Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones and Security Assurances

Since the 1960s, security assurances have been a favoured mechanism to ensure that countries will not be left vulnerable to attack by nuclear weapons if they join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as Non-Nuclear Weapon States (NNWS). While key Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) prevented such guarantees from being enshrined in the NPT text, legally binding security assurances have been given in the context of nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZ), which were enshrined in the NPT’s Article VII. In conjunction with the NPT’s conclusion in 1968, the NWS issued heavily conditional forms of ‘negative security...

Since the 1960s, security assurances have been a favoured mechanism to ensure that countries will not be left vulnerable to attack by nuclear weapons if they join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as Non-Nuclear Weapon States (NNWS). While key Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) prevented such guarantees from being enshrined in the NPT text, legally binding security assurances have been given in the context of nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZ), which were enshrined in the NPT’s Article VII. In conjunction with the NPT’s conclusion in 1968, the NWS issued heavily conditional forms of ‘negative security assurances’ (NSA) in UNSCR 255 (1968) in which they promised not to use nuclear weapons to attack NNWS that were parties to the NPT and not part of any nuclear alliances or attacks (referring principally to NATO and the Warsaw Pact). In 1978, the NWS issued 'positive security assurances' (PSA), promising to come to the assistance of NNWS if they were to be threatened or attacked with nuclear weapons. In 1995, four of the NWS updated and harmonized their security assurances while China reiterated its commitment to ‘no first use’ and unconditional assurances to NNWS. All five presented their respective security assurances in unilateral statements to the Conference on Disarmament (CD), after which they were given collective recognition in UNSCR 984 (1995).  Even so, the Movement of Nonaligned States (NAM) has continued to call for negotiations to make security assurances unconditional and legally binding, making this demand in both the Conference on Disarmament (CD) and in NPT review process meetings.

The Acronym Institute has published analyses arguing that a new approach to security assurances is now needed that would take into account the different kinds of nuclear dangers and the responsibility all governments and non-governmental entities must share in preventing the use of nuclear weapons regardless of who the targets or perpetrators of nuclear attacks or threats might be. We argue that a universal approach based on recognition that any nuclear explosive attack would constitute a crime against humanity would reinforce a necessary taboo against use and provide more reliable deterrence tools and greater security not only for the NNWS, but also for the NWS, thereby paving the way for nuclear weapons to be stigmatized and eliminated. Such an approach would bring the issue of security assurances up to date by, in effect, outlawing the use of nuclear weapons for everyone, with specific and shared rights, obligations and responsibilities to prevent any and all nuclear attacks.

Nuclear weapons are dangerously complicating factors affecting security building and posing regional challenges, most notably in the Middle East, South Asia and North-East Asia. In the past, some regions have chosen to address potential nuclear problems, including testing and proliferation by negotiating Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone treaties, in which countries in specific regions commit themselves not to manufacture, acquire, test, or possess nuclear weapons. The right to establish such zones was affirmed by Article VII of the NPT and reaffirmed by the UN General Assembly in 1975 when criteria for such zones was also outlined. In 1999, following negotiations initiated in 1975, the UN Disarmament Commission adopted a set of "Guidelines" on the establishment of NWFZ.  Today there are five NWFZs in: Latin America (the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco), the South Pacific (the 1985 Treaty of Rarotonga), Southeast Asia (the 1995 Treaty of Bangkok), Africa (the 1996 Treaty of Pelindaba), and Central Asia (the 2006 Treaty of Semipalatinsk). Efforts towards establishing a NWFZ in the Middle East have recently led to commitments agreed at the 2010 NPT Review Conference to hold a conference on a Zone free of Nuclear and other Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East (MEWMDFZ) in 2012, inviting all states from the region.

4 February 2015

VIENNA — With time for negotiations running short, the U.S and Iran are discussing a compromise that would let Iran keep much of its uranium-enriching technology but reduce its potential to make nuclear weapons, two diplomats tell The Associated Press.

Such a compromise could break...

25 January 2015

One of the greatest boons brought to the world by the end of the Cold War was the agreement been the US and the countries of the former Soviet Union to cooperate in securing the USSR’s vast nuclear arsenal.

Under the 1991 Cooperative Threat Reduction agreement, better known as the...

5 January 2015

A widening rift between Moscow and Washington over cruise missiles and increasingly daring patrols by nuclear-capable Russian submarines threatens to end an era of arms control and bring back a dangerous rivalry between the world’s two dominant nuclear arsenals.

Tensions have been...

15 January 2013

The Winter 2012-2013 edition of Proliferation in Parliament offers a review of news, debates and developments in the UK Parliament and Government on issues relating to nuclear weapons, disarmament and proliferation.  It is published in January 2013 following the Christmas...

11 September 2012

This is the Summer 2012 edition of the Acronym Institute newsletter Proliferation in Parliament.  It offers a review of news, debates and developments in the UK Parliament and Government on issues relating to nuclear weapons,...

Dr Rebecca Johnson
13 May 2014

On Friday, the UN-hosted meeting of around 140 of the 190 states that are party to the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons  (NPT) ended with...

Dr Rebecca Johnson
14 March 2014

As the world looks on with trepidation at the growing crisis between Ukraine and Russia, does anyone think that the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States could play a constructive role?

Of course not.

At best they will be irrelevant. At worst—and many commentators...

Dr Rebecca Johnson
12 March 2014

A frisson – of anticipation or anxiety, depending on the listeners – went around the UN High-level Meeting on 26 September 2013 when the Federal President of Austria declared: “Nuclear weapons should be stigmatised, banned and eliminated before they abolish us.”

As...

29 August 2013

Overview: Prime minister David Cameron and his government suffered a narrow defeat in the House of Commons on 29 August 2013, a defeat that ruled the UK out of military action in Syria.  In response to the defeat, engineered by a Conservative rebellion of 30 MPs, Cameron...

29 August 2013

Overview of 'Motion to take note'

The principle of humanitarian intervention provided a sound legal basis for the deployment of UK forces in an operation to deter and disrupt the use of chemical weapons, government spokesman Lord Hill of Oareford told the House of...

4 March 2013

Paul Flynn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representation his Department plans to have at the forthcoming Conference on the Consequences of Nuclear Weapon Use in Oslo on 4 and 5 March, organised by the Norwegian Foreign Minister; and if he will arrange to...

17 December 2014

The attached PDF document is the summary from the Chair of the Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, held in Vienna, Austria, 8-9 December 2014.

Author(s): Juan Manuel Gómez Robledo, Vice Minister for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights, Mexico
14 February 2014

The attached doc is a PDF of the Chair's Summary of the Conference on the Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons Conference, held in Nayarit, Mexico, 13-14 February 2014.

Author(s): Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
13 February 2014

Vienna, 13 February 2014 – “Nuclear weapons are not only a permanent threat to all humankind but also a relic of the cold war that we must finally overcome. The international nuclear disarmament efforts require an urgent paradigm shift, not the least in light of the danger of...

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