Parliamentarians and a Nuclear Weapon Free Southern Hemisphere and Adjacent Areas
Briefing paper from the Aotearoa-New Zealand Section of the Parliamentary Network for Nuclear Disarmament
Chair: Graham Kelly Ex MP. Secretary Hon. Nick Smith MP
What is the Nuclear Weapon Free Southern Hemisphere and Adjacent Areas proposal?
Beginning in 1996, the United Nations General Assembly has annually adopted a resolution, introduced by Brazil and co-sponsored by New Zealand, which calls upon states parties to the regional Nuclear Weapon Free Zones (NWFZs) to explore the possibility of creating a consolidated Nuclear Weapon Free Southern Hemisphere and Adjacent Areas (NWFSH).
The resolution indicates that such a consolidation would not be by negotiation of a new comprehensive treaty, but rather through increasing cooperation between the zones, which would include holding a conference of states parties in order to consider common action to further nuclear disarmament goals.
What are the existing Nuclear Weapon Free Zones?
There are currently four regional nuclear weapon free zone treaties prohibiting the stationing of nuclear weapons in:
• Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco, Entered into Force (EIF) in 1968)
• South Pacific (Treaty of Rarotonga, EIF in1986)
• South East Asia (Treaty of Bangkok, EIF in1996)
• Africa (Treaty of Pelindaba, signed in 1996, not yet entered into force)
In addition there are three international treaties also prohibiting the stationing of nuclear weapons in other areas:
• Antarctica (Antarctic Treaty, entered into force (EIF)1959)
• Outer Space (Outer Space Treaty, EIF in 1967)
• Sea Bed (Sea Bed Treaty EIF in 1971)
What is prohibited?
The regional treaties prohibit member states from possessing nuclear weapons, but generally allow the transit of nuclear armed vessels through the zones. The Treaty of Tlatelolco, however, prohibits the deployment of nuclear weapons in the territorial waters of member states. The Rarotonga treaty prohibits the dumping of nuclear waste in the zone. The Treaty of Bangkok prohibits any threat or use of nuclear weapons within the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of member states. The Treaty of Pelindaba prohibits attacks on nuclear facilities within the zone.
Collectively, the regional zones plus the Antarctic Treaty create an area encompassing the Southern Hemisphere and some of the adjacent areas in the Northern Hemisphere, where the possession and stationing of nuclear weapons is prohibited.
Nuclear Weapon States and NWFZs
The regional NWFZ treaties include protocols for the nuclear weapon states whereby they agree not to violate the zones provisions. The Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) have signed the protocols to all of the treaties except the Bangkok Treaty, which they are reluctant to endorse because of its prohibition of the threat or use of nuclear weapons within the EEZs.
What would a NWFSH do?
A Nuclear Weapon Free Southern Hemisphere Zone would create a strong political message for nuclear disarmament by highlighting the common anti-nuclear desires and example of over half the world. It would help States members to share initiatives for strengthening each of their zones. It would provide an example to encourage the formation of other nuclear weapon free zones. It would indicate to the NWS that these countries do not want nuclear weapons continuing to be deployed in their region.
First Step: A Conference and Declaration
New Zealand has called for the harnessing of common visions of Nuclear Weapon Free Zone members through the drafting of a declaration from the zones. The declaration could give political weight for universal ratification and entry into force of all the treaties, as well as providing vision for further restrictions on nuclear weapons including proscriptions against the threat of nuclear weapons use within the zones. Such a declaration could be finalised and released at a conference of states parties to the NWFZs.
Towards a truly nuclear free zone: the issue of deployment
The NWS continue to deploy nuclear weapons on submarines which transit the existing NWFZs. The New Zealand Minister of Disarmament has stated that a purpose of the zone is to send “a strong message to the Northern Hemisphere to come and visit, but please leave your weapons at the equator.”
Some States argue that transit of nuclear weapons could be prohibited in light of the 1996 International Court of Justice (ICJ) Advisory Opinion which concluded that the threat or use of nuclear weapons is generally illegal. However, other States believe that the Law of the Sea guarantees freedom of navigation and innocent passage for all naval vessels, including nuclear armed ones, in territorial waters, exclusive economic zones and the high seas.
If it is not possible to prohibit nuclear transit, the nuclear weapon states could still be requested to respect the desires of the zone to be nuclear free and asked not to transit with deployed nuclear weapons. This could be done either in the proposed declaration or in additional protocols to the existing NWFZs, which the NWS could be asked to sign.
Parliamentary support is needed
The proposal is receiving mixed support. Some states would like a hard hitting declaration prohibiting passage of nuclear weapons, while others would prefer a minimalist declaration which does no more than state what has already been achieved.
What can parliamentarians do?
Parliamentarians can help build political momentum by raising the proposal informally with colleagues in member states of the zones, and by calling for a declaration that will have some political impact on current nuclear policies. In addition, parliamentarians can prepare to support the declaration, when it is released, through parliamentary statements and motions.