Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones

The establishment of Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones (NWFZ) is a regional approach to strengthen global nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament norms and consolidate international efforts towards peace and security. Article VII of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) states: “Nothing in this Treaty affects the right of any group of States to conclude regional treaties in order to assure the total absence of nuclear weapons in their respective territories“.

General Assembly resolution 3472 (XXX) B defines a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone as

…any zone recognized as such by the General Assembly of the United Nations, which any group of States, in the free exercises of their sovereignty, has established by virtue of a treaty or convention whereby:

(a) The statute of total absence of nuclear weapons to which the zone shall be subject, including the procedure for the delimitation of the zone, is defined;

(b) An international system of verification and control is established to guarantee compliance with the obligations deriving from that statute.

In “Securing our Common Future: An Agenda for Disarmament” , the Secretary-General recognizes the importance of nuclear-weapon-free zones as efforts to assist the international community in preparing for a world free of nuclear weapons. In order to implement the Agenda, Secretary-General and the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs will work with Member States to strengthen and consolidate nuclear-weapon-free zones, including by facilitating enhanced cooperation and consultation between existing zones, encouraging nuclear-weapon States to adhere to the relevant protocols to the treaties establishing such zones, and supporting the further establishment of such zones, including in the Middle East.

Guidelines and Principles for the Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones

The UN Disarmament Commission in its report of April 30, 1999, recommended a set of principles and guidelines for the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone, which included, inter alia:

  • Nuclear-weapon-free zones should be established on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at among the States of the region concerned.
  • The initiative to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone should emanate exclusively from States within the region concerned and be pursued by all States of that region.
  • The nuclear-weapon States should be consulted during the negotiations of each treaty and its relevant protocol(s) establishing a nuclear-weapon-free zone in order to facilitate their signature to and ratification of the relevant protocol(s) to the treaty, 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.
  • A nuclear-weapon-free zone should not prevent the use of nuclear science and technology for peaceful purposes and could also promote, if provided for in the treaties establishing such zones, bilateral, regional and international cooperation for the peaceful use of nuclear energy in the zone, in support of socio-economic, scientific and technological development of the States parties.

Treaties Involved in the Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones

The following treaties form the basis for the existing NWFZs:

Resolution on the Establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the region
of the Middle East
(77th Session)

Reports of the Secretary-General on the Establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the region of the Middle East (77th Session)

Letters addressed to the Secretary-General confirming support for declaring the Middle East a region free from weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, chemical and biological weapons

Mongolia’s self-declared nuclear-weapon-free status has been recognized internationally through the adoption of UN General Assembly resolution 55/33S on “Mongolia’s international security and nuclear weapon free status.”

Other treaties that also deal with the denuclearization of certain areas are:

  • Antarctic Treaty
  • Outer Space Treaty — Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies
  • Moon Agreement — Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies
  • Seabed Treaty — Treaty on the Prohibition of the Emplacement of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction on the Sea-Bed and the Ocean Floor and in the Subsoil Thereof

The text and status of all the above-mentioned treaties are available on the UNODA Treaty Database.

More information is available at the dedicatedUNODA web-portal on nuclear-weapon-free zones and Mongolia.