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Nuclear Weapon Free Zones (NWFZs) at a minimum prohibit the stationing, testing, use, and development of nuclear weapons inside a particular geographical region, whether that is a single state, a region, or area governed solely by international agreements. They have been identified in many fora, including the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the UN General Assembly, as being positive steps towards nuclear disarmament.

Regional Zones

There are eight existing regional NWFZs established by treaty. The provisions of each zone vary with thelanguage of each respective treaty, however each treaty prohibits the manufacture, production, possession, testing, acquisition, and receipt of nuclear weapons. Each of the regional NWFZ treaties includes a protocol to be signed by NWS laying out negative security assurances and respect for the NWFZ. Some treaties have additional protocols for signature by states with regards to their territories within the zone.


The first regional zone, the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco) was opened for signature in 1967 and brought into force in 1968. Cuba , which has signed the treaty, remains the only country left to ratify. The treaty's protocols have been fully ratified.


South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Rarotonga ) opened for signature 1985, entered into force1986. The treaty has been signed and ratifed by all but three countries in the region. The United States , though it has signed the two additional protocols, remains the only country that has not ratified the protocols. The Rarotonga Treaty differs from Tlatelolco in that it includes an unequivocal ban on nuclear explosions and explosive devises for peaceful purposes, and prohibits its members from dumping nuclear waste into the zone's waters.


The South East Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free- Zone Treaty (Treaty of Bangkok ) opened for signature in 1995 and came into force in 1996. No NWS has signed the additional protocol, which calls for respect for the Treaty and negative security assurances. This may be due in part to the fact that the zone includes the continental shelves and Exclusive Economic Zones of the member states and that the protocol prohibits threat or use ofnuclear weapons within the zone.

The African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Pelindaba) opened for signature in 1996, and has not yet come into force. The additional protocols I & II prohibit the parties from aiding violation of the treaty, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against the zone, or testing nuclear weapons within the zone. These protocols have been signed by all NWS, and ratified by France and China . Spain has not signed Protocol III with regards to its territories within the zone. The treaty bans attacks on nuclear facilities within the zone.


The Sea Bed Treaty (1971), prohibits the emplacement of nuclear weapons on the seabed, ocean floor and sub-soil. The NWS have ratified except France , Israel and Pakistan .

 The Outer Space Treaty (1967) prohibits the stationing of nuclear weapons in outer space or the placing of nuclear weapons in orbit. All the NWS are parties.


The Antarctic Treaty (1959), prohibits nuclear explosions, of any kind, the disposal of radioactive waste materials, and the establishment of any military bases and fortifications in Antarctica . NWS are parties except Israel and Pakistan .


Proposed New Zones & Consolidation


There are proposals for new regional NWFZs particularly in the Central Asia , Middle East , South Asia , North East Asia , and Central Europe . There is also room for existing NWFZs to work more closely together. There have, for example been moves to affirm a Nuclear Weapon Free Southern Hemisphere and Adjacent Areas, which could involve a declaration or agreement between existing regional zones. Support for such a move has come from United Nations General Assembly resolutions and from informal discussions between the zones.

Korean Peninsula

In January 1992 the Republic of Korea (South) and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North) signed a Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula . Under this declaration the two countries agree not to test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons, not to possess nuclear reprocessing or uranium enrichment facilities, and to use nuclear energy solely for peaceful purposes. The entry into force of this declaration has been delayed indefinitely since the Republic of Korea threatened to withdraw from the NPT.

Single State Zones

Single State Zones are created by national legislation, declaration or constitutional mandate. Some countries, such as Mongolia and Austria , have declared their nuclear weapon free status in the absence of any regional treaty while others, such as New Zealand and the Philippines , have used domestic means to go beyond the obligations of the regional treaty to which they are a party.

Mongolia and Austria have both declared their nuclear weapon free status through enacting domestic legislation, Austria in 1999 and Mongolia in 2000. Both acts prohibit the manufacturing, storage, transport, and testing of nuclear weapons within their territory. Mongolia 's legislation also prohibits the transportation, dumping and storage of weapons grade nuclear waste within its territory, and obligates the National Security Council of Mongolia to co-ordinate the international institutionalising of its NWF status. Single nation zones lack formal agreements from NWS respecting their NWF status, however Mongolia is seeking to achieve such international recognition as well as negative security assurances from NWS.

New Zealand 's Nuclear Free Zone domestic legislation, prohibits any foreign ship that is nuclear powered or carrying nuclear weapons from entering its internal waters or any foreign aircraft landing in its territory. This goes beyond New Zealand 's obligations under the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty, which permits port visits of nuclear ships. The Philippines , a member of the South East Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone, has declared its territory free of nuclear weapons through a change in its constitution.

Issues Confronting Existing Zones

Existing NWFZs are currently facing many challenges. For single state zones, pressing issues involve gaining negative security assurances from NWS as well as international respect and recognition. Regional zones are left with the challenge of obtaining full ratification of their treaties and protocols, along with continued verification of compliance. The question of transit of nuclear weapons remains uncertain for most NWFZs. To what extent will NWFZs be able to prevent the presence of nuclear weapons in the seas, before coming into conflict with the Law of the Sea?