NWFZs: From Non-Proliferation to Disarmament?
The Uppsala Conference

by John Burroughs

John Burroughs, LCNP, and Jayantha Dhanapala, UN Under-Secretary General forDisarmament Affairs, at Uppsala Conference.
(Photo by Jackie Cabasso)

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Nuclear Weapon Free Zones (NWFZs) historically have served to confirm and solidify a region’s immunity to the nuclear virus. First came the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco, which predated the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and made Latin America nuclear-weapon free. It was later followed by the 1985 Treaty of Rarotonga (South Pacific),
the Treaty of Pelindaba (Africa, not yet entered into force), and the 1997 Bangkok Treaty (Southeast Asia).

The potential for NWFZs, actual or prospective, to serve as paths out of the current nuclear impasse was the focus of a September civil society conference in Uppsala, Sweden. "At a time when some 30,000 nuclear weapons remain," observed UN Under-Secretary General for Disarmament Affairs Jayantha Dhanapala in his opening remarks, "NWFZs offer one of the few activities open to non-nuclear weapon states not just to quarantine themselves from the nuclear contagion, but to pool their efforts to resist it."

Strategies to strengthen existing zones include establishment of a Southern Hemisphere NWFZ, the subject of a UN General Assembly resolution sponsored by Brazil; a conference of NWFZ states, proposed by OPANAL, the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean; and prohibiting the transit of nuclear weapons through zones. (See LCNP paper, "Strengthening Existing NWFZs," and a paper by Alyn Ware and Kate Dewes, "Nuclear Weapon Free Zones: From Symbolic Gesture to Statutory Ban: The Aotearoa-New Zealand Experience, both at www.lcnp.org .)

But the conference’s emphasis was on an even more far-reaching strategy: the use of NWFZs to accomplish regional nuclear disarmament. Participants urged the establishment of NWFZs in regions where nuclear weapons are actually possessed, South Asia and the Middle East. In South Asia, advocating an NWFZ dramatizes the imperative of rolling back regional nuclearization without calling for India and Pakistan to join the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon states. The latter course of action is anathema in India, where the NPT’s discrimination between nuclear haves and have-nots is reviled. Participants also urged creation of NWFZs in regions that theoretically remain the site of potential conflict involving outside nuclear powers, Northeast Asia (centered on Japan and the two Koreas), and Central Europe.

According to Olle Nordberg, Executive Director of the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation, which hosted the conference: "It is imperative that the NWFZ treaties come into force fully and that the nuclear powers fully adhere to their protocols barring use of nuclear weapons against NWFZ members. But it is even more crucial that the concept of NWFZs is itself radically transformed: from a measure of non-proliferation to a proactive means of nuclear disarmament, i.e. thinning out, removal and actual dismantling of nuclear weapons where they already exist."

The Uppsala Declaration issued by the conference stated in part:

"The dramatic threat of a new Nuclear Age highlights the urgent need for comprehensive nuclear disarmament and rapid destruction of the arsenals of all nuclear weapons-states. It also calls for incremental measures …. Crucial among these transitional measures are Nuclear Weapon Free-Zones. These would ban the manufacture, deployment and transit of nuclear weapons in specific regions, and demand of nuclear armed states that the zones not be threatened or attacked with nuclear weapons. This would help make it possible to permanently fold the nuclear umbrella, the so-called nuclear protection that nuclear weapon states offer non-nuclear allies….

An NWFZ treaty in North-east Asia would effectively address security concerns in Japan and the Korean peninsula. A South Asian NWFZ would prevent India and Pakistan from making or deploying nuclear weapons in this volatile region, where the danger of a nuclear exchange is today the greatest anywhere in the world. In the Middle East, the establishment of a zone free of Israel’s nuclear weapons, and all other weapons of mass destruction in the region, represents a key component of regional security. In Central and Eastern Europe an NWFZ would defend the post-Cold War peace gains now threatened by NATO expansion as well as facilitate withdrawal of remaining tactical nuclear weapons."

The full text and other information will be available at www.lcnp.org .


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