7 May 2014, Vol. 12, No. 8

Editorial: Returning to a nuclear weapon free world
Mia Gandenberger | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

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While the NPT plenary meeting dealt with statements remaining from clusters two and three specific issues, the five NPT nuclear-armed states signed the protocols to the Central Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (CANWFZ).

The zone entered into force after the states parties—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—ratified the treaty on 21 March 2009. By signing the protocols (with their own legal interpretations), the five nuclear-armed states promise to not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against states of the zone. Ambassador Kairat Abdraknmanov of Kazakhstan, speaking on behalf of the five states parties, expressed hope that the ratification process would be finalized before the 2015 Review Conference.

The signing of the protocols is in accordance with the implementation of the 2010 NPT Action Plans. As of Tuesday, the South-East Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (SEANFZ) remains the only existing NWFZ without protocols signed by the nuclear-armed states.  While there have been various meetings and negotiations on the protocols between the states of the region and the nuclear-armed states, no final agreement has so far been reached.

During last week’s Cluster 1 debate, France explained its readiness to sign the protocol “as soon as possible.” However, the UK and US are still working towards resolving “outstanding differences”.

States parties’ patience is being tested with regard to the conference on the establishment of a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. Since the postponement of the conference in December 2012, states of the region have repeatedly expressed their frustration and called for the swift convening of the meeting. The co-conveners of the conference—Russia, United Kingdom, United States, Russia, and the UN Secretary-General—have expressed their willingness to hold the meeting. However, “before the end of 2012” turned into “end of 2013” and now “end of 2014” if not “before the Review Conference in 2015.” This not only constitutes a significant set back from the implementation of the 2010 otcome document, the 13 practical steps, and the 1995 resolution on the matter, but could potentially weaken the trust in the commitment on the actors involved as well as the NPT regime itself.

On the bright side, the conference of states parties and signatories of treaties that establish NWFZs in 2015 will be a great opportunity to strengthen the cooperation between the existing zones. It could also be a useful forum for discussing opportunities for strengthening the concept behind the zones. Currently, 115 states are members of NWFZ treaties, which amounts to approximately 60 percent of the UN member states and 39 percent of the world’s population.

By joining NWFZs, states parties reaffirm their rejection of nuclear weapons as tools of national security. As a new Article 36 paper points out, all of the NWFZ treaties prohibit nuclear weapons using different language for prohibited acts. “An international treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons could learn from and build on the experiences and architecture set out in NWFZs,” it explains. It could also universalize these essential norms to achieve, or as the delegation of Mexico likes to phrase it, return, to a nuclear weapon free world.

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