Obama Submits NWFZ Protocols to Senate

Article excerpt

President Barack Obama on May 3 transmitted to the Senate the protocols to the Pelindaba and Rarotonga nuclear-weapon-free-zone (NWFZ) treaties, the regional pacts that ban testing, acquisition, and development of nuclear weapons in Africa and the South Pacific.

Once ratified, the protocols "will extend the policy of the United States not to use or threaten use of nuclear weapons against regional zone parties" that are members of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and are "in good standing with their non-proliferation obligations," a White House press release said.

In his transmittal letter, Obama said the protocols' entry into force would require "no changes in U.S. law, policy or practice."

However, the submittal drew criticism from Senate Minority Whip Jon KyI (R-Ariz.). "I am deeply troubled that President Obama is attempting to codify by international agreement his flawed nuclear weapons declaratory policy, which would limit the instances in which the President would use nuclear weapons to defend the United States and its allies from attack," KyI said in a May 5 press release.

He was referring to the administration's April 2010 "Nuclear Posture Review [NPRJ Report," which stated that the United States "will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations."

The NPR report revised a previous policy under which the United States had said that it reserved the right to use nuclear weapons in response to an attack using biological and chemical weapons, even if the attack came from a non-nuclear-weapon state. Advances in U.S. military capabilities allow the United States to forgo the option of a nuclear response in such situations, the NPR found.

In a May 18 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation Susan Burk said ratification of the protocols "will not disturb existing security arrangements or impinge upon U.S. military operations, installations, or activities. The Department of Defense, including the Joint Staff, was fully engaged throughout our review process and agrees with these conclusions."

NWFZ treaties provide for protocols to be signed by the countries that the NPT recognizes as nuclear-weapon states: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Under these instruments, the nuclear-weapon states assume legal obligations not to use nuclear weapons against members of the zone, conduct nuclear tests in the treaty's zone of application, or take any other action that violates its terms. The United States is the only country out of the five that has yet to ratify the protocols to the two treaties.

Russia had delayed ratification of the protocols to the Pelindaba treaty as it sought clarification as to whether the treaty applied to the island of Diego Garcia, a British possession that Mauritius, a party to the treaty, claims. The United States, which operates a major military base in Diego Garcia, recognizes British sovereignty over the island. …