Nuclear Weapons-Free Zones in Asia
Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Nuclear Weapons-Free Zones in Asia

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Over a hundred countries around the world have come forward to create regional zones, in a treaty form, that are free from developing, acquiring, manufacturing, controlling, possessing, testing, and stationing nuclear weapons. Three of these zones – South Pacific Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone (NWFZ), the Southeast Asian NWFZ, and the Central Asian NWFZ – recognized under international law and the territory of Mongolia as a NWFZ, recognized by the P5 states, exist in the Asia-Pacific region. The author of the report, former Foreign Minister of Mongolia, Ms Tuya Nyamosor shows how these NWFZs emerged, compares their regulatory provisions, and gauges the near-term applicability of the NWFZ concept to Northeast Asia.

Ms Nyamosor writes that regional NWFZs are one of the oldest risk reduction measures. Over the past decades they have become an important non-proliferation tool and a regional security enhancer, whose objective of keeping entire regions free of nuclear weapons and their achievements so far have enjoyed broad international appeal. In the author’s assessment, NWFZs are potentially also a powerful voice in the global efforts toward nuclear disarmament, especially as a partner in the promoting the ratification and, eventually, implementation of the TPNW. However, in spite of their achievements, NWFZs presently have only limited utility due the lack of resources, the necessary focus on socio-economic issues, poor institutionalization of respective NWFZs, and varying regional security dynamics.

The treaty provisions within various NWFZs have been tailored to regional circumstances. Given this flexibility and the growing recognition of the impossibility of peacefully resolving the nuclear problem the Korean Peninsula, several experts, including this author, advocate for a NWFZ for Northeast Asia.

Key Points from the report:

  • NWFZs are security enhancers: The Asian NWFZs, including Mongolia’s nuclear weapons-free status, emerged out of the desire of the countries in those parts of Asia to enhance their security through halting the spread of nuclear weapons in their respective regions. The Central Asian NWFZ, for instance, represents for the countries of the region (all of whom are former Soviet republics) an instrument for fostering a national security posture that seeks cooperative approaches in the face of the present and future security challenges. NWFZs, through their positive and negative security assurances, provide security not only to the non-nuclear weapons states party to a NWFZ treaty, but also to the nuclear weapons states in the region.
  • Tailored regulatory provisions: Even though they follow a standard UN treaty format, the regulatory provisions of each NWFZs are tailored to local security circumstances. For instance, the South Pacific NWFZ prohibits all nuclear testing – peaceful or otherwise – of any nuclear explosive device anywhere within the zone, not only by states parties but also by external powers. The Southeast Asian NWFZ extended its jurisdiction to transit of national waters and to the Exclusive Economic Zones. The Central Asia NWFZ has strong environmental rehabilitation provisions along with the ban on nuclear tests. Mongolia is the only country in the world to unilaterally declare its entire sovereign territory as a NWFZ.
  • Confluence of interests between NNWS and NWS: To be truly successful, NWFZs require that the nuclear weapons possessors commit to not use, not deploy, not test and not proliferate nuclear weapons or explosives, and that the non-nuclear weapons states do not attempt to possess them either directly or through military alliances and extended deterrence assurances.
  • Getting Nuclear-Armed States to Ratify the NWFZ Treaties: The effectiveness of NWFZs is primarily decreased because none of these treaties have been ratified fully by nuclear-armed states, leaving their legal enforcement rested on domestic laws, rather than international law. Therefore, states parties to NWFZ should continue to urge all the NWS to ratify the relevant protocols to NWFZ treaties and withdraw the reservations or unilateral interpretations that have accompanied the signing (or in some cases, ratification) of these protocols.
  • Need for Practical Cooperation: NWFZs share a common interest not only in banning nuclear weapons in their respective regions but also in totally eliminating nuclear weapons. A clearly defined and feasible set of cooperative undertakings, like regular inter-zonal dialogues and a global NWFZ website/portal for communication and information about and between the NWFZs, can help take forward these goals. With the adoption of the TPNW, NWFZ cooperation could extend to stepped-up efforts towards the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.
  • Prospects of Northeast Asia NWFZ: A NWFZ for Northeast Asia is proposed, partly to enable the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, but also to contain the proliferation impulses in the ROK and Japan. A more comprehensive and gradual cooperative approach, than other Asian NWFZs, would be required has for the emergence NEANWFZ. Such an approach would have to successfully navigate the troubled and continuously deteriorating relations between the United States and China.

About the Author

Tuya Nyamosor served as Foreign Minister of Mongolia from 1998 to 2000. She actively promoted Mongolia’s engagement with regional multilateral processes of economic and security cooperation in the Asia-Pacific. She has served as director of Policy Planning at the Foreign Ministry and served a tour at Mongolia’s Mission to the United Nations. She represented Mongolia at the 2010 NPT Review Conference. Tuya has been active in Track 1.5 and Track 2 regional activities. She has studied international relations and political theory in Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and French culture at the Sorbonne University. She is fluent in English, French, and Russian. She is presently a Board Member of the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (APLN).

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the position of the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network or any of its members.

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