The news, issued on Friday July 6, 2012, told that “After 12 years of negotiations, the five recognized nuclear-weapon states (P5) finally agreed to sign the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone treaty (SEANWFZ), Cambodian senior officials said Thursday.”1 Hearing this news, I thought that it was great because it could strengthen the non-proliferation regime and accelerate the nuclear disarmament.
Nevertheless, according to the news on Monday, the SEANWFZ Commission decided to postpone the signing due to reservations expressed by Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, a Cambodian senior official said on July 8, 2012. 2 Their main concerns are the definition of the zone, influence on the sovereignty right, and the right of foreign ships and aircraft passing into the nuclear free zone.3
The second news disappointed me and reminded me of difficulty to gain consensus from nuclear weapon states. After while, I came up with a question: why does ASEAN still need signatures and ratifications by the nuclear-weapon states even though the SEANWFZ treaty has entered into effect?
The guidelines and principles for the NWFZ emphasizes the importance of the nuclear weapon states’ commitment to the treaty by signing and ratifying the protocol through which “they undertake legally binding commitments to the status of the zone and not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against states parties to the treaty.”4
In light of the guidelines, even though all states in the region agree the idea of nuclear-weapon free-zone, the goal of the treaty, that is prohibiting any nuclear weapon activities, cannot be completed without “legally binding” commitment by nuclear weapon states which have ratified the protocol. That’s why ASEAN leaders have been negotiating with nuclear weapon states for twelve years.
Besides Southeast Asia, four regions became the nuclear free zone: Latin America (entered into force in 2002), the South Pacific (1986), Africa (2009), and Central Asia (2009). Moreover, there are the treaties that prohibit any activities related to nuclear weapons, for example, in Antarctica, Outer Space, and on Seabed. Mongolia also declared its nuclear-weapon-free status in 1992. Among the five Nuclear-Weapon-Free zones, only Latin America had the NWFZ with ratifications by all nuclear weapon states. In fact, the United States has not ratified the all of them except Latin American’s.4
The establishment of the NWFZ has been desired in the international community for other regions especially the Middle East. The UN resolution concerning the NWFZ in the Middle East has been adopted every year since 1974.4 Moreover, in response to Kenneth Waltz’s article “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb,” Richard Falk mentions the establishment of the NWFZ in the Middle East as the best solution to assure security and peace in the region instead of Iran’s acquiring nuclear weapons.5 He also acknowledges that it would be unrealistic because Israel seems not to give up its nuclear weapons. However, we should not think that the establishment of NWFZ in the Middle East is impossible because Africa achieved the NWFZ even though South Africa used to have nuclear weapons.
As Gandhi says, “Good travels at a snail’s pace,”6 it is important not to give up and to achieve the nuclear abolition step by step. The next step would be to actualize the SEANWFZ with all five NWS’s signatures and ratifications. Cambodian foreign minister hopes they will sign the protocol at the next ASEAN meeting in November.
1 “4 Nuke States Postpone Signing SEANWFZ Protocol Next Week,” The Global Times, July 9, 2012.
2 “Nuclear States Shun ASEAN Treaty,” The Jakarta Post, July 9, 2012.
3 “Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones,” UNODA
5 Falk, Richard, “Kenneth Waltz is not Crazy, but he is Dangerous: Nuclear Weapons in the Middle East,” the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, July 6, 2012.
6 Gandhi, M.K., "Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule," soilandhealth.org, 1910