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More Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones

Gunnar Westberg, TFF Board member

October 20, 2009


Good news: All Africa a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone!

With the ratification of the Pelindapa treaty on July 15, 2009 by Burundi that treaty on an African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone, NWFZ, has entered into force. In a NWFZ nuclear weapons may not be used, developed, deployed or transported. The status of a NWFZ shall be recognized by the United Nations and the Nuclear Weapon States shall ratify certain conditions in any NWFZ treaty. France, China and Great Britain have done so for the Pelindaba treaty. Russia has not ratified because the island of Diego Garcia, controlled by Britain and used by the USA as a military base, has a disputed status in the treaty. USA has not ratified.

The Pelindaba Treaty covers all of Africa. There are now a NWFZ zone that covers Latin America and the Caribbean - the Tlatelolco Treaty. In the South Pacific, we have the Rarotonga treaty. In South-East Asia, the Bangkok Treaty. Parts of Central Asia is covered by the Semei Treaty. Mongolia has declared itself to be a one-country NWFZ.

The constitution of Austria requires that nuclear weapons are not acquired or deployed in the country. Furthermore, treaties exist that declare certain areas to be permanently nuclear-weapon-free, such as Antarctica, the Seabed, “Outer Space and the Heavenly bodies” (e.g. the Moon).

This means that approximately 99% of the Southern hemisphere landmass is a NWFZ. As much as 60% of the 193 states in the world, with 33% of the world population, are included in these zones.

The treaties are in different degrees of development. Thus the Rarotonga treaty allows for an agreement between USA and Australia through which the USA may use its nuclear weapons if Australia is attacked. A similar limitation exists for the Central Asian treaty where the Tashkent agreement allows for a Russian “nuclear umbrella”.

An Arctic NWFZ?

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, has called for the establishment of new NWFZ. Such a treaty for the Arctic was discussed at a conference in Copenhagen recently. The expanding economic importance of the Arctic Sea, where large deposits of oil and gas are assumed to exist, will increase the military tension in the area. A NWFZ status, and for some areas a demilitarized status, of parts of the Arctic region should be discussed. Experience shows that such discussions take many years.

A NWFZ in the Middle East – new hope?

A Middle-East free from nuclear weapons has been proposed repeatedly in the UN since 1974. This plan receives great support when it is discussed and voted on in the UN every year, but no serious negotiations between the parties take place. The new US seaborne Missile Defense in the Eastern Mediterranean opens a new dimension of this situation.

Short-distance missiles carrying nuclear weapons, fired from Israel or from any of its neighbors, could be shot down by the US anti-missile weapons. If the anti-missile system turns out to be effective, the countries in the region might see that nuclear weapons are useless.


A European NWFZ is possible!

A NWFZ in the Nordic countries has been repeatedly proposed and discussed since at least four decades, and should still be possible although Norway and Denmark are members of NATO; they have both abstained from having nuclear weapons (and foreign soldiers) on their soil. Such a zone could lead to a Central European NWFZ , an old idea which time has come.

There is a good chance that the new Nuclear Doctrine of NATO, which is presently under discussion and will be decided during 2010, may allow for the removal of the few remaining US nuclear weapons from European NATO allies. They are at present deployed in Turkey, Italy, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. There are little more that 200 nuclear charges, all of the old B61 gravity bombs type. These so-called tactical nuclear weapons are of no military value. Their existence is only a symbol of the acceptance by the host country of the NATO nuclear doctrine. Other NATO countries, such as Denmark and Poland, are not required to accept this “burden sharing”.

It is thus quite possible that within one or two years there are no nuclear weapons stored in Europe outside of the Nuclear Weapon States, Russia, France and Great Britain (actually Scotland). The Non Proliferation Treaty, NPT, requires that the Nuclear Weapon States do not deploy or transport nuclear weapons through non-nuclear weapon states. Thus, the establishment of a NWFZ can be seen as a codification of the NPT principles for the area.

A European NWFZ could consist of Scandinavia and Finland, including Greenland and Iceland, the “Benelux” countries, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Italy, the Former Yugoslav states, Malta, Greece, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Switzerland and of course Austria. States bordering the EU in the East should also be invited, if they are not already members of the Central Asian NWFZ.

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Russia's contribution

Negotiations with Russia should be conducted early on. The military utility of the Russian tactical nukes is questionable. To some extent they may be considered to be a deterrent against China, Iran and possibly Pakistan. They are also seen as a deterrent against NATO if a conflict develops related to the oil and gas resources in Central Asia.

In the context of a European NWFZ Russia ought to be able to withdraw its tactical nuclear weapons from the borders of the NWFZ countries, maybe beyond the range of the Russian short range missiles. In a longer perspective, NATO and Russia should agree to negotiate “negative security assurances”. This means that both sides should abandon the First-Use Doctrines against each other’s territories. Russia would probably retain its option of using nuclear weapons against NATO forces operating outside the European NWFZ.

NWFZ – important steps to a world without nuclear weapons

The large majority of the world's countries are free from nuclear weapons at present. A few of these countries feel threatened by the nuclear weapon states. These countries - and only these - show an interest in acquiring nuclear weapons of their own. If they become members of NWFZs with Negative Security Assurances, their perceived need for nuclear weapons will disappear. Nuclear weapons free zones will make inspection and control of the co-operation with the NPT requirements more effective.

In summary, therefore, NWFZs will help us on the road to a nuclear-weapon-free world.


Gunnar Westberg



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