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Toward A Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone

August 3, 2005
Volume 3 | Issue 8
Article ID 1784

Toward A Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone

By Umebayashi Hiromichi

[While world attention focuses on the failure to reach agreement in the
Six-Party talks in Beijing focusing on North Korea nuclear weapons, we
present a report that reflects on the activities over several decades on
the part of both states and citizens to frame a Nuclear Weapon-Free
Zone for Northeast Asia as an alternative to the expansion of nuclear
weapons states and the general breakdown of the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty.

1. What is a Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone?

A Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (NWFZ) is a concrete manifestation of
international or regional efforts to limit nuclear weapons - the most
destructive weaponry humankind has created. However, a NWFZ is meant to
achieve more than this. The objectives of a NWFZ include not only limiting
nuclear weapons, but also making a significant contribution to maintaining
international peace and security in areas with varied historical
backgrounds, some with long-standing disputes. In order to realize the
objectives of ensuring regional security in this broader sense, NWFZs have
been pursued, achieved and maintained. Currently, there are four NWFZs,
each established and governed by an international treaty and named after
the place associated with its negotiation.

As many as 113 nations have become parties to these treaties. If
Antarctica, which is a kind of NWFZ, is also included, it means that 50% of
the earth’s land area, and nearly the entire land area of the Southern
Hemisphere, have achieved the status of a NWFZ. All existing NWFZs have
three common characteristics:

1. They prohibit the development, testing, manufacture, production,
possession, acquisition, stockpiling, and transportation (on land and
inland waters) of nuclear weapons anywhere within the zone.
(Non-proliferation and non-deployment of nuclear weapons)

2. They prohibit the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against
nations and areas within the zone. (Negative Security Assurance - NSA)

3. They establish an on-going organization to ensure compliance with the

The second characteristic of NWFZs is especially significant. When NWFZs
are advocated, there is a tendency to associate them solely with nonnuclear
weapon states’ obligations related to non-proliferation and non-deployment
of nuclear weapons. However, all existing NWFZ treaties have protocols
requiring nuclear weapon states to provide NSAs. For example, the Tlatelolco
Treaty (Section 2 of Protocol 2) stipulates a NSA, and with Russia’s (former
Soviet Union) ratification in 1979, all nuclear weapon states completed
ratification of this protocol.

The Rarotonga Treaty (Section 1 of Protocol 2) also secures a NSA which
Russia and China ratified in 1988 and 1989 respectively. The Western
nuclear weapon states have also finally signed the protocols after France
ended its nuclear testing program in March 1996. At present, all nuclear
weapon states except the United States have completed ratification of the
Treaty. Both the Bangkok Treaty (Section 2) and the Pelindaba Treaty
(Section 1 of Protocol 1) request provision of an NSA by the nuclear weapon
states. As yet, not a single nuclear weapon state has signed the Protocol
of the Bangkok Treaty, whereas all nuclear weapon states have signed the
Protocol of the Pelindaba Treaty; and, China, France and the United Kingdom
have also ratified it.
When an NSA by all nuclear weapon states enters into force, nations within
the NWFZ are essentially placed under a legally binding “Non-Nuclear
Umbrella.” Mechanisms for verification and consultation have been
established to guarantee compliance with the obligations imposed by
existing NWFZ treaties. They are the: “Agency for the Prohibition of
Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean Latin America Nuclear
Prohibition Organization (OPANAL),” “(South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone
Treaty) Consultative Committee,” “Commission for the Southeast Asia Nuclear
Weapon-Free Zone,” and “The African Commission on Nuclear Energy.”

2. Comparison of Existing NWFZs

There is an almost 30-year interval between the Tlatelolco Treaty,
negotiated in the 1960s during the Cold War, and the Bangkok and Pelindaba
Treaties, concluded after the end of the Cold War, close to the time of the
conclusion of CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) negotiations. The four
NWFZ treaties exhibit a clear evolution of concerns consistent with the era
in which each was established. The main points of this evolution are
summarized as follows:

(a) Peaceful Nuclear Explosion (PNE)

The Tlatelolco Treaty permits explosions of nuclear devices for
non-weaponry purposes (such as civil engineering projects) under certain
conditions. However, since entry into force of the Non-Proliferation Treaty
(NPT) in 1970, which bans PNEs, subsequent NWFZ treaties have prohibited
this activity.

(b) Port calls and transit by warships and aircraft carrying nuclear weapons
At the time of the establishment of the Tlatelolco Treaty, the issue of
transit and portcalls by warships carrying nuclear weapons did not garner
attention and thus, no special provisions were included in the Treaty.
However, the issue became extremely hot and politically sensitive during
the Rarotonga Treaty negotiations. The nuclear weapon states adhered to the
NCND policy (that is, neither confirming nor denying the presence of
nuclear weapons), while allies of nuclear weapon states adopted a policy of
extended deterrence. Because of this, a universal prohibition on such
portcalls was not achieved in later treaties. The matter is left to the
discretion of each party to the treaties. (See Article 5 of the Rarotonga
Treaty; Article 7 of the Bangkok Treaty and Article 4 of the Pelindaba Treaty.)

(c) Dumping of radioactive waste

Although the Tlatelolco Treaty has no provision prohibiting the dumping of
radioactive waste, subsequent NWFZ treaties do prohibit the dumping of
radioactive waste at sea. For example, the Bangkok Treaty prohibits not
only such dumping at sea, but also discharge into the atmosphere and
disposition on land outside the territory of each nation. The Pelindaba
Treaty prohibits import, trans-boundary movement, and dumping of
radioactive waste.

(d) Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)

Each treaty has its own particular method of defining its geographical zone
of application. The Tlatelolco and Rarotonga Treaties set their zones of
application to include an expanse of international water in addition to the
territory and territorial waters of countries within the zone. The Bangkok
Treaty applies to the EEZ as well as to the territories and territorial
waters of the state parties within the zone. The Pelindaba Treaty applies
to the territories and territorial waters of the state parties within the zone.

(e) Armed attack on nuclear installations

The Pelindaba Treaty promotes mutual cooperation for the peaceful use of
nuclear energy by stipulating that, “Each Party undertakes not to take, or
assist, or encourage any action aimed at an armed attack by conventional or
other means against nuclear installations...” It is the only NWFZ treaty to
have such a provision.

3. Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (NEA-NWFZ): The

A number of substantial arguments in favor of the establishment of a
nuclear weapon-free zone in Northeast Asia have appeared in the post-Cold
War era. Some of these are summarized as follows. In March 1995, after
several years of collaborative work, a senior panel led by John Endicott
(Center for International Strategy, Technology, and Policy (CISTP), Georgia
Institute of Technology), presented a proposal for a Limited Nuclear
Weapon-Free Zone in Northeast Asia (LNEA-NWFZ).

This first proposal for a NEA-NWFZ entailed the concept of a circular zone,
consisting of a circular area with a 2000-kilometer radius from a center
point at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the Korean Peninsula. The proposed
zone would consist of the entirety of the ROK (Republic of Korea - South
Korea), DPRK (Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea – North Korea), Japan,
and Taiwan and also include some portions of China, Russia and Mongolia.

The United States, which maintains military bases in Japan and the ROK,
would also be included as a relevant party to the treaty. In the expert
meeting with five participants from the US, Russia, China, Japan and the
ROK, this proposal was finally agreed upon but with a limitation that,
“certain categories (of nuclear weapons) be excluded from inclusion during
the initial stages of the Agreement, and that emphasis be placed on nuclear
warheads applicable to non-strategic missiles and other nuclear warheads or
devices with ‘tactical’ applications.” In other words, this proposal
comprises a Limited Nuclear Weapon Free-Zone (LNWFZ) because it is
applicable to non-strategic nuclear weapons only. Also, the group extended
the geographical area of the proposal to an elliptical one (the shape of
American football) with its major axis extending to part of Alaska, in the
belief that a portion of US territory should be included in the NWFZ.

A similar circular arrangement was proposed independently by Kumao Kaneko
(former professor at Tokai University, former director of the Nuclear
Energy Division of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and a Japanese
diplomat). His proposal differs from the LNWFZ described above. It is a
comprehensive circular NWFZ, based on the idea that the obligations of the
nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states within the zone would differ from
each other, with the nuclear weapon states being required to eliminate
their nuclear weapons within the zone on a step-by-step basis.

Meanwhile, Andrew Mack (former Director of the Department of International
Relations, Australia National University) suggested that, “Perhaps the most
obvious NEANFZ would be one which encompassed the two Koreas, Japan and
Taiwan.” Although Taiwan is not a “country,” it is a member of APEC, and
thus, it could justifiably qualify to be a part of the area constituting
the NEA-NWFZ. Mack’s paper appeared as a chapter of an UNIDIR report, of
which he was an editor. The study was innovative, but notably did not refer
to the research led by Endicott, suggesting that there may have been little
exchange of information on this subject among researchers in those days.

While welcoming both the circular and elliptical NWFZ proposals, I have
proposed what I believe is a more realistic geographical arrangement for a
NEANWFZ. Entitled the “Three-Plus-Three Arrangement,” the proposal takes
into consideration the history of Northeast Asia and the urgent
circumstances of its current situation. It proposes the conclusion of a
trilateral NWFZ treaty among the core nations of Japan, the ROK, and the
DPRK with protocols providing for negative security assurances (NSAs) from
the surrounding three nuclear weapon states - the United States, China, and
Russia. According to recent discussions among experts in Japan, it may be
preferable to incorporate an NSA provision into the main text of the treaty
rather than into a protocol. In this case, the treaty will be a six-party
treaty with different obligations between the former three and latter three

This approach could be pursued by taking advantage of the existing declared
policies of the three key states. Specifically, the ROK and the DPRK have
signed the “Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean
Peninsula” (January 20, 1992), in which they agreed to “refrain from the
testing, manufacture, production, acceptance, possession, stockpiling,
deployment and use of nuclear weapons,” and to “use nuclear energy only for
peaceful purposes.” It is conceded that there have been various problems
with these positions since they were announced; nevertheless, they do
remain their declared positions currently on record. In addition, Japan has
its “three non-nuclear principles,” which state that Japan will not
manufacture, possess, nor allow the bringing-in of nuclear weapons. Also,
Japan’s 1995 Atomic Energy Basic Law prohibits use of nuclear energy for
military purposes.

While pursuing Track II efforts to develop its LNWFZ initiative, the
Endicott group came to the realization that the establishment of the
circular or elliptical NWFZ would be extremely difficult, even if it were
limited to non-strategic nuclear weapons. In such circumstances in which
“little progress was likely on the major issues.” toward the LNWFZ, the
group suggested a new proposal as an interim step to overcome these
difficulties. They proposed a first phase of the LNWFZ which would include,
“Japan, the ROK, possibly Mongolia, and if its non-nuclear status is
clarified, the DPRK”. The proposal is very similar to the “Three Plus
Three” scenario that I have suggested.

Following the developments of these concepts, it would be safe to say that
today there is a general agreement on an approach to establishing a
NEA-NWFZ which would consist of the ROK, DPRK, and Japan as the key
components, and possibly Mongolia and Taiwan as well. A recent article in
the Asahi Shinbun reports that, “Recently there is a prevailing view that
the declared non-nuclear weapon states in the region should constitute the
core of a NEA-NWFZ, as suggested by Umebayashi.”

4. Significance of a Northeast Asia NWFZ

The undertaking to establish a NEA-NWFZ has great significance in that it
will entail the reorganization of the current security arrangement in the
region. The government of Japan (GOJ), along with Japan’s ruling
establishment, has recently been using manipulated information and relying
on the logic of the US-led War on Terror, while emphasizing the threat
against Japan in the region. The peace movement in Japan has been facing
new challenges as a result of the expanded projection of Japanese military
power. The peace movement must respond to this situation by resisting the
GOJ’s dangerous propaganda that emphasizes the need to strengthen
Japan’s military systems and capabilities. At the same time, it must develop
proactive approaches to ease tension in Northeast Asia and create
alternative plans to build peace through confidence building measures. The
establishment of a NEA-NWFZ can be considered a concrete example
among such alternatives.

A NEA-NWFZ, even if it entails only the three elements noted in Section 1,
would make a significant contribution to confidence building and easing of
tensions in the region as described below:

(a) From the Korean Peninsula’s point of view, Japan’s suspected nuclear
weapons’ development would be able to be verified by means of the NWFZ’s
verification measures. From the Japanese point of view, the DPRK’s
suspected nuclear development would also be able to be verified in a
similar manner. By means of such verification measures, the rise of
Japanese pronuclear rightists and ROK’s supporters for “nuclear
sovereignty,” which is reinforced by mutual suspicion toward each other,
could be prevented.

(b) The GOJ has identified distrust toward China as part of its rationale
for Japan’s military buildup. In particular, it distrusts China’s unilateral
security assurance, a key component of Chinese nuclear policy, which
states that China will not attack non-nuclear states with nuclear weapons
under any circumstances. A NWFZ could make this security assurance
legally binding. Similarly, Japan’s concerns about Russia’s nuclear weapons
could be solved by a legally binding NSA from Russia. From the DPRK’s
point of view, formal assurances by the US “against the threat or use of
nuclear weapons,” as stipulated in the 1994 Agreed Framework, would
become legally binding. Such security assurances will serve as the
foundation for further disarmament in the region.

(c) Although prohibition against chemical and biological weapons would not
be directly included in a NWFZ, the subject would naturally be on the table
in NWFZ negotiations. Unlike the situation for nuclear weapons,
international treaties already exist which prohibit chemical and biological
weapons, and a NWFZ would necessarily be discussed in relation to these
treaties. It would be possible to refer to CB weapons in some way in a NWFZ

(d) More generally, the mechanism established in the treaty for ensuring
compliance of state parties is expected to serve as a venue where a wide
range of security issues can be discussed. In order to prevent the
deep-rooted distrust originating from Japanese colonial rule and the
absence of a formal apology in the post-WWII era from developing into an
unfortunate military conflict in the future, a highly transparent venue for
consultation should be established. The mechanism for ensuring the
compliance with the treaty could serve as the first step of such an
arrangement. Its establishment would also signal the transformation from an
obsolete security structure dependent upon US military forces to a new
cooperative regional security framework.

5. Important Issues for Northeast Asia

(a) Plutonium

The 1994 “Agreed Framework” between the US and the DPRK requires
the DPRK to implement the “1992 North-South Joint Declaration on the
Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Even if the 1994 Agreed
Framework is discarded and a new agreement is reached, it is very probable
that the “1992 Joint Declaration” would remain the basis for the new
agreement. Under this “Joint Declaration,” both Koreas are prohibited from
possessing nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities. However,
North and South Korea would be cautious about the “Joint Declaration”
becoming legally binding should Japan’s enormous plutonium capability be
left intact. For this reason, a NWFZ in this region must include Japan. One
of the important benefits of a NEA-NWFZ is that Japan and two Koreas
would be under a single verification system.

(b) Reliance on Nuclear Weapons in Security Policy

To become a state party to a NWFZ is not necessarily the same as
abandoning a security policy dependent on nuclear weapons. For example,
it is logically possible for Japan to maintain its reliance on US nuclear
deterrence, while at the same time joining the NWFZ framework. However,
since the possibility of nuclear attacks against Japan would be eliminated
as a result of legally binding security assurances of a NWFZ, US nuclear
deterrence would then assume a retaliatory role with the use of nuclear
weapons against possible nonnuclear attacks. In other words, a policy
reliant on nuclear deterrence could persist under a NWFZ, but it would
apply to nuclear weapons’ use solely against non-nuclear weapons.

Although the persistence of nuclear deterrence is logically possible under
a NWFZ, it must be emphasized that all nations agreed to “a diminishing
role for nuclear weapons in security policies” at the 2000 Review
Conference of NPT. The policy to use nuclear weapons solely against
non-nuclear weapon attacks, as mentioned above, would constitute a clear
violation of the NPT agreement because it entails an obvious expansion of
the role of nuclear weapons. Therefore, a new NWFZ treaty must include a
provision stipulating that non-nuclear weapon state parties commit to
abandoning reliance upon nuclear weapons in every aspect of their security

(c) Portcalls and Transit by Nuclear Weapon-carrying Warships
As discussed in Section 2, all existing NWFZs leave the prohibition of
portcalls and transit of territorial water by nuclear weapon-carrying
vessels to the discretion of each party to the treaty; thus, there is no
universality to the prohibition. However, in response to overwhelming
public opinion, Japan has committed to banning both portcalls and transit
by nuclear weapon-carrying vessels, relying upon its three non-nuclear
principles as the basis for this policy. It is noted that although official
documents suggesting the existence of secret accords between Washington
and Tokyo have been repeatedly disclosed, the GOJ has denied their existence.
Therefore, on the optimistic side, a NEANWFZ could be the first NWFZ that
prohibits portcalls and transit of territorial water by nuclear
weapon-carrying vessels. On the pessimistic side, the GOJ may continue to
show strong resistance to even the mere idea of any negotiation of a
NEA-NWFZ in order to observe secret accords with the US and in the
process, continue to deceive its people.

(d) Obligation for Anti-Nuclear-Weapon Education

A NEA-NWFZ would be the first NWFZ established that actually is home to a
large number of victims of nuclear weapon attacks. The victims of both Hiroshima
and Nagasaki bombings live not only in Japan, but also on the Korean Peninsula.
Therefore, a distinctive element could be incorporated into a NEA-NWFZ that
contributes to global nuclear disarmament by stipulating state parties’ obligation
to educate citizens all over the world about the realities of the physical and social
suffering of these victims.

(e) Prohibition of armed attack on nuclear power plants

Regardless of the arguments for and against nuclear power, a NEA-NWFZ
would need to acknowledge the reality of the many nuclear power stations
currently in operation; therefore, it would be necessary to include
provisions to prohibit any deliberate armed attack on nuclear power plants,
attacks that would result in enormous damage to citizens.

6. Conclusion

The political and diplomatic path to realize the proposed NEA-NWFZ is
necessarily affected by a host of variables. It is desirable to seize the
opportunity to establish the NEA-NWFZ, while at the same time, carefully
observing the development of various ongoing processes in the region, such
as inter-Korean talks, Japan-DPRK normalization talks, and other
multilateral talks, such as the current Six-Party talks process, which
involves the same six countries that would be party to the “Three Plus
Three Nations Arrangement” of a NEA-NWFZ.

In addition, in terms of the process to establish a NWFZ in the region, the
ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the sole Asia-Pacific regional multilateral
forum devoted exclusively to security issues, should be recognized as
having the potential of becoming a significant forum for negotiation of
this subject. Since its establishment in 1994, the ARF has been actively
discussing the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula, and all states
potentially concerned with a NEANWFZ, including the DPRK, are members
of the ARF.

Regardless of the process undertaken, there is no doubt that civil society
in its pursuit of “human security” will play a critical role in advancing
frameworks for cooperative security beyond national borders. Future
objectives for peace NGOs in the region will necessarily include:

1. Strengthening concerted NGO efforts in the ROK and Japan with the common
goal of: “Not a War, a NWFZ Instead”
2. Mobilizing parliamentarians in both countries to take actions to realize a

Umebayashi Hiromichi is President of Peace Depot Japan, and International
Coordinator for the Pacific Campaign for Disarmament & Security (PCDS).
This is an abbreviated version of his reportfor Nautilus, published on
August 11, 2005.
Published at Japan Focus August 11, 2005.