Arms Regulation and Disarmament - Major issues and disarmament negotiation efforts

The Threat of Nuclear Weapons

When the first atomic bombs were exploded on 6 and 9 August 1945, their immense destructive power confronted the world with military and political problems of unprecedented magnitude.

The catastrophic consequences of the use of nuclear weapons would not be confined to the nuclear adversaries but would threaten civilization on a global scale. According to a 1984 World Health Organization (WHO) report on the effects of nuclear war on health and health services, as many as 10,000 megatons of nuclear bombs could be exploded globally in an allout nuclear war—90% of them in Europe, Asia, and North America and 10% in Africa, Latin America, and Oceania. As a result, half of the world's population could instantly become war victims. About 1.5 billion people could die and 1.1 billion could be injured. In addition, millions of immediate survivors of an attack would die of radiation effects, disease, cold temperatures, and starvation over the following few years. Thus, the greatest threat to humanity comes from nuclear arsenals, whose total destructive power has reached a level equivalent to more than 1 million Hiroshima bombs. Yet, each of the nuclear powers, albeit with expressed reluctance, considers it essential, either as a strategy or a necessary policy of credible deterrence of war, to possess operational nuclear weapons as long as the others have them.

A 1988 UN study on the climatic and potential physical effects of nuclear war concluded that a major nuclear war would entail the high risk of a global environmental disruption. A 1990 UN report captured the sense of the turning point in history brought about by the development of nuclear weapons. According to that report, nuclear weapons represented a historically new form of weaponry, which, by their multiple and far-reaching effects, provided a means of warfare whose mass destructive potential was unparalleled in human experience. Nuclear technology had made it possible to release more energy in one microsecond from a single nuclear weapon than all the energy released by conventional weapons used in all wars throughout history. The same expert group estimated that, by 1990, the arms race had led to the gradual deployment on land and on the high seas of some 50,000 nuclear warheads. They also estimated that the world stockpile of nuclear weapons was equivalent to some 13,000 million tons of TNT, and that its explosive capacity was 1 million times the explosive energy of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

In 1945, only the United States had developed the technology to produce nuclear weapons, but by 1949, the USSR had also developed a nuclear-weapon capability, followed by the United Kingdom in 1952, France in 1960, and China in 1964. Throughout the Cold War era, the United States and the former Soviet Union, among the five nuclear-weapon states, held the vast majority of nuclear weapons and the most advanced delivery systems. Indeed, the UN, in a consensus document adopted at the first special session of disarmament in 1978, recognized the special responsibility that these two states bore with respect to nuclear disarmament.

Over the years, concerns have been expressed in UN forums that some non-nuclear-weapon states might develop nuclear-weapon programs (the issue of so-called "threshold" states). After the end of the war in the Persian Gulf in April 1991, it came to light that some of the concerns expressed, at least in the case of Iraq, were warranted. In November 2002, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1441 calling for immediate and unconditional disarmament on the part of Iraq, including the possible existence of nuclear weapons development programs. In 1993–94 the defiance of the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea (DPRK) touched off an international crisis. The DPRK refused to allow access to IAEA inspectors charged with monitoring peaceful nuclear facilities (see chapter on IAEA). Since 1994 the IAEA activities were largely limited to monitoring the "freeze" of the DPRK's graphite-moderated reactors and related facilities as requested by the United Nations Security Council and as foreseen in the "Agreed Framework" of October 1994 between the DPRK and the United States. Under the so-called Agreed Framework, the DPRK promised to abandon its nuclear program, and dis-avow similar nuclear activity, in return for the U.S.-led construction of two modern, light-water reactors and 500,000 tons of fuel oil a year until the reactors are completed. In October 2002, the DPRK announced that it was undertaking a uranium-enrichment program. These developments challenged the UN, especially its Security Council, and the IAEA to unprecedented action.

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, its nuclear weapons were left on the territories of four of the newly independent states: Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation, and Ukraine. This state of affairs created a new set of challenges to the international community in the control of nuclear weapons.

Over the years, many measures have been proposed in the UN and other multilateral forums to limit, reduce, and eliminate nuclear weapons and their delivery systems; to assure non-nuclear-weapons states that nuclear weapons will not be used or even threatened to be used against them; to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear-weapons states; to bring about a halt to all nuclear testing; to ensure the non-use of nuclear weapons; to bring about the cessation of the production of nuclear weapons as well as the production of fissionable material for weapons purposes; to restrict the deployment of nuclear weapons by nuclear-weapon states, and to foster cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

With the close of the Cold War era, a turning point in international political history had been reached and the dramatic international events that occurred had direct repercussions in the area of nuclear disarmament. Bilateral negotiations between the Russian Federation and the United States led to several agreements which, when fully implemented, will result in unprecedented reductions in the nuclear forces of both sides.

These developments served to codify the end of the Cold War and helped to pave the way for further control over the nuclear arsenals of the two major nuclear-weapon states, as well as to encourage the other three declared nuclear-weapon states towards further efforts in the field of nuclear weapons.

Bilateral Nuclear Arms Reduction Agreements

Although the United Nations did not take part in the historic bilateral negotiations between the former USSR and the United States from 1969 to 2002, member states of the UN have responded with encouragement to the initiatives of the two major powers and have appealed to them to conduct their negotiations with the utmost determination to prevent nuclear war, reduce nuclear arsenals, prevent an arms race in outer space—a longstanding UN objective—and halt the arms race. Other nuclear-weapon states have declared that they would join the process of reducing nuclear weapons once the major powers have reduced theirs. In this context, it is appropriate to review here the sequence of events that brought these negotiations to such a salutary conclusion and their far-reaching implications for global security.

The SALT Treaties

The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), which the former Soviet Union and the United States initiated in 1969, led in their first phase to the signing on 26 May 1972 in Moscow of two agreements: the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems (ABM Treaty), subsequently amended by a protocol of 3 July 1974, and the Interim Agreement on Certain Measures With Respect to the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms , with a protocol attached. Both the ABM Treaty and the Interim Agreement entered into force on 3 October 1972.

By signing the ABM Treaty, the United States and the former Soviet Union undertook not to develop, test, or deploy mobile land-based, sea-based, air-based, or space-based ABM systems. They also agreed to limit ABM systems to two sites with no more than 100 launchers at each site. In that way, they would not build nationwide ABM systems, which each side viewed as destabilizing. In 1974, the treaty was amended by a protocol which limited each side to one ABM deployment area only. The former Soviet Union chose to maintain its ABM system in the area centered on its capital, Moscow, and the United States chose to maintain its system in an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) deployment area in North Dakota. On 13 June 2002, the United States withdrew from the ABM Treaty in order to pursue the development of missile defenses that would have been banned by the agreement.

The second phase of the talks (SALT II) began in November 1972 and ended in June 1979 with the signing in Vienna of the Treaty on the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms , a protocol which was an integral part of the treaty, and a Joint Statement of Principles and Basic Guidelines for Subsequent Negotiations on the Limitation of Strategic Arms . The treaty, designed to remain in force to the end of 1985, defined and identified specific weapons and included numerous detailed limitations on the testing, deployment, modernization and replacement, and conversion of particular weapons systems. A Standing Consultative Commission was set up by the two countries in 1972 to deal with any questions or doubts about compliance with SALT II. Although SALT II was not ratified by either party, each side declared its intention to abide by the provisions of the treaty as long as the other did. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan announced that the United States would no longer be bound by the SALT II limits because of Soviet violations of its arms control commitments.

The INF Treaty

Early in the 1980s, the United States and the former Soviet Union opened two new sets of negotiations, one on intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) and one on the reduction of strategic arms (START). After their discontinuation in December 1983, owing to the strained political situation between the two sides on the question of intermediate forces in Europe, the two powers agreed in January 1985 to hold negotiations on the complex questions concerning space and nuclear arms—both strategic and intermediate range—in order to work out an agreement for preventing an arms race in space and terminating it on earth, at limiting and reducing nuclear arms, and at strengthening strategic stability. This process led first to the signing in December 1987 in Washington of the Treaty between the Two States on the Elimination of Their Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles (INF Treaty). It provided for the elimination of an entire class of nuclear weapons, namely, those nuclear forces with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometres. (Nuclear weapons with a range of more than 5,500 kilometres were considered to be strategic, while those with a range of less than 500 kilometres belonged to the category of tactical nuclear weapons.) The treaty entered into force on 1 June 1988. The INF Treaty is considered the first nuclear disarmament treaty, as it brought about the first actual reductions in the nuclear weapons of the two major powers. It also was considered an important turning point with respect to the strict verification schedule that it established, which included mutual arrangements for on-site inspections. Its provisions were fully implemented before June 1991, the date set by the treaty.

The START Treaties

In parallel to the negotiations being conducted on intermediate nuclear force, a complex series of talks were also held on reducing significantly the two sides' strategic nuclear weapons, in particular inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). These negotiations were finalized by the signing, at a summit meeting between President Bush and President Gorbachev in Moscow on 31 July 1991, of the Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START Treaty). The main objective of the treaty was to increase stability in the nuclear relationship between the former USSR and the United States. The interrelated limits and sublimits on the two sides' strategic nuclear forces established by the treaty amounted to an unprecedented reduction of 35% to 40% of their overall nuclear forces at the time. Furthermore, an elaborate system, including a full range of notifications, inspections, and permanent monitoring, was adopted for the verification of compliance with the terms of the treaty.

At the same time as efforts were being carried forward to ratify the START Treaty and to deal with the problems raised by the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, the Russian Federation and the United States intensified their negotiations on their strategic nuclear weapons. As a result, on 3 January 1993, President Bush and President Yeltsin signed the Treaty on Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START II). The treaty, once implemented, was to bring about deep reductions in the overall number of nuclear warheads of the two sides including in their levels of inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), nuclear armed heavy bombers and nuclear air-launched cruise missiles (ACLMs).

Entry into force of the START I Treaty was complicated by the breakup of the USSR in 1989. The Russian Federation ratified the treaty on condition that the new republics of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine also ratify the treaty and join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The START I Treaty was ratified by the United States Senate (1 October 1992), the Russian parliament (4 November 1992), the Belarus parliament (4 February 1993), the Kazakhstan parliament (2 July 1992), and the Ukrainian parliament (3 February 1994). Belarus joined the NPT on 22 July 1993. Kazakhstan joined the NPT on 14 February 1994. Ukraine joined the NPT on 5 December 1994. On that date, START I entered into force. On 5 December 2001, the United States and the Russian Federation successfully reached the START I levels of 6,000 deployed warheads.

The START II treaty provided that, in a two-phased process, the Russian Federation would reduce the number of its strategic nuclear weapons to 3,000 and the United States to 3,500, by the year 2003. START II was ratified by the U.S. Senate in January 1996, and by the Russian parliament in April 2000. On 14 June 2002, one day after the U.S. withdrew from the ABM Treaty, Russia announced that it would no longer consider itself to be bound by START II provisions.

Unilateral Initiatives

In addition to the joint efforts of the two major powers to reduce the level of nuclear confrontation between them, a broad set of unilateral nuclear initiatives was announced by President Bush on 27 September and by President Gorbachev on 5 October 1991, which affected the entire spectrum of nuclear weapons of the United States and the former Soviet Union. The broad unilateral initiatives announced the destruction by both sides of their tactical nuclear weapons throughout the world, as well as other significant moves with respect to their nuclear forces. At the same time, President Gorbachev declared a one-year moratorium on nuclear weapons testing.

Upon the dissolution of the former Soviet Union at the end of 1991, its nuclear arsenal, which was subject to the reductions and limitations agreed under the START Treaty, passed into the jurisdiction of four newly formed states: Belarus, Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine. To address the questions raised by the new situation, the four states, together with the United States, signed on 23 May 1992 in Lisbon, a protocol to the 1991 START Treaty. In the document, the four states, as successor states of the former USSR, agreed to assume the obligations of the former Soviet Union under the treaty, including working out arrangements among themselves to comply with the limits and restrictions contained in the treaty. While the Russian Federation assumed the status of nuclear-weapon state inherited from the former USSR, Belarus, Kazakhastan, and Ukraine committed themselves to adhere to the non-proliferation treaty as non-nuclear-weapon states in the shortest possible time. They did so in 1993 and 1994. In 1996, Belarus joined Ukraine and Kazakhstan in removing and transferring to the Russian Federation the last of the remaining former Soviet nuclear weapons located within their territories.

Cessation of Nuclear Testing

It is widely considered that a comprehensive test ban would inhibit the proliferation of nuclear weapons. It would make it difficult, if not impossible, for the nuclear-weapon states to develop new weapon designs and would place constraints on the refinement of existing ones. On the other hand, nuclear-weapon states, including the US, tend to regard at least some form of testing as necessary so long as their security is at all dependent on a strategy of nuclear deterrence.

The question of the discontinuance of nuclear testing has been discussed in the General Assembly since 1945. An estimated 1,622 nuclear-test explosions were detonated between 16 July 1945 and 31 December 1986—815 by the US, 597 by the USSR, 140 by France, 40 by the United Kingdom, 29 by China, and 1 by India, which stated that its nuclear test was an experiment strictly for peaceful purposes.

Despite ongoing unilateral and international efforts to ban nuclear testing, it continued in the 1990s. Notably, in early October 1995, France (despite its assurances that it would not) conducted a nuclear test on Fangataufa Atoll in the Pacific. The blast triggered a wave of protest throughout the region. Ongoing tests by nuclear-weapons states prompted the General Assembly on 12 December 1995 to issue a statement saying it "strongly deplored all current nuclear testing and strongly urged the immediate cessation of all such testing" and had adopted a resolution by a vote of 85 in favor to 18 against, with 43 abstentions, commending those nuclear-weapon states observing testing moratoriums and urging them to continue the moratoriums pending the entry into force of a comprehensive nuclear test-ban treaty. In spring 1998, India and Pakistan, whose dispute over the Kashmir region continued, each conducted underground nuclear tests, causing scientists to move the hands of the infamous Doomsday Clock closer to midnight (the point of annihilation). These events highlighted the urgency of reaching consensus on nuclear non-proliferation and testing and underscored the role of the UN in bringing the parties to the table.

Partial Test Ban Treaty

Late in 1958, the nuclear powers (then the USSR, the United Kingdom, and the US) began negotiations in Geneva on the discontinuance of nuclear-weapon tests. Although they accomplished nothing definitive, related and subsequent efforts in the General Assembly and the Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament and, finally, further negotiations led to the signing in Moscow on 5 August 1963 of the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Tests in the Atmosphere in Outerspace and under Water (Partial Test-Ban Treaty). The treaty prohibits any nuclear explosions for weapons testing or for any other purpose in the atmosphere or beyond its limits, including outer space; or under water, including territorial waters or high seas. Its prohibitions also extend to nuclear explosions in any other environment if such an explosion produces radioactive debris outside the territorial limits of the state under whose jurisdiction or control the explosion is conducted. Further to the main provisions of the treaty, which did not prohibit the testing of nuclear devices underground, the parties to the treaty also confirmed their intention to seek an end to all testing of nuclear weapons and to continue negotiations towards that end, and declared their desire to end radioactive contamination of the environment.

The treaty was the first international agreement to regulate nuclear arms worldwide, and it has been recognized as an important instrument in reducing international tensions and decreasing radioactive pollution. It also helped to create a climate in which negotiations on other nuclear-arms limitation agreements, notably the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons , were able to take place.

France and China did not become parties to the treaty, but France announced in 1974 that it would not conduct any further atmospheric tests.

Bilateral Agreements on Nuclear Testing

In 1963, the nonaligned states in particular made strenuous efforts to persuade the USSR and the United States to extend the Partial Test Ban Treaty to include a ban on underground tests. Disagreement about verification prevented such an extension. Even after the Partial Test Ban Treaty came into effect, extensive underground testing continued, particularly by the USSR and the United States.

Two bilateral treaties, between the former Soviet Union and the United States, placed limits on their underground nuclear tests. These were the 1974 Treaty on the Limitation of Under-ground Nuclear Weapon Tests (known as the threshold test-ban treaty) and the 1976 Treaty on Underground Nuclear Explosions for Peaceful Purposes. Each party agreed not to test explosives yielding more than the 150-kiloton limit. Because of difficulties with the verification provisions and technology associated with the two treaties, they remained unratified for many years, although the two powers complied with their provisions. Following three years of bilateral negotiations from November 1987 to 1 December 1990 on nuclear testing verification and yield measurement methodology, the two powers exchanged instruments of ratification of the two treaties. The verification arrangements set out in conjunction with those two treaties were unprecedented in their openness and transparency, and helped to set the stage for even greater cooperation between the two major powers in agreements on the reduction of their nuclear-weapon arsenals.

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

The question of the complete cessation of all nuclear-weapon tests or of all nuclear explosive tests has been considered as a separate issue in UN bodies since 1963 and is the subject of many General Assembly resolutions. Between 1977 and 1980, the USSR, the United Kingdom, and the United States also undertook trilateral negotiations on a comprehensive test-ban treaty but again did not succeed in completing one. Questions of how to verify compliance with a ban on nuclear-weapon tests, how to treat nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes under the conditions of a ban, and whether to seek to ban all nuclear explosions presented difficulties both in the Conference on Disarmament, which was the main focus of efforts since 1980, and in the bilateral discussions that commenced in July 1986 between the USSR and the US.

In an effort to add impetus to the ongoing efforts, the USSR halted all nuclear explosions for an 18-month period, from August 1985 to February 1987. The United States did not reciprocate because it believed that such an unverifiable measure was not a substitute for a negotiated, binding treaty.

At the 1995 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review and Extension Conference, the first measure agreed to was the completion of a Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) no later than 1996. On 24 September 1996, the CTBT was opened for signature. As of November 2002, it had been signed by 166 states, including all five nuclear-weapon states, and ratified by 96 states. However, the treaty had not yet entered into force since not all the states whose ratification is required for its entry into force had done so, including the United States, which rejected ratification in fall 1999.

Unilateral Actions Towards an End to Nuclear Testing

With the end of the Cold War and the improvement in international political climate, important political strides towards the achievement of a comprehensive nuclear test ban were registered. In the early 1990s the number of underground nuclear tests being conducted by the nuclear-weapon states began to decrease considerably. In October 1991, the former Soviet Union declared a unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests, which was extended by the Russian Federation indefinitely. In April 1992 France suspended its nuclear testing. In October 1992 the United States enacted a law which not only declared a unilateral moratorium on its nuclear tests, but also directed that after September 1996, the United States government could no longer conduct nuclear tests. However, although the United States in January 2002 stated that it had no plans to resume nuclear testing, the U.S. Defense Department made a decision to "try and upgrade our testing infrastructure," especially "if the strategic circumstances in the world changed dramatically." The United Kingdom, which has conducted for several decades its nuclear-weapon tests at the nuclear testing site in the United States, has respected the declared moratorium of the United States and has not conducted any nuclear tests since November 1991. However, China conducted nuclear tests in June and October 1994. France resumed its nuclear testing program in the Pacific by conducting six under-ground tests during a five month period that began in September of 1995. Nuclear weapons tests broke out on the South Asian subcontinent in 1998. India announced that it conducted five underground nuclear explosions on 11 and 13 May 1998, its first nuclear tests since 1974. In response, Pakistan announced that it conducted five underground nuclear explosions on 28 May and another on 30 May 1998. These events undermined the progress that had been made to halt all nuclear weapons testing.

Prevention of Nuclear Proliferation

In the early years of the atomic era, it was widely assumed that only a few highly industrialized nations would be able to afford to manufacture nuclear weapons. However, by the mid-1960s, advancing technology and simplification of nuclear production processes, particularly for electric-power generation, had led to the categorization of some 20 nations, including relatively small ones, as countries possessing a nuclear capability; there are now some 30 so-called "threshold" states. The fear of horizontal nuclear proliferation has thus spawned much discussion in the General Assembly. During 1965 and 1966, the greater part of the General Assembly's debates on disarmament was devoted to this issue, especially with the emergence of China as a nuclear-weapon power.

In 1967, the United States and the USSR, after prolonged negotiations, put forward identical draft non-proliferation treaties in the Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament, and in 1968, after further negotiation, a final joint draft was commended overwhelmingly by the General Assembly as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons . The treaty came into force in March 1970. By November 2002, it had been ratified by 187 countries, including the five declared nuclear-weapon states: China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Though the treaty had received a great deal of support as reflected by the number of ratifications to it, challenges to its objectives remained.

The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) prohibits the spread of nuclear weapons, employing the safeguards system of the IAEA to provide assurance against any diversion or misuse of nuclear materials by non-nuclear-weapon states. It also contains provisions for promoting the peaceful uses of nuclear energy; for making nuclear equipment, materials, and information available on a nondiscriminatory basis to non-nuclear-weapon states for peaceful purposes; and for the pursuit of negotiations relating to the cessation of the nuclear-arms race and to nuclear and general disarmament. All the non-nuclear-weapon parties to the treaty must accept safeguards, through separate agreements, with the IAEA. The safeguards system provides for international inspection of all their nuclear installations. Several states that are not parties to the treaty have also signed safeguards agreements with the IAEA covering all or most of their installations.

Following the disintegration of the former Soviet Union at the end of 1991, the nuclear weapons left on its former territory had fallen under the jurisdiction of Belarus, Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine. While the Russian Federation assumed the treaty obligations of the former Soviet Union, in a special agreement, the Lisbon Protocol, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine agreed to become non-nuclear-weapon states party to the NPT. They did so in 1993 and 1994. In 1996, Belarus joined Ukraine and Kazakhstan in removing and transferring to the Russian Federation the last of the remaining former Soviet nuclear weapons located within their territories. Only India, Israel, Pakistan and Cuba remain outside the NPT regime.

In the wake of the war in the Persian Gulf, the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM), appointed to eliminate Iraq's capability to use weapons of mass destruction, uncovered the existence of a clandestine nuclear weapons program in that country. This revelation further challenged the NPT regime and in particular the inspection procedures employed by the IAEA.

Six conferences have been held to review the operation of the treaty—in 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, and 2000. In accordance with the terms of the treaty, a conference is to be held 25 years after its entry into force to decide whether it shall continue in force indefinitely or shall be extended for an additional fixed period or periods. Since the treaty's entry into force, the parties and the General Assembly have called in various contexts for universal adherence to the treaty as the best means of further strengthening the non-proliferation regime.

Some of the aspects that are of crucial importance to the extension of the NPT and the strengthening of the non-proliferation regime revolve around the issue of efforts being made towards the cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament. In that connection, the question of the achievement of a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty has taken on paramount importance for many non-nuclear-weapon states. In addition, the issue of the granting of guarantees to non-nuclear-weapon states that nuclear weapons will not be used against them would make an important contribution to the reinforcement of the NPT structure. Many states have for years supported the call for the nuclear-weapon states to cease production of fissionable material for weapons purposes, which they consider would contribute significantly in a qualitative manner to the ending of the nuclear arms race.

Notwithstanding the above caveats, the Non-Proliferation Treaty remains effective as the cornerstone of an international non-proliferation structure that has grown to embrace the overwhelming majority of countries of the world.

Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones

The establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones in various parts of the world has long been considered a possible means for curbing horizontal nuclear proliferation and enhancing peace and security for non-nuclear-weapon states on a regional basis.

Outer Space

The 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies , while not strictly belonging to that body of law which bans nuclear weapons from a particular area, is relevant nonetheless to the concept of nuclear-free zones. Among other things, it provides that states parties will not place any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any weapon of mass destruction in orbit around the earth, install these weapons on celestial bodies, or station them in outer space.

The Seabed

The 1972 Treaty on the Prohibition of the Emplacement of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction on the Sea-Bed and the Ocean Floor and in the Subsoil Thereof provides that states parties undertake not to place on or under the seabed, beyond the outer limit of a 12-mile coastal zone, any nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction or any facilities for such weapons.


The 1959 Antarctic Treaty was the first international agreement to provide for the absence of nuclear weapons in a specified area by having established a demilitarized zone in the Antarctic. Under the terms of the treaty, Antarctica is to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes. All military activity, nuclear explosions, or disposal of radioactive waste in the area are prohibited. The provisions of this treaty appear to have been scrupulously observed.

Latin America and the Caribbean

The Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco), signed on 14 February 1967 at Tlatelolco, Mexico, was the first treaty establishing a nuclear-weapon-free zone in a densely populated area. It is also the first regional agreement to establish its own system of international verification and a permanent supervisory organ, the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America (known by its Spanish acronym OPANAL), which was set up in June 1969. States parties to the treaty agree to use any nuclear material or facilities under their jurisdiction exclusively for peaceful purposes and to prohibit the presence of nuclear weapons in their territories, under any circumstances. They also agree not to engage in, encourage, authorize, directly or indirectly, or in any way participate in, the testing, use, manufacture, production, possession, or control of any nuclear weapon. The treaty's verification system includes the requirement that safeguards agreements be concluded with IAEA in respect of all the nuclear activities undertaken by the parties. Annexed to the treaty are two Additional Protocols. Under Additional Protocol I, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States agree to guarantee nuclear-weapon-free status to those territories for which they are, de jure or de facto , internationally responsible. In August 1972, the protocol was signed by France, thus giving it full force as all four countries had now signed. Under Additional Protocol II, nuclear-weapon states pledge to respect fully the denuclearization of Latin America and not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against parties to the treaty. By 1979, all five nuclear-weapon states had become parties to it.

The South Pacific

The states party to the 1986 South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Rarotonga) have undertaken not to manufacture or acquire any nuclear explosive device; to control the export of fissionable material; to ensure that their nuclear activities are exclusively for peaceful and nonexplosive purposes and are conducted under strict safeguards; to ban the testing of nuclear explosive devices in the South Pacific; to prohibit the stationing of nuclear explosive devices in their territories; and to prevent the dumping at sea, in the region, of nuclear waste.

The treaty has three protocols, which are integral to its purposes. Protocol 1 obliges France, the United Kingdom, and the United States to apply the terms of the treaty in respect of the territories for which they are responsible in the region, especially with regard to prohibitions on the manufacture, stationing, and testing of any nuclear explosive device. Protocol 2 commits the five nuclear-weapon states not to use or threaten to use any nuclear explosive device against parties to the treaty. Protocol 3 commits the five nuclear-weapon states not to test any nuclear explosive device anywhere within the zone covered by the treaty. The United States, along with the United Kingdom and France, signed all three protocols on 25 March 1996. Russia (with understandings) and China signed and ratified Protocols II and III; neither has zonal territories that would require adherence to Protocol I. France ratified the protocols on 20 September 1996, and the United Kingdom ratified the protocols on 19 September 1997.

Southeast Asia

The 1995 Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (SEANWFZ) Treaty (Treaty of Bangkok) bans the research, development, manufacture, stockpiling, acquisition, possession or control over any nuclear explosive device by any means in Southeast Asia. The area designated as a nuclear free zone comprises the territories of all states in Southeast Asia, namely, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, and their respective continental shelves and exclusive economic zones. Each state party also agrees not to dump at sea or discharge into the atmosphere any radioactive material or wastes in the region. The Treaty of Bangkok has one protocol, specifying that all five nuclear weapons states undertake not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any state party to the treaty, nor to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons within the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone. As of 2001, none of the nuclear weapons states had signed the protocol, largely due to U.S. and French objections regarding the unequivocal nature of security assurances and over the definitions of territory, including exclusive economic zones.


The 1996 African Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty (ANWFZ) (commonly known as the Treaty of Pelindaba) establishes a nuclear-weapon-free zone on the continent of Africa and all island states considered by the former Organization of African Unity to be part of Africa. The treaty has three protocols. Under Protocol I, the five nuclear powers are to agree not to use or threaten to use a nuclear explosive device against any treaty party or against any territory of a Protocol III party within the African zone. Under Protocol II, those five powers are to agree not to test or assist or encourage the testing of a nuclear explosive device anywhere with the African zone. Protocol III is open to states with dependent territories in the zone and obligates them to observe certain provisions of the treaty with respect to these territories; only Spain and France may become parties to it. All five nuclear weapons states signed the the three protocols in 1996, but as of 2001, only China and France had ratified Protocols I and II. France ratified Protocol III in 1997, but Spain has neither signed nor ratified Protocol III.

Proposals for Nuclear-weapon-free Zones

In addition to those areas and zones mentioned above, where there has been success in elaborating treaties prohibiting the use of nuclear weapons, the General Assembly has also discussed, with varying degrees of success, proposals for creating nuclear-weapon-free zones in many other regions of the world. These discussions have covered a number of geographic zones, including the Balkans, the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Central Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia.

Security Assurances to Non-nuclear-weapon States

Since the conclusion of the NPT in 1968, the non-nuclear-weapon states have repeatedly insisted that their promise not to acquire nuclear weapons should be met with an assurance that nuclear weapons would not, under any circumstances, be used against them. On 19 June 1968, the Security Council recognized that aggression using nuclear weapons, or the threat of doing so, against a non-nuclear-weapon state would warrant immediate action by the Security Council, above all its nuclear-weapon state permanent members. The Security Council also reaffirmed the provision of the UN Charter that declares that a state, if the victim of an armed attack, has a right to act in individual or collective self-defense until such time as the Security Council could take action to maintain peace and security.

At the 1978 special session on disarmament, four of the five nuclear-weapon states individually declared their intention not to use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states, which met the conditions outlined in their respective declarations. At that session also, China reiterated the declaration it made when it conducted its first nuclear test—that it would never use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear-weapon state. The nuclear-weapon states have refined and reasserted their respective security guarantees several times since then.

Since 1979, the Conference on Disarmament has considered proposals for effective international arrangements that would assure non-nuclear-weapon states against the use, or threat of use, of nuclear weapons. Non-nuclear-weapon states have expressed the view that further assurances, in legally binding form, are necessary in order to effectively guarantee their security against nuclear attack. The Western nuclear-weapon states and their allies have been of the view that, in order to receive such negative security assurances, states must have demonstrated a commitment not to acquire nuclear weapons, by forming part of a nuclear-weapon-free zone or by adhering to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Those non-nuclear-weapon states that are party to the NPT considered the issue of pivotal importance to the outcome of the 1995 NPT Conference.

Prohibition of the Production of Fissionable Material

An approach to nuclear disarmament which has received much international attention over the years has been to stop the production of fissionable material for weapons purposes.

The United States submitted proposals on this subject to the Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament and the General Assembly during the 1960s, which included plans for inspection of certain types of nuclear reactors and separation plants; the dismantling of a number of nuclear weapons by both the United States and the former Soviet Union, to be carried out in the presence of observers; and the transfer or conversion of fissionable material to industries or forms in which it could be used for peaceful purposes.

In 1992 the United States announced a unilateral cessation of its national production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. Among the nuclear-weapon states, both the Russian Federation and the United States have expressed support for reaching an international agreement to halt the production of weapons-grade fissionable material in the interests of non-proliferation. In 1993, the General Assembly adopted without a vote a resolution recommending negotiation in the most appropriate international forum of a non-discriminatory, multilateral, and internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

In 1995, the UN Conference on Disarmament agreed to establish a mandate for an ad hoc committee based on the 1993 General Assembly resolution. The mandate was included in the "Shannon Report," named after then-Canadian Ambassador to the UN Gerald Shannon who led consultations on this issue. Because several countries resisted limiting the treaty to a ban only on the future production of fissile material, the Shannon Report explicitly states that the mandate to negotiate a halt to the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons does not preclude any country from including the past production of fissile material. The Conference on Disarmament also agreed in 1998 to convene an ad hoc committee to negotiate a ban on the production of fissile materials.

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