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Updated: May 6, 2011
Obama Seeks Senate OK for Protocols to Two Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaties
Now up for ratification fifteen years after their signing, these two protocols are likely to face Republican opposition.
On May 2, 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama submitted the protocols to the treaties of Rarotonga and Pelindaba to the Senate for its advice and consent to ratification. The action came a year after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced at the 2010 NPT Review Conference that the administration would move forward on ratification of these protocols.
The move toward ratification came 15 years after the United States signed both protocols. Congressional consideration of the two sets of protocols has been delayed for a number of reasons, including the Bush administration's lack of interest in pursuing ratification. Despite support from the Obama administration, the ratification of the protocols is far from assured. Senate approval will require a two-thirds majority, which will be difficult to muster in a chamber where many of the 47 Republicans are skeptical of Obama's vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and will view the protocols as building blocks to that end.
Indeed, Sen. John Kyl of Arizona, the Senate's second-ranking Republican, criticized the move on May 5, 2011. "[T]his latest action is more proof that the president's nuclear policy priorities are deeply flawed," Kyl, the Senate minority whip, said in a media release. "He says he is serious about stopping proliferation and nuclear terrorism, yet he submits to the Senate two treaties that neither address the illegal nuclear weapons programs of Iran or North Korea, nor do anything to deal with the suspicious activities of Syria and Burma." Senator Kyl failed to specify how an obligation to refrain from nuclear targeting of states that assumed additional commitments not to acquire nuclear weapons would harm U.S. security or hinder its nonproliferation efforts in the countries he cites, particularly given that they are not in regions covered by the treaties.
Kyl is likely not alone in his skepticism. Last year's narrow passage of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia illustrated the significant partisan divide on disarmament issues. This divide has only deepened after Republicans in January seated most of their twelve new senators elected in last November's congressional elections.
The Treaty of Rarotonga, which entered into force in 1986, establishes a Nuclear-Free-Zone in the South Pacific, prohibiting its member states from manufacturing, acquiring, possessing or exercising control over any nuclear explosive devices. It also prohibits nuclear testing and stationing of nuclear weapons on the territory of the zone. States parties to the treaty cannot supply nuclear material and equipment designed for its production or processing to non-nuclear weapon states who have not concluded a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as required by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
There are three protocols to the treaty. Protocol 1 requires states that control territories within the zone to apply treaty provisions to these territories, including implementation of safeguards agreements with the IAEA. The only territories within the zone currently controlled by the United States are American Samoa and the uninhabited Jarvis Island. Protocol 2 commits nuclear weapon states not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against states parties to the Treaty of Rarotonga, while Protocol 3 contains an obligation not to test any nuclear explosive devices anywhere within the zone.
The Treaty of Pelindaba establishes the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone. This treaty prohibits research on, development, manufacture, stockpiling, possession or control of any nuclear explosive devices, along with nuclear testing and stationing of nuclear weapons on the territory of the zone. Member states are also obliged to declare any capabilities for manufacturing nuclear weapons, dismantle any nuclear explosive devices they manufactured prior to joining the treaty, and dismantle or convert to peaceful uses the facilities for the manufacturing of nuclear weapons. Similar to the Treaty of Rarotonga, the Pelindaba Treaty prohibits states parties from engaging in nuclear trade with states who do not have an IAEA Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement in place. The treaty entered into force in July 2009 and currently has 31 member states.
There are three protocols to the African NWFZ treaty, two of which are relevant to the United States. Protocol 1 commits nuclear weapon states not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against states party to the treaty or to contribute to any violations of the treaty. Under Protocol 2, states pledge not to test or assist in testing of any nuclear explosive devices on the territory of the zone. The United States signed both protocols in April 1996.
According to the letters sent by the White House to the Senate, ratifications of the protocols "would require no changes in U.S. law, policy, or practice," while enhancing "U.S. security by furthering [its] global nonproliferation and arms control objectives." Along with the protocols, the Administration submitted to the Senate detailed analyses of the two treaties. The United States remains the last NPT-recognized nuclear weapon state that has not ratified protocols to both treaties. Other nuclear weapon states ratified the protocols to the Treaty of Rarotonga in the late 1980s and 1990s. China and France ratified the protocols to the Treaty of Pelindaba in the late 1990s, United Kingdom in 2001, and Russia earlier this year.
In addition to submitting these protocols for approval, the White House indicated its intent to engage with states parties to the Southeast Asian and Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone treaties to resolve existing disagreements about provisions of the treaties and move towards signing their respective protocols.
Map of Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones
CNS Experts on NWFZs
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