Nuclear Weapons Free Zones and Advancing the Cause of Nuclear Disarmament

Report on Nuclear Weapons Free Zones and Advancing the Cause of Nuclear Disarmament, hosted by the Permanent Mission of Indonesia to the United Nations

Progress on advancing nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament is imperative for human survival. It is commendable that Permanent Mission of Indonesia to the United Nations on June 18, 2019 hosted a luncheon with formal presentations by H.E. Ambassador Thomas Graham, author of The Alternate Route: Nuclear Weapons Free Zones,[i] and Jonathan Granoff, President of the Global Security Institute, under the theme: Nuclear Weapons Free Zones and Advancing the Cause of Nuclear Disarmament. The meeting was graciously convened by H.E. Mohammed Kurniadi Koba, Deputy Permanent Representative of Indonesia to the UN. Counsellor Haryo Buda Nugroho chaired a lively question and answer session.

Background and Report:

States with nuclear weapons are either modernizing their arsenals or both modernizing and expanding them. Commitments to advance toward a nuclear weapons free world made under the terms of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, such as ending nuclear testing and the production of any more weapons grade fissile materials, have not been fulfilled. The relations amongst nuclear weapons states is not conducive to cooperation.

Nations and individuals who understand the instability and incoherence of a regime with nine nations having nuclear weapons and keeping them ready to use while denying the devices to the rest of the world is unacceptably dangerous. The failure of the states with nuclear weapons to take sufficient action to achieve disarmament could easily lead to despair. However, there are a series of extraordinary successes that should be inspiring and help stimulate further progress. One such reason for hope can be found in the success of nuclear weapons free zones.

When the relations between nations fail and hostilities break out the world knows, fast. When peace is sustained through wisdom, diplomacy and law it goes unnoticed. It is like our health: We only know its profound value when we get sick. The nuclear weapons free zone treaties, a success process inadequately appreciated, are a sign of health. They have a great deal to offer the world.

Treaties establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZs) have entered into force in Latin America (Tlatelolco Treaty), the South Pacific (Rarotonga Treaty), Southeast Asia (Bangkok Treaty), Africa (Pelindaba Treaty), and Central Asia (Central Asian NWFZ Treaty). In addition, Mongolia declared its territory a nuclear-weapon-free zone at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in 1992, and the UNGA has been adopting a resolution entitled “Mongolia’s International Security and Nuclear-Weapon Free-Status” every two years since 1998, in support of Mongolia’s declaration. All the states eligible to join the NWFZs in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Central Asia are parties to the respective NWFZ treaties.[ii]

These treaties have not only brought greater security to their participants, saved billions of dollars, reinforced the value of diplomacy and law, but they have also given the 115 nations in them untapped moral and practical authority to be much stronger advocates for nonproliferation and disarmament. It was to help unleash this capacity that representatives of 18 nations gathered on June 18 at the Indonesian Mission and discussed the virtues of nuclear weapons free zones and the value of commencing a process of formally constituting a group of nations to strategize to amplify the capacity of this large group of nations, presently 115, to be a more globally effective voice for nuclear disarmament. Their regional successes give them credibility and moral authority that justifiably commands attention. Nuclear weapons free zone treaties have mane their own neighborhoods safer.

Ambassador Thomas Graham shared his insights articulated in his book The Alternate Route, a thoroughgoing analysis of nuclear weapons free zones, their history and their potential to advance a more secure world. Ambassador Graham’s career spanned decades during which he was a principle in negotiating nearly every major existing arms control, nonproliferation and disarmament treaty in which the United States is a party. Jonathan Granoff urged the formation of a working group of nations from amongst the nuclear weapons free zones to be convened in New York to regularly work on amplifying the collective voice of the nations in the zones.

Here are some of the issues discussed with the view to strengthening the capacity of States parties to nuclear weapons free zones:

1. Advocacy to fulfill existing obligations and commitments under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty;

2. Gaining universal adherence to the protocols of the nuclear weapons free zone treaties;

3. Identifying and advancing common interests, such as negative security assurances;

4. Coordinating activities amongst the zones and establishing regular meetings and working groups;

5. Establishing a secretariat to serve the needs of the zones;

6. Promoting zones where they do not yet exist;

7. Enhancing organizational capacity of each particular zone;

8. Establishing formalized relations with UNODA and IAEA to improve capacity;

9. Producing coordinated positions and advocacy strategies to advance them in relevant forums such as the UNGA, the Security Council, First Committee, NPT, Conference on Disarmament and others where efforts can matter; and,

10. Identifying new issues that can advance making the entire planet a NWFZ.

The spirited discussion indicated a serious interest in advancing the capacity of nuclear weapons free zones to be an effective global voice for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament.

The following nations, all members of nuclear weapons free zones, were represented:

Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore,Thailand,Vietnam,Indonesia Brunei, Philippines, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Mongolia, Nigeria, and New Zealand

The Global Security Institute wishes to express its appreciation of the work of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation in convening a group of experts in the spring of 2017 and its excellent report on the same titled Cooperation among Nuclear Weapons Free Zones: History, Challenges and Recommendations. [iii] A special expression of gratitude is offered to Oregon State University press which donated copies of Ambassador Graham’s book The Alternate Route to every attendee.

[i] For a review of the book:

[ii] There are currently five NWFZ treaties in force:

The Treaty of Tlatelolco covers Latin America and the Caribbean;
The Treaty of Pelindaba covers Africa;
The Treaty of Rarotonga covers the South Pacific;
The Treaty of Bangkok covers Southeast Asia;
The Treaty of Semipalatinsk covers Central Asia;


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