Nuclear-weapon-free zones: a step towards nuclear disarmament?

Author:Shapiro, Adam

With tens of thousands of nuclear weapons left over from the cold war, only a small fraction of which could obliterate this planet many times over, nuclear disarmament is perhaps the most vital issue on the global security agenda. Despite the hazards associated with these weapons, nations continue to proliferate out of fear and insecurity. Although significant strides have been taken, nuclear disarmament is still in its early stages. It has not been completely successful thus far, in part because nuclear-weapon States (NWSs) look to retain their weapons, while some non-nuclear-weapon States aspire to obtain them. The cornerstones of the disarmament regime are the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). However, one of the most promising mechanisms to date has been the so-called "nuclear-weapon-free zones" (NWFZs). An offshoot of Article VII of the NPT, which gives regions the right to make treaties establishing NWFZ, these progressive alliances may hold the answer to the future success of nuclear non-proliferation and, perhaps, total disarmament.

The rationale behind NWFZ is that there is a direct correlation between denuclearization and peace. Most States seek nuclear weapons for their deterrent qualities, sometimes pursuing them because they suspect that their neighbours are developing such weapons. Nuclear-weapon-free zones are intended to fix this security dilemma by prohibiting the possession, testing, transporting and stationing of nuclear weapons within a specific area. Without the presence of nuclear material in a region, no country should feel insecure enough to seek or develop such weapons. At its foundation, NWFZs are confidence-building measures aimed at improving trust and transparency among neighbouring countries.

The first nuclear-weapon-free zone was established in 1967 in Latin America and the Caribbean under the Treaty of Tlatelolco. All 33 countries in the region are parties to the Treaty, which bars nuclear material from the area except for peaceful purposes. A nuclear-weapon-free region symbolizes more than just advancement in nuclear disarmament; it is a major step towards general disarmament as well. In the Treaty, it is established that "militarily denuclearized zones are not an end in themselves but rather a means for achieving general and complete disarmament at a later stage".

After the success of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, the NWFZ initiative achieved global recognition in 1975 when the United Nations adopted a formal definition of the concept of a NWFZ. According to UN General Assembly resolution 3472 B, these zones must, among other obligations: correspond only to those nations within the clearly specified application regions; recognize the full and complete absence of nuclear weapons in the application zone; establish an international system of verification and control...

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