The United States, France and Britain took a small step in the direction of nuclear disarmament October 20, 1995, when they announced they would ratify in the first half of 1996 the protocols of the Treaty of Rarotonga, also called the South Pacific nuclear-free-zone treaty (SPNFZ). The treaty, which opened for signature in 1985, bans the testing, manufacture, acquisition or stationing of any nuclear explosive device, as well as the ocean dumping of radioactive waste in the zone.
The treaty's three protocols have been open to signature by the five declared nuclear-weapon states since 1986. Once ratified, they obligate the countries to apply the treaty's basic prohibitions to their territories within the zone, to refrain from using or threatening to use any nuclear device against treaty parties; and not to test any nuclear device within the zone. In 1988, the former Soviet Union ratified the relevant protocols, and China did so the following year.
In addition to SPNFZ, the United States has expressed support for a recently completed nuclear-weapon-free zone (NWFZ) for Africa (see ACT, December 1995/January 1996); has advocated the establishment of NWFZs in South Asia and the Middle East; and, at least initially, was favorably disposed toward a zone in Southeast Asia.
While joining SPNFZ and supporting other zones are mainly symbolic acts that have few practical consequences, these developments could signal a de facto change in U.S. policy with far-reaching implications for nuclear strategy
With one NWFZ already in force banning nuclear weapons from Latin America and the Caribbean (the Treaty of Tlatelolco), and NWFZ treaties for Africa (the Pelindaba Treaty) and Southeast Asia soon to be implemented, it appears that nuclear weapons are becoming irrelevant to the security calculations of all but a few countries. In addition to these agreements and others that ban nuclear weapons from the ocean floor, Antarctica, the moon and outer space, new zones have been proposed for the Middle East, South Asia, North Asia, Europe, and Central Asia. At first glance, this trend appears to advance the cause of non-proliferation. But it is worth considering the costs and benefits of a denuclearized world if the momentum to ban nuclear weapons raises expectations that the five nuclear-weapon states are on a slippery slope toward nuclear disarmament.
The spread of NWFZs does not lead the nuclear powers inexorably down the path of disarmament. Nothing has changed the fact that agreements are only as effective as the willingness of states to abide by them. Simply banning nuclear weapons, as some cities have done by declaring themselves nuclear-free zones, has about as much significance as outlawing war itself. It goes without saying that the security perceptions of sovereign nations are foremost in determining participation in NWFZs. To reach their full potential, NWFZs must accommodate existing security relationships, respect the right of free transit for military ships and submarines and avoid directly challenging the vital interests of the great powers. Even with these conditions, however, NWFZs can advance the cause of nonproliferation.
The Treaty of Rarotonga accommodates U.S. interests by leaving the issue of port visits for nuclear-capable military vessels to the discretion of individual treaty parties. Concern about transit rights has been a major impediment for U.S. policy toward NWFZs. These concerns were not eased by New Zealand's policy in the 1980s not to allow port visits by U.S. Navy ships which, according to U.S. policy, neither confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons. New Zealand's policy was not required by its membership in SPNFZ, but it reinforced the perception that SPNFZ was not only anti-nuclear, but anti-U.S. as well. In fact, ratifying the SPNFZ protocols requires no changes in U.S. military practices or doctrine, but similar perceptions could hinder U.S. participation in future zones.
The Southeast Asian zone also raises concerns over navigation rights, and the possible inclusion of Diego Garcia island (the British trust territory which houses important U.S. military installations) in the African zone could jeopardize U.S. participation.
For now, the obstacles to establishing NWFZs in Europe or Northeast Asia, where existing security relationships involving the United States, NATO, Japan, the Koreas, China and other nations would be directly affected, are insurmountable.
Future NWFZs will increase their chances of attracting maximal support if they incorporate lessons learned from existing zones
Whether the nuclear-weapon states endorse future NWFZs, the handwriting is on the wall that most governments do not view nuclear weapons as a legitimate tool of state power. Even a country such as Japan, which has benefitted from its inclusion under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, has questioned the legitimacy of nuclear weapons. The spread of NWFZs makes it difficult to reverse this anti-nuclear trend and to relegitimize nuclear weapons, at least in the absence of a major new threat. Thus, NWFZs create a dilemma for U.S. policy. On the one hand they reinforce the global non-proliferation consensus; on the other hand they encourage the momentum behind denuclearization long before the nuclear-weapon states are prepared to renounce their own nuclear arsenals.
Official U.S. policy toward NWFZs is to judge each zone on the basis of seven criteria:
Proposals for NWFZs should originate from states within the zone;
* All relevant states in a zone should participate;
* Adequate mechanisms for verifying compliance must exist;
* Zones should not disturb existing security arrangements;
* Zones should prohibit the development or possession of any nuclear explosive device;
* Zones should not infringe on the exercise of rights recognized under international law, particularly the freedom of navigation, innocent passage and overflight; and
* Zones should not affect the rights of parties to grant transit privileges, port calls or overflights.
Even zones that satisfy all seven criteria do not automatically guarantee U.S. participation. SPNFZ, for example, satisfied the criteria, but the Reagan administration shunned it because of the larger symbolic message U.S. participation would have conveyed. It is that larger message that is still most relevant today Critics and supporters of NWFZs agree that the spread of such zones signifies the gradual marginalization of nuclear weapons in international security. The point on which there is disagreement, however, is whether the denuclearization trend should be encouraged or resisted.
A strategy that embraces NWFZs as a tool of disarmament could increase U.S. and global security. Putting aside ethical debates over nuclear weapons, accepting the goal of eventually banning nuclear weapons creates opportunities to increase U.S. strategic advantages. Because one of the main attractions of nuclear weapons is their ability to compensate for disparities in conventional military power, locking in taboos against nuclear weapons also locks in U.S. conventional superiority for the foreseeable future. When and on what terms the goal of denuclearization is actually realized are of secondary importance. It is more important now to exploit opportunities to exclude nuclear weapons from postCold War regional security calculations wherever possible.
In the case of SPNFZ, the resumption of nuclear testing by France in 1995 was the catalyst that brought together regional and global support for the zone. For the 28 million people living in Oceania who have borne the costs of decades of U.S. and French nuclear tests, the nuclear-weapon states' joint decision to join SPNFZ signals the end of a long nightmare. U.S. nuclear testing in the Pacific from 1946 to 1962 left a legacy of distrust. After 67 U.S. tests, inhabitants of the Marshall Islands suffer severe health and environmental problems related to radioactivity caused by the tests. The declassification by the Department of Energy in 1993 of data from the Pacific tests and other human experimentation projects reinforced perceptions of Washington's indifference to people's rights whenever Cold War nuclear policy was involved. The recklessness and non-responsiveness of the U.S. government in dealing with the human consequences of its Pacific testing came to symbolize the disregard for the rights of Pacific islanders and their way of life. French tests beginning in 1966 at the Mururoa and Fangataufa atolls deepened resentment against former colonial powers exploding nuclear weapons half a world away in somebody else's back yard.
The decision by French President Jacques Chirac in September 1995 to resume testing struck a raw nerve for Pacific islanders, whose protests attracted worldwide support. For Pacific islanders, the main significance of SPNFZ is the long-overdue respect it shows for their basic rights. The broader significance for NWFZs is that opposition to testing has found strong international support. The intensity of the protests surprised the Chirac government, which tried to quell them by agreeing to join SPNFZ and scaling back the originally planned series from eight tests to six. After the French testing episode, nuclear testing has been further delegitimized to the point where any country that tests should expect similar condemnation.
Proximity to the French tests also raised the ire of countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region, many of which share the view that nuclear testing is an anachronistic symbol of the colonial and Cold War periods. This sentiment is captured by the statement repeated by numerous officials in the region that if testing is as safe as the French government asserts, why not do it in France? Australia, New Zealand and Japan took the lead in orchestrating international outrage against the tests. Australia and New Zealand appealed to Washington, which issued a mild statement expressing regret over the French decision to test. Indonesia and Malaysia have also been active in pressing for progress in nuclear disarmament, particularly in their roles as leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement. Protests from within the region included formal diplomatic notes, economic sanctions, and boycotts of French products and events.
Regional opposition to testing makes it very unlikely that any country that does decide to test will do so outside its borders. And even testing within national borders is increasingly subject to criticism, as China has discovered. Few things are likely to generate more external support for nonproliferation efforts in South Asia or the Middle East than nuclear testing in either region.
Regional sentiments led to the formal endorsement on December 15 by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries of a new NWFZ treaty (SEANWFZ) that would abut the SPNFZ zone of application. However, unlike SPNFZ and the Treaty of Tlatelolco, the SEANWFZ treaty did not accommodate U.S. concerns about preserving international legal norms governing freedom of transit. The SEANWFZ treaty includes a controversial interpretation of states' rights over exclusive economic zones (EEZs) that could affect navigation rights-a position initially rejected by Washington. These points are particularly relevant in view of the many territorial disputes within the region, including disputes between zone members and China over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Although the United States had indicated it would "consider positively" a SEANWFZ treaty, the State Department initially interpreted the final draft of the treaty as "inconsistent" with the UN Law of the Sea Convention, and thus it does not satisfy the U.S. criteria for supporting NWFZs. China also declined to support SEANWFZ.
In the case of SEANWFZ, some regional powers were apparently more interested in a symbolic demonstration of non-aligned solidarity and regional autonomy than in establishing an NWFZ that would secure the support of the nuclearweapon states. The Pelindaba Treaty establishing an African zone more closely follows the Tlatelolco and Rarotonga models, and therefore is more likely to be endorsed by the nuclear-weapon states. But even without formal endorsement by the nuclear-armed nations, SEANWFZ highlights the fact that nuclear threats and extended nuclear deterrence are viewed as irrelevant to regional security. Even the prospect of confrontation with China was not sufficient to persuade ASEAN members to accommodate U.S. concerns.
The regional requirements for NWFZs in South Asia and the Middle East are quite different than those in Latin America, the South Pacific, Africa or Southeast Asia. Undeclared nuclear arsenals, chemical weapons, ballistic missiles and ongoing conflicts make it unavoidable that NWFZs are viewed as part of a larger process of reconciliation. Instead of inoculating regions that are free of major conflict against proliferation, NWFZs in the Middle East and South Asia would be on the leading edge of arms control. In Latin America, where Argentina and Brazil pursued nuclear options throughout the 1980s rather than join the Treaty of Tlatelolco, the security rationale for nuclear weapons was weak.
In volatile regions, however, denuclearization is directly linked to the peace process. Should the peace process in the Middle East bring a regional settlement between Israel and its neighbors, the prospects for establishing a weapons-of-massdestruction-free zone (that would include chemical and biological weapons and missile capabilities) would greatly improve. The prospects for South Asia, where no comparable peace process exists, are less promising.
The international community of arms control and non-proliferation specialists offer other perspectives on NWFZs. For many, nuclear-weapon states' participation in NWFZs provides concrete evidence that these states are fulfilling their commitments under Article VI of the nuclear NonProliferation Treaty (NPT), and provides tangible proof of progress on implementing the pledges made in May 1995 when NPT parties approved the indefinite extension of the treaty The existing NWFZs include so-called "negative security assurances" (pledges not to use or threaten the use against non-nuclear-weapon states party to the NPT) that have long been a priority for non-weapon states. For NPT advocates especially, the signing of the SPNFZ protocols is a sign of good faith by the United States, France and Britain regarding their willingness to acknowledge the discriminatory nature of the regime, which divides the world into nuclear "haves" and "have-nots." NWFZs that ban nuclear tests respond to the non-nuclear-weapon states' complaint that testing embodies the discrimination between the haves and have-nots and flouts the pledges of restraint issued by the nuclear-weapon states during the 1995 NPT extension conference.l
NWFZs provide a symbolic offering to quell dissatisfaction with a perceived lack of progress by the weapon states toward disarmament. In addition to completing a comprehensive test ban (CTB) treaty in 1996, such offerings may be critical when NPT parties gather in 1997 for the first Preparatory Committee meeting mandated under the strengthened treaty review process agreed upon at the NPT extension conference. From this perspective, joining NWFZs translates directly into enhanced credibility for global non-proliferation efforts.
Finally, those who want to preserve nuclear options and maintain the central role of nuclear weapons in U.S. defense strategy view NWFZs as undermining a key element of U.S. and international security. For them, negative security assurances that rule out the possibility of a nuclear response are more likely to spur proliferation than stop it. This group consists of two factions: those who acknowledge the nonproliferation value of reductions and a CTB, but want to preserve nuclear deterrence; and those who see little value in non-proliferation and arms control efforts and would rather continue developing new nuclear weapons than join a CTB.
For both groups, NWFZs have the effect of delegitimizing nuclear weapons that they believe are still essential for U.S. security. This view represented the core thinking behind the Clinton administration's Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which endorsed the deep reductions negotiated by the Bush administration, but essentially adopted a cautious hedge strategy rather than adding a new doctrine to the evolution of nuclear strategy. (See ACT, November 1994.) Proponents of nuclear weaponbased security worry that deep reductions, an aging arsenal, a test ban and NWFZs all chip away at the credibility of nuclear deterrence.
Many advocates of nuclear deterrence recognize the utility of NWFZs, but harbor reservations about the costs and benefits for U.S. security If not for nuclear deterrence, they assert, Saddam Hussein would have been more inclined to use his chemical and biological weapons. They fear the delegitimization of nuclear weapons could mislead other potential aggressors armed with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) into believing that the United States would never respond in-kind to a WMD attack. In their view, such a belief, reinforced by negative security assurances, could inadvertently invite miscalculation. Some nuclear advocates oppose the trend toward denuclearization because measures such as the CTB will hinder development of a new generation of smaller, more specialized nuclear weapons. Not surprisingly, this view is prevalent throughout the nuclear establishments of each of the nuclear-weapon states and in the nuclear "threshold" states of India, Israel and Pakistan.
The Clinton Administration
The Clinton administration perspective on NWFZs combines elements of each of these perspectives. In fact, there has been no significant change in U.S. policy toward NWFZs. The administration agreed in 1993 to review the U.S. position on SPNFZ in response to congressional appeals led by Representative Eni Faleomavaega of American Samoa. The White House concluded its review two years later, only after France endorsed a zero-yield scope for the CTB. Pentagon officials reportedly opposed SPNFZ during the review for the same reason the Reagan administration balked at joining the treaty 10 years earlier: They did not want to encourage anti-nuclear movements that could complicate U.S. security relationships, especially those with NATO, Japan and South Korea. Others in the administration and the State Department reportedly voiced concern about the effect of joining SPNFZ on relations with Paris.
President Chirac's decision to resume testing in the Pacific last fall and his subsequent decision to halt the test series and support a zero-yield CTB created a totally new context for SPNFZ and perhaps for other NWFZs as well. The U.S. decision to ratify the protocols to SPNFZ, however preserves both the administration's NPR strategy and Washington's long-standing nuclear cooperation with France, the extent of which has gradually come to light. In fact, cooperation between the United States and France to maintain nuclear stockpiles will probably expand under a CTB, especially with respect to nuclear test simulation technology
The decision to ratify SPNFZ satisfied a wide range of interests. The policy respects the rights of the Pacific islanders, avoided confrontation with France over its testing program, supports regional allies who opposed the tests, consolidates NPT pledges, advances a CTB, leaves the door open for other zones and preserves U.S. nuclear options. Not only are these benefits worth the risks, but they suggest the outline of a strategy that incorporates NWFZs as a tool of long-term denuclearization.
The Role of NWFZs
In the not too distant future, the treaties of Rarotonga, Tlatelolco, Pelindaba and SEANWFZ will transform virtually the whole Southern Hemisphere into one big nuclear-weapon-free zone. In a world where nuclear weapons are essential for peace and security, such a development could be dangerous. However, viewed against the backdrop of START I and II reductions, the withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons by the United States and Russia; the decisions by Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan to give up the former Soviet nuclear weapons on their territories; the forfeiture of nuclear options by South Africa, Argentina and Brazil; and the indefinite extension of the NPT, denuclearization has become a major feature of the post-Cold War international system. The issue is not whether we are living in an age of de facto denuclearization, but rather how to make the most of the denuclearization process.
What is missing is a strategy to connect the various aspects of denuclearization and to exploit these developments for maximal security benefits. Denuclearization could be a watershed for non-proliferation. What is needed is a grand strategy that ties together the major nuclear issues of the postCold War era. Within the context of a comprehensive nuclear strategy, NWFZs help consolidate non-proliferation norms and institutions, especially in regions where the prospect of major wars is slight. NWFZs also consolidate non-proliferation successes; the spread of NWFZs bear testimony to an optimistic outlook on proliferation.
Although the potential for consolidating non-proliferation gains and "winning the non-proliferation battle" is high, there is also significant risk that the regime could someday give way to nuclear anarchy. Latent arms races in North Asia, South Asia and the Middle East have the potential to undermine the non-proliferation successes of the post-Cold War period. "Loose" nuclear assets in the former Soviet Union, North Korea, India, Pakistan, Israel, China, Iran, Iraq and a few other countries still pose serious proliferation hazards. Chemical, biological and other advanced weapons also feed the urge to proliferate. Proliferation, like war itself, is not obsolete. It would be folly to assume that proliferation is now and forever confined to a few "rogue" nations. A reversal of fortune in the security environment over the next 10, 20 or 50 years could cause many countries to rethink their nuclear options.
The fragility of the current nuclear status quo is precisely the reason to exploit the denuclearization process. A comprehensive non-proliferation strategy is needed to lock in the norms of non-acquisition and non-use, and to advance the verification and enforcement of non-proliferation commitments. Verified NWFZs, like arms control agreements, require careful implementation and maintenance, but once in place afford the luxury of concentrating on the remaining urgent non-proliferation problems.
One role of NWFZs in a comprehensive strategy is to hold territory that is, or is in the process of, being secured against nuclear encroachment. Even without the participation of the nuclear-weapon states, the South Pacific, African and Southeast Asian zones add strength to the non-proliferation regime.
While NWFZs can be the rear guard of the non-proliferation regime, other more proactive elements of the strategy would reduce existing stockpiles. Several recent studies have laid out options and timetables for managing the denuclearization process.3 They advocate a nuclear agenda that generally includes the completion of a CTB by 1996; implementation of START II and negotiations on a START III accord; inclusion of China, France and Britain in future nuclear force reduction agreements; minimal deterrence as an interim goal; a fissile materials cutoff convention and additional controls on weapons materials; robust export controls; strengthening the International Atomic Energy Agency inspection system; NPT enforcement; and regional approaches for South Asia and the Middle East.
Creating New Zones
In addition to their role as the rear guard of non-proliferation efforts, NWFZs can also stake out new non-proliferation claims in troubled regions such as the Middle East and South Asia. The Treaty of Tlatelolco is an example of the use of an NWFZ as a first step toward a regional arms control regime. When the Latin American zone was established in 1967, Argentina and Brazil were a long way from forswearing their nuclear options. The treaty offered them a "halfway house" on their way to joining the NPT. (Brazil has yet to join the NPT, but complies with equivalent obligations under the Treaty of Tlatelolco.) Its custom-tailored inspection mechanisms offered the new governments in both countries a gradual path toward a denuclearized Latin America. Few would argue that the region is not better off without nuclear options.
It is possible for NWFZs to play a similar arms control function in the Middle East and South Asia. As was the case in Latin America, the prospects for arms control in these areas will be determined by domestic and regional political circumstances. At present, the Middle East peace process still holds some promise for achieving a regional settlement with an arms control component. U.S., Israeli and Arab experts have held detailed discussions on establishing a verified WMD-free zone for the region; a zone that does not include chemical and biological capabilities would not suffice.
The early stages of arms control would probably begin with symbolic and tentative confidence-building measures such as joint verification demonstration projects and reciprocal visits to selected facilities. The process of establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, however, may more closely resemble the 50-year history of U.S.-Soviet and U.S.-Russian arms control than the comparatively rapid implementation of NWFZs in other parts of the world.
The outlook for an NWFZ in South Asia is less optimistic. The conditions that make NWFZs possible elsewhere-the absence of major regional tension, no existing WMD, or even a serious peace process-do not now exist in South Asia. Despite Pakistan's official support for establishing an NWFZ, New Delhi and Islamabad are moving in the direction of a full-fledged arms race.
While many in the region (and some in the West) believe that India and Pakistan can benefit from the emergence of a nuclear deterrence relationship, others are not as optimistic that conflict (or accidents) can be avoided. Most observers agree, however that it would take an extraordinary turn of events to improve the prospects for establishing an NWFZ in South Asia.
Finally, critics of NWFZs are right that banning nuclear weapons from virtually the entire Southern Hemisphere forces the United States to rely more heavily on conventional military forces. It is necessary to ensure that U.S. interests and security commitments are not jeopardized as a result of denuclearization. But it is also true that Cold War-style nuclear forces may not deter future threats.
Modernization of U.S. conventional forces should exploit the so-called "revolution in military affairs" to construct a new military force structure that guarantees U.S. conventional superiority in a denuclearizing world. The new force structure should emphasize counter-proliferation capabilities such as enhanced intelligence, special operations, anti-terrorism capabilities and theater missile defenses.
It is striking that nearly every aspect of the denuclearization strategy outlined above is already reflected to some extent in U.S. policy. The Clinton policy builds on a legacy of U.S. leadership in non-proliferation, but is far too fragmented and ad hoc. Too often non-proliferation policy is presented more like a laundry list of achievements than as the centerpiece of a post-Cold War nuclear doctrine. It is now time to put the pieces of the proliferation puzzle together and move beyond the cautious hedge strategy inherited from the Bush administration.
A "new nuclear bargain" should connect the strategic nuclear arms control agenda with traditional non-proliferation policy, regional security and conventional force modernization to put the world squarely on a path toward nuclear disarmament. Nuclear-weapon-free zones should be on the leading and trailing edges of the new nuclear bargain, staking out new territory for denuclearization and securing regions where nonproliferation has already prevailed.
1. Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, NPT/CONF 1995/L.5, 10 May 1995. The pledge by the nuclear-weapon states to "exercise utmost restraint" prior to completion of a CTB treaty appears in Paragraph 4(a). Paragraphs 5, 6, and 7 support the establishment of NWFZs.
2. Testimony of Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Robert E. McNamara before the House International Relations Committee's Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, November 15, 1995.
3. See, for example,An Evolving LI.S. Nuclear Posture, Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC, Report No. 19, December 1995; Robert A. Manning, Back To The Future: Towards A Post-Nuclear Ethic-The New Logic of Nonproliferation, Progressive Policy Institute, Washington, DC, 1993; Steve Hadley and Mitchell Reiss, Nuclear Prolif eration: Confronting the New Challenges, Council on Foreign Relations Task Force, 1995. See also projects by the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, including Ivo Daalder, "Stepping Down the Thermonuclear Ladder: How Low Can We Go?" June 1993, and Michael Mazarr, "Toward Nuclear Disarmament," October 1994.
Zachary Davis is a specialist in international nuclear policy at the Congressional Research Service in the Library of Congress. The views expressed here are his own.…