Southeast Asian Countries Agree to Create Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone

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MEETING IN Bangkok, Thailand, on December 15, leaders from 10 Southeast Asian countries voted to ban all nuclear explosive devices permanently from their region. The seven-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-comprising Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam-was joined by first-time ASEAN summit observers Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar (Burma) in the historic vote approving the Southeast Asia NuclearWeapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ) treaty.

The treaty, which will enter into force after seven countries deposit their instruments of ratification, will, along with the treaties of Rarotonga and Tlatelolco, the Antarctic Treaty and the soon-to-be-signed African NWFZ treaty, transform essentially all of the southern hemisphere into a zone free of nuclear weapons.

Similar to the NWFZ treaties covering Latin America (Tlatelolco) and the South Pacific (Rarotonga), the SEANWFZ treaty will prohibit parties from acquiring, manufacturing, possessing and stationing nuclear explosive devices either inside or outside the pact's zone of application. (None of the potential adherents is believed to have an interest in acquiring a nuclear weapon capability.) It also prohibits the dumping of radioactive materials and wastes at sea. The treaty will allow parties to decide individually whether to permit visits by foreign nuclear-armed or nuclearpowered ships or aircraft.

The treaty mandates that all nuclear materials and facilities be used exclusively for peaceful purposes, and that all such activities be placed under full-scope International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. It also requires all parties that do not have a safeguards agreement with the IAEA to conclude such an agreement within 18 months of the treaty's entry into force. (Only Cambodia has not concluded such an agreement; Laos has not yet brought its agreement into force.) The treaty will establish a foreign minister-level Commission for the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone to oversee treaty implementation and ensure compliance, and a subsidiary executive committee that will oversee verification measures, respond to information requests and conduct factfinding missions. …