the States parties to the zones. However, such protocols require the assent of the NWS, and not all of them have signed and ratified the protocols of all the NWFZs.
Basel Peace Office is working to support the existing NWFZs, and to encourage negotiations for the achievement of additional NWFZs, particularly in North East Asia, the Arctic, the Middle East and Central Europe.
North East Asia
Basel Peace Office is working with PNND, the Nagasaki Research Centre on Nuclear Abolition, Nautilus Institute and the Asia Pacific Leadership Group on Nonproliferation and Disarmament on a proposal for a North East Asian NWFZ which takes into consideration the security concerns and relationships of the three intra-zonal countries (Japan, North Korea and South Korea) and the principle nuclear weapon States active in the region (China, Russia and the USA).
In 2009, PNND member Katsuya Okada (later to become the Foreign Minister of Japan) released a model NE Asia NWFZ treaty based on a 3+3 approach, under which the three intra-zonal States would agree to prohibit the deployment of nuclear weapons on their territories and refrain from threatening each other with nuclear weapons from their allies, and the three key NWS would agree not to threaten or use nuclear weapons against the three intra-zonal States.
The 3+3 proposal is supported by a cross-party group of PNND members from Japan and South Korea, and has been discussed in a number of meetings of academics, parliamentarians, policy experts and officials in Nagasaki, Tokyo and Seoul.
In the Arctic, conflict and confrontation between the nuclear-armed States is increasing – partly as a result of the receding ice-cap resulting in new resource and territorial claims. This is leading to a flurry of legal claims and counterclaims regarding transit rights and ownership of valuable seabed resources. There is a growing possibility of serious disputes over these, leading to increased militarization and possibly even triggering armed conflict.
On 2 August 2008, for example, a Russian submarine planted their national flag on the seabed under the North Pole claiming it as part of the north Russian continental shelf. This provoked a stern rebuke from Canadian defense minister, Peter MacKay: "This isn't the 15th century. You can't go around the world and just plant flags and say: 'We're claiming this territory'." Canadian Prime Minister Harper followed a few days later by announcing plans to construct two new military facilities in the High Arctic region adjacent to the Northwest Passage sea route.
The US and Russia currently deploy nuclear weapons on strategic submarines that transit the Arctic waters. In addition, Russia maintains strategic naval bases in the region. These create some tension between these two nuclear powers.
Currently there is no regional forum for circumpolar nations to discuss and resolve conflicts and build cooperative security. The Arctic Council is specifically barred from dealing with security issues. An Arctic NWFZ could thus serve as a demilitarization and confidence building measure, and as a means to establish a regional forum to build cooperative security.
Basel Peace Office is working with the Danish and Canadian sections of PNND and Pugwash to advance the proposal for an Arctic NWFZ. It has already found support from the indigenous nations in the Arctic and from the government of Denmark.
- Archive of documents to support a Middle East Zone Free from Nuclear Weapons and other Weapons of Mass Destruction
The presence of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East, and the possibilities of nuclear proliferation to additional countries, increases regional tensions and provides a context for military attack. The 2003 invasion of Iraq, for example, was justified on grounds of suspected WMD programs remaining even after the disarmament process undertaken there by the UN (a suspicion that was illfounded). The undeclared (but well-documented) possession of nuclear weapons by Israel provides a political stimulus for some Arab States to resist joining the Chemical Weapons and Biological Weapons conventions. And the nuclear-fuel cycle activities of Iran, which could give it a nuclear weapons capability, is providing grounds for Israel to threaten a military strike.
In this context, the proposal for a Middle East Zone free from Nuclear Weapons and other WMD, provides a non-discriminatory approach that would require all States in the region to forgo all WMD. As such, it has received unanimous support at the United Nations, amongst the States Parties to the NPT and at the Inter-Parliamentary Union which includes all of the parliaments in the region.
Basel Peace Office is working with PNND, Abolition 2000, Peace Boat and other civil society organisations to promote the proposal for a Middle East Zone, and specifically to support the UN Conference on Establishing a Middle East Zone, which is to be hosted by the government of Finland. Basel Peace Office was recently chosen to serve as the repository for key civil society documents supporting the Middle East Zone including the Parliamentary Statement for a Middle East Zone Free from Nuclear Weapons and all other Weapons of Mass Destruction (endorsed by parliamentarians from Israel, Arab States and other countries around the world) and the Civil Society Petition to Support a Middle East Zone (See The Middle East without Weapons of Mass Destruction, The Way Forward - Civil Society Input).
For more information see:
- Finland appointed as host government for 2012 Conference on Middle East as a Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and other WMD, Statement by the UN Secretary-General
- A Nuclear Free Zone in the Middle East, Realistic or Idealistic, Special Issue of the Palestine-Israel Journal, Vol.16 No.34 2010
Over the years there have been a number of proposals to establish nuclear weapon free zones (NWFZs) in Europe. In 1958, Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Adam Rapacki proposed that Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany and West Germany reject the deployment of nuclear weapons on their territory and join in a NWFZ. In 1963 Finland’s President Kekkonen proposed a Nordic NWFZ comprising Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. In the 1970s Romania proposed the denuclearization of the Balkans, and the Soviet Union appealed for creating a nuclear weapon zones in the Mediterranean. However, due to Cold War politics none of these were successful. In any case, the key focus on nuclear weapons constraint was on the stockpiles and policies of the US and USSR.
Following the end of the Cold War, the possibility of establishing a NWFZ in Europe opened up as former Warsaw Pact and Soviet States became free from any deployment of Russian nuclear weapons. In 1996, the Ukraine and Belarus, which under Soviet rule had hosted thousands of nuclear weapons, proposed a NWFZ for Central and Eastern Europe. This was opposed by some former Warsaw Pact countries that were aspiring to join NATO.
A number of developments in Europe and internationally are making the prospect of a European NWFZ more achievable.
Political developments since the end of the Cold War have resulted in a corridor of countries that no longer have, or never had, nuclear weapons deployed on their territory. This now makes possible a NWFZ of contiguous countries without any of these countries having to change current practice.
In addition, there is now a possibility of certain NATO states joining such a NWFZ either now or in the future. It used to be widely believed that countries in military relationship with nuclear countries could not join NWFZs, thus ruling out NATO countries. However, this belief has been dispelled by the examples of a) Australia, a close military ally of the United States, joining the South Pacific Zone, and b) the recent establishment of a Central Asian NWFZ involving countries amongst which there are close military relationships with Russia (under the Tashkent Treaty), and also military relationships with the United States (as part of the 'war against terror').
Basel Peace Office is thus working with some of the European branches of PNND and IPPNW on a draft proposal for a Central European NWFZ. The proposal has already found support in parliamentary resolutions in Belgium, Sweden and the European Parliament.