Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone in Northeast Asia: A South Korean Perspective

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NAPSNet Special Report

Recommended Citation

Bon-Hak Koo, "Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone in Northeast Asia: A South Korean Perspective", NAPSNet Special Reports, June 30, 1994,

By Bon-Hak Koo 

Research Associate, Arms Control Research Center Korea Institute 
for Defense Analyses

A paper prepared for the Northeast Asia Peace and Security 
Network managed by Nautilus Institute for Security and 
Sustainable Development, Berkeley, California, June 1994. 


The end of the Cold War has virtually eliminated the possibility 
of a global nuclear war or even a world-wide conventional war.  
As the Cold War atmosphere has disappeared, it is true that the 
possibility of armed conflict between major powers has been 
considerably reduced. However, it is ironic that the post-Cold 
War world has turned out to be a more unstable and uncertain 
place than the previous one.  The reason is that the post-Cold 
War period is an era of transition in which the old form is gone 
and the new form has yet to emerge.  In this transitional period, 
instability and uncertainty, especially in the Asia-Pacific 
region, are more salient phenomena than ever before.

Though the Cold War strategic confrontation between the 
superpowers has gone, arms build-ups rather than arms control has 
been a striking phenomenon in post-Cold War Northeast Asia.  In 
fact, East Asia has emerged as the world's largest arms-buying 
region by registering 35% of all major weapons purchases in 1992.  
Regional countries have been increasing their military budgets, 
importing sophisticated weapons, and developing domestic defense 
industries. These may accelerate regional arms competition and 
bring about tensions in the region.  Besides, the possibility of 
nuclear proliferation is the most critical issue which makes East 
Asian countries worrisome.

Growing concern on nuclear proliferation threatens efforts for 
the NPT and the CTBT, especially in East Asia. China carried out 
an underground nuclear test on June 10, 1994.  North Korean 
nuclear suspicion has not been cleared yet.  It is said that 
Japan could produce a nuclear bomb at short notice.  Pakistan, 
like India, again rebuffed efforts to make it hold its fledgling 
nuclear arms program. China, increasingly powerful in the post-
Cold War world, not only has nuclear weapons but has refused to 
go along with the test ban agreement.  The Chinese Foreign 
Ministry issued a statement calling other nuclear weapons states 
to give up their policy of nuclear deterrence, and said that 
China would continue testing until a comprehensive test ban would 
be in place.  Indian Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, in the address 
to the US Congress in May, made it clear that New Delhi will not 
abandon the nuclear option until the Nuclear Club is disbanded.  
Charles Schmitz, president of  the Global Access Institute, said 
there were 100 tons of plutonium alone in the 35,000 to 45,000 
Russian nuclear weapons waiting to be dismantled (1).

As the bipolar international security structure gives way to the 
uncertain post-Cold War era, new means must be found to prevent 
the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass 
destruction.  A Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (NWFZ) is one non-
proliferation tool deserving greater international attention in 
that effort.  NWFZ may reinforce, supplement and even go 
significantly beyond the obligations contained in the NPT, the 
cornerstone of the non-proliferation regime. In addition, NWFZ 
could help diffuse regional tensions and instability (2).

It is the purpose of this paper to search for non-proliferation 
measures in the Northeast Asian region. NWFZ is one of the 
schemes. This paper, first, will try to define goals, meanings, 
and utilities of NWFZ; second, review NWFZ in various regions in 
historical perspective; third, evaluate regional countries' 
perceptions on NWFZ in Northeast Asia; and finally access South 
Korea's position on NWFZ in Northeast Asia.

NWFZ: Goals, Meanings and Utilities

 The problem of establishing NWFZ is closely associated with that 
of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.  The principal aim 
pursued by the establishment of any NWFZ is to prevent the 
proliferation of nuclear weapons on a regional scale to safeguard 
the states of that region against their possible involvement in a 
nuclear conflict.

A common motivation behind the calls for NWFZ is the belief among 
states that they would be more secure if their region were free 
of nuclear weapons.  The Cuban missile crisis in October 1962 was 
a watershed event in the development of NWFZ because the non-
nuclear weapon states in Latin America realized that they could 
fall victim to the consequences of nuclear war, and began to 
negotiate the Treaty of Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin 
America which bans nuclear weapons from the entire area.

General requirements for NWFZ might be as follows: (a) non-
possession principle -- a renunciation by participating states of 
the zone of the production and acquisition of nuclear weapons or 
other nuclear explosive devices, as well as direct or indirect 
control of such weapons or devices; (b) non-deployment principle 
-- an obligation not to permit the deployment of foreign nuclear 
weapons within the limits of the region.  It is necessary to 
secure that such zones should be free from nuclear weapons; (c) 
non-use of nuclear weapons principle -- the nuclear powers must 
strictly respect the status of a nuclear-free zone and refrain 
from using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against the  
states of the zone.

A NWFZ, by definition, is a geographical area where, by treaty or 
formal convention, nuclear weapons are permanently banned.  The 
precise terms of existing and proposed NWFZ agreements vary 
depending on regional characteristics, but such agreements 
typically outlaw the possession, deployment and use of nuclear 
weapons in a designated area. Participating countries in the zone 
are required: (a) not to develop, test, produce, acquire or 
otherwise possess nuclear weapons; (b) not to permit any outside 
state to store, install or deploy nuclear weapons on the zone 
territory; and (c) neither to give nor to receive assistance in 
the development and production of nuclear weapons.  According to 
the UN General Assembly Resolution, nuclear weapon states are 
required to respect the total absence of nuclear weapons from 
such areas, not to violate in any way such zone's nuclear-free 
status, and to refrain from using or threatening to use nuclear 
weapons against NWFZ member states (3).

In this sense, NWFZ can promote the security of non-nuclear 
weapon states both by obtaining pledges from nuclear weapon 
states regarding the non-use of weapons against them and by 
discouraging or preventing the deployment of nuclear weapons 
within their own regions. They may also play an important arms 
control role: the withdrawal of nuclear weapons stationed outside 
the territories of the nuclear weapon states under the terms of a 
treaty establishing a NWFZ would have a considerable arms control 
impact (4).

NWFZs: A Historical Overview

Proposals have been made for the establishment of nuclear weapon-
free zones in many parts of the world.  Some of them aim at 
preventing horizontal proliferation.  The proposals include 
rejection of deployment of nuclear weapons, addressing the 
question of nuclear weapon transits, inviting the nuclear weapon 
states to extend non-use assurances, and so on.  However, the 
modalities differ from region to region.

Since the beginning of the nuclear age about half a century ago, 
efforts have been made in the world community to deal with the 
various implications of the existence of nuclear weapons.  Many 
of them have been concerned with a wide range of specific 
measures aimed at the limitations, reduction and elimination of 
nuclear weapons and their delivery systems (5).

The idea of establishing a nuclear-weapon-free zone as a means of 
keeping the region concerned free of nuclear weapons began to 
attract the attention of the international community in the 
1950s.  Some of them are still being considered in various fora.  
However, agreement has been reached on only two of them.

The Antarctic Treaty

The Antarctic Treaty, concluded on December 1, 1959, was the 
first international agreement that, by establishing a 
demilitarized zone, ipso facto provided that nuclear weapons 
would not be introduced into a specified zone.  The Treaty bans 
"any measures of a military nature," such as the establishment of 
military bases and fortifications, military maneuvers and the 
testing of any type of weapon.  The Treaty entered into force on 
June 23, 1961.

Outer Space Treaty

The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in 
the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and 
Other Celestial Bodies (Outer Space Treaty) entered into force on 
October 10,1967.  The Treaty prohibits placing in orbit around 
the Earth of any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other 
kinds of weapons of mass destruction, installing such weapons on 
celestial bodies or stationing them in the outer space in any 
other manner.  The Treaty also affirms that the Moon and other 
celestial bodies are to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes 
and that the establishment of military bases, installations and 
fortifications, the testing of any type of weapons and the 
conduct of military maneuvers on celestial bodies are to be 
prohibited (6).

Sea-Bed Treaty

The 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 (Sea-Bed Treaty) was 
opened for signature on February 11, 1971.  It entered into force 
on May 18, 1972.  The Treaty provides that the states parties to 
it undertake not to place on or under the sea-bed, beyond the 
outer limit of 12-mile coastal zone, any nuclear weapons or any 
other weapons of mass destruction or any facilities for such 
weapons.  All parties have the right to verify through 
observation activities of other states in the area covered by the 
Treaty (7).

The Treaty of Tlatelolco

Unlike some of the examples previously mentioned, the Tlatelolco 
Treaty marked the first -- and heretofore the only -- application 
of establishing a NWFZ in a densely inhabited region. It was 
opened for signature on February 14, 1967, and entered into force 
on April 22, 1968. In many respects, the treaty serves as a model 
for other zones. Treaty members -- all of whom are non-nuclear-
weapon states -- pledged to use exclusively for peaceful purposes 
the nuclear material and facilities under their jurisdiction. In 
addition, members agree that they will not allow nuclear weapons 
to be stationed, stored, installed, deployed or tested on their 

Treaty members are required to accept comprehensive IAEA 
safeguards virtually identical to those required under the NPT 
and established a regional organization called OPANAL to oversee 
and review treaty implementation.  Under Tlatelolco, the IAEA is 
empowered to conduct special inspections by the request of 
regional state members to the Treaty.

Two important protocols to the Treaty deal with requirements to 
be observed by outside powers.  Protocol I requires outside 
states that control territory within the zone to apply the terms 
of the Treaty to those areas; Protocol II commits nuclear-weapon 
states not to violate the treaty's terms and not to use, or 
threaten to use, nuclear weapons against Treaty members.

The Treaty does allow development and use of "peaceful nuclear 
explosions," which were perceived as having great economic 
potential.  The US, however, has formally rejected this concept 
and unilaterally interprets the Treaty's ban against nuclear 
weapons as inherently including a ban against "peaceful nuclear 
devices."  In its ratification of the Treaty's protocol, the US 
said it would consider that "the technology of making nuclear 
explosive devices for peaceful purposes is indistinguishable form 
the technology of making nuclear weapons."  This potentially 
destructive issue has not emerged, however, because no state 
within the Tlatelolco Treaty's zone of application has a program 
to  develop peaceful nuclear explosives (8).

The Treaty does not place a ban on facilities serving strategic 
nuclear systems.  The Preparatory Committee for the 
Denuclearization of Latin America (COPREDAL), suggested in its 
interpretation of the Treaty in 1967 that each party is free to 
grant or deny permission for the transit of nuclear weapons 
through its territory, territorial waters and ports.  However, 
the right of states in the zone to deny permission for transit is 
very much a hypothetical one, since nuclear weapon states do not 
disclose the whereabouts of their weapons.  They do not therefore 
normally ask for permission of transit for ships or aircraft 
carrying them (9).  In this light, the Treaty is partially 
successful, but is significant in that it is the first NWFZ 
treaty in an inhabited area.

The Treaty of Rarotonga

 On August 27, 1984, spurred by the risks of nuclear war and the 
environmental dangers associated with nuclear weapons and nuclear 
wastes, Australia, New Zealand and the other 13 states of the 
South Pacific Forum endorsed the idea creating a nuclear-free 
zone in the South Pacific.  The zone is referred to as a NFZ, not 
a NWFZ, because it also bans the dumping of radiological waste in 
the zone.

The South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Rarotonga) 
was opened for signature on August 6, 1985, and entered into 
force on December 11, 1986.  The Treaty area encompasses large 
sea areas, but most provisions apply only on land and, 
consequently, nothing in the Treaty affects the exercise of the 
rights of any states under international law with regard to 
freedom of the seas (10).

The provisions of the Rarotonga treaty mirror those of 
Tlatelolco, banning the acquisition, development, stationing and 
testing of nuclear weapons within the zone.  But the SPNFZ pact 
goes further than Tlatelolco or the NPT by explicitly banning the 
acquisition, development and use of peaceful nuclear explosives.  
The Treaty is unique in that it also bans parties from dumping, 
or aiding the dumping, of  nuclear wastes and other radioactive 
matter at sea within the zone (although it does not prohibit 
dumping on land), and obliges them to prevent dumping at sea 
within their national waters by non-parties.  In addition, 
Rarotonga more clearly spells out the rights of member states to 
individually approve or deny port calls and transit by vessels 
carrying nuclear weapons.  There are currently no nuclear-weapon 
states or nuclear weapons deployed in the Treaty's zone of 
application (11).

The Treaty of Rarotonga has succeeded in restraining the 
geographical proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region, 
although the virtually universal adherence to the NPT by regional 
states means that the region could be considered a de facto NWFZ 
even in the absence of the Treaty (12).

 NWFZ in Northeast Asia A Rationale

It is a remarkable fact for students of this region of the world 
that Northeast Asia is indeed one of the most sensitive regions.  
The Korean peninsula is at the core of the conflict, and the 
North Korean nuclear issue heightens the tension between North 
and South Korea.

The establishment of a NWFZ in Northeast Asia should serve to 
protect the indigenous population from the scourge of a nuclear 
arms race.  Such a measure could add one very important safeguard 
against the advent of escalated tensions resulting from the 
stationing of nuclear weapons by any third party into such a 
proposed denuclearized zone. This could enhance the possibility 
of zone states remaining outside the immediate dangers of a 
nuclear weapons exchange, as well as protecting them from a 
policy of nuclear blackmail by such powers.

A NWFZ in Northeast Asia could eventually assist in the process 
of establishing a new environment of confidence-building between 
the countries of Northeast Asia. With the reduction of nuclear 
ambiguity and the removal of the necessity of forging a strategy 
for unilateral deterrence, the foundation could be created for 
the establishment of legal commitments to maintain Northeast Asia 
free of nuclear weapons.  The spirit of confidence that would 
emerge between and among states of the region could possibly 
spill over to other fields and eventually help restore political 

Since proposals regarding establishing a NWFZ were mostly 
developed by Communist countries, it is true that most western 
countries including South Korea have tended to reject the idea of 
NWFZ.  However, after the end of the Cold War confrontation 
between the superpowers and the subsequent reduction of nuclear 
arsenals in the US and Russia, it is urgent to consider the issue 
of denuclearization in Northeast Asia to consolidate peace and 
security of the region.

The necessity to investigate a NWFZ in Northeast Asia can be 
identified as follows: First, nuclear weapons may cause tensions 
and conflict among regional countries.  In Northeast Asia, the 
US, Russia, and China possess nuclear weapons, Japan has both the 
technological and material base to develop nuclear weapons, and 
North Korea is suspected of pursuing a nuclear weapon program.  
In this regard, it is hard to expect peace and security in 
Northeast Asia without solving nuclear issues.  Second, there is 
a nuclear imbalance in Northeast Asia.  Though the US and Russia 
withdrew tactical nuclear weapons from the region, China has not 
reduced nuclear weapons and some of its Chinese nuclear arsenal 
is targeted toward regional countries. This not only makes non-
nuclear states in the region feel insecure, but also negatively 
affects confidence-building among regional countries.  Third, it 
is necessary to restrain non-nuclear countries' desire to develop 
a nuclear program. North Korea's announcement to withdraw from 
the NPT and the continuing nuclear suspicion may instigate 
regional countries to go for nuclear. Fourth, a regional NWFZ may 
guarantee the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Nevertheless, in the current security environment, there are more 
restraining factors than facilitating factors  for NWFZ in 
Northeast Asia.  Western countries' negative attitude toward a 
NWFZ is the stumbling block to the establishment of a NWFZ.  In 
addition, strategic importance of nuclear weapons has made 
western countries reject NWFZ proposals made by the communist 
countries.  The US worried that establishing a denuclearized zone 
might not only jeopardize the US deterrence, but also hinder free 
access to allies' ports and bases by American ships and aircraft 
carrying nuclear weapons.  Japan, also, worried that 
denuclearization of the region might divest American nuclear 
umbrella from Japan.  Another restraining factor is the desire of 
non-nuclear countries to develop nuclear weapons. Since 3 of 6 
regional countries possess nuclear weapons, non-nuclear weapon 
countries are easily overcome by nuclear temptation.

However, the changing security environment in the post-Cold War 
era facilitates the establishment of NWFZ in the region. First, 
the end of the Cold War has significantly reduced the 
effectiveness of nuclear weapons as a means of deterrence. 
Second, the withdrawal of American and Russian nuclear weapons 
from the region contributes to a favorable environment for 
establishing NWFZ in Northeast Asia.  Third, a global concern for 
nuclear proliferation provides a rationale for the establishment 
of a regional NWFZ.  Fourth, the denuclearization declaration on 
the Korean peninsula, though it has not been implemented yet, 
provides a turning point toward a NWFZ in the region.  In this 
sense, the current security environment is more lucrative for the 
establishment of a regional NWFZ than any other time since the 
end of the World War II.

Nevertheless, for the successful materialization of the idea of 
NWFZ, the following conditions must be satisfied: First, nuclear 
threat by any nuclear power against non-nuclear countries must be 
eliminated.  In other words, nuclear powers must declare negative 
security assurances. Second, nuclear powers must come to an 
agreement toward "no-first-use" principle. Third, nuclear powers 
must agree to reduce their nuclear arsenals.  Chinese 
participation in this agreement is essential for the success of 
denuclearization.  Fourth, China should reduce and reposition 
theater nuclear weapons, corresponding to the reduction of 
American and Russian tactical nuclear weapons. Fifth, the 
suspicion on the Japanese nuclear program must be cleared. 
Lastly, the North Korean nuclear program should be transparent.  
These conditions are essential for a NWFZ in Northeast Asia to 

North Korea's Position

North Korea, so far, has consistently supported and proposed a 
regional NWFZ.  Since North Korea proposed to establish a non-
nuclear and peace zone in Northeast Asia in March 1981 in a joint 
announcement between the Japanese  Socialist Party and the Korean 
Workers' Party, it frequently expressed its support to establish 
a NWFZ in Northeast Asia.

North Korea, in the joint announcement of 1981, proposed to: (1) 
eliminate and abolish all nuclear weapons from Northeast Asia; 
(2) ban to develop, test, produce, possess, transport, import, or 
use nuclear and bio-chemical weapons within the region; (3) 
withdraw all foreign military troops and bases from the region; 
(4) ban all aggressive military alliances in the region; and (5) 
establish a NWFZ on the Korean peninsula, Japan, and the adjacent 
waters.  This proposal contains not only the idea of NWFZ, but 
also the idea of establishing peace zone in the region.

However, North Korea's intention in proposing such ideas is that 
by proposing a regional NWFZ, it intends to reduce the US nuclear 
threat by eliminating the US tactical nuclear weapons stationed 
in South Korea.  Therefore, North Korea's proposal was basically 
purported to eliminate US nuclear weapons from South Korea. North 
Korea also aimed at divesting the US nuclear umbrella from South 
Korea.  If North Korea successfully divests the US nuclear 
umbrella from South Korea, North Korea could maintain military 
superiority in the North-South military balance.

It is apparent that North Korea's objective is to eliminate the 
US nuclear threat.  It also wants to restrain the possibility of 
Japanese nuclear armament.  Thus, North Korea will continue to 
support and propose a regional NWFZ.

The US Position

The US has traditionally been holding fast a negative position 
toward a NWFZ.  The US initially opposed the Treaty of 
Tlatelolco, only signing the Protocol II in 1971, and the 
Protocol I in 1981.  It still refused to sign the Treaty of 
Rarotonga.  In this context, the US may reject the idea to 
establish a NWFZ in Northeast Asia.

Since the US security policy has depended heavily on its nuclear 
weapons, nuclear deterrence is a fundamental element of the US 
military strategy.  In addition, the US policy of NCND (neither 
confirm nor deny) has been hindering the establishment of NWFZ.

The US worries that NWFZ may damage the US deterrence power and 
hinder American ships and aircraft carrying nuclear weapons.  
Also, NWFZ in Northeast Asia may divest the American nuclear 
umbrella over South Korea and Japan, hence, weaken the US 
political influence over the two countries.

However, as the security environment has been changing in the 
post-Cold War era, the US negative attitude toward a NWFZ may 
change to a positive one.  As the security environment changes, 
the importance of nuclear weapons has been weakened.  In 
addition, the US already confirmed that all tactical nuclear 
weapons have been eliminated from South  Korea. Therefore, the US 
will slowly change its position toward a NWFZ from a negative to 
a positive one.

 Russian Position

Russia has been the most active in proposing NWFZ in Northeast 
Asia.  Since Khrushchev first proposed NWFZ in all Asia-Pacific 
region in 1959, it has constituted an important element of any 
arms control proposal of the former Soviet Union.  In the 1980s, 
the former Soviet Union proposed the denuclearization of the 
Korean peninsula, outrightly supporting the North Korean 
denuclearization proposal.  In March 1984, Konstantin Chernenko, 
the Secretary General of the Soviet Communist Party, officially 
supported the North Korean proposal in his meeting with Kim Il 
Sung in Moscow.

Gorbachev presented a more concrete form of NWFZ in Northeast 
Asia.  In proposing "All Asian Conference" in May 1985, Gorbachev 
proposed: (1) a comprehensive test ban in Asia-Pacific and Indian 
Ocean; (2) non-use of nuclear weapons in Asian continent; (3) 
non-use of nuclear weapons by nuclear powers against non-nuclear 
countries; (4) unconditional participation of NPT by non-nuclear 
countries.  Especially, he proposed to establish denuclearization 
zone on the Korean peninsula, Southeast Asia, and South Pacific 
in his Vladivostok announcement in July 1986.

Establishment of NWFZ in Asia-pacific region is at the core of 
the Russian arms control proposal in Asia.  Russia has been very 
active in proposing NWFZ in Asia-Pacific region for the following 
reasons.  First, faced with the necessity to reduce nuclear 
weapons, NWFZ in Northeast Asia is helpful to maintain nuclear 
balance in the US-Russian relations.  Second, a NWFZ may 
neutralize the US nuclear superiority.  Third, a NWFZ may prevent 
Chinese nuclear arms build-up.  With the end of nuclear 
confrontation with the US, it is important to check Chinese 
nuclear build-ups. Fourth, a NWFZ may prevent nuclear 
proliferation in Northeast Asia.  Nuclear proliferation may 
create tensions and conflict among regional countries which is 
not beneficial to the Russian national interests.  Fifth, a NWFZ 
may check Japanese nuclear armaments.  Nuclear-armed Japan will 
be a serious threat to Russian security.  In this regard, Russia 
will strongly and continuously support a NWFZ in Northeast Asia.

Chinese Position

The Chinese position on regional NWFZ has been very ambiguous.  
Though China proposed a NWFZ in the late 1950s, China's position 
on NWFZ has been very obscured since the Chinese success in 
testing a nuclear explosive in 1964. Although China has supported 
consistently denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, a regional 
NWFZ is an another question because it may affect Chinese nuclear 
programs and strategy.

China opposes reducing its tactical and theater  nuclear weapons, 
and restraining activities of Chinese nuclear submarines 
operating in the South China Sea and testing nuclear explosions. 
In addition, non-use of nuclear weapons and negative security 
assurance toward the regional countries may impede Chinese 
political influence in the region.  Thus, China maintains a 
reluctant position to the establishment of nuclear weapon free 
zone in the region.

Moreover, since tactical and theater nuclear weapons of the US 
and Russia in the Northeast Asian region have been reduced, China 
does not need to hesitate to establish a NWFZ in the region.  The 
Japanese nuclear potential may affect Chinese attitude on NWFZ in 
Northeast Asia.  Thus, China will reserve its traditional 
ambiguous position on NWFZ.

 Japanese Position

Japan maintains a dual attitude toward NWFZ in the region.  
Japan, on the one hand, agrees to establish a NWFZ in principle, 
but opposes to establish it in the Northeast Asian region, on the 
other hand.  Japan has shown an exceptional position toward a 
NWFZ within the United Nations framework.  Though western 
countries have shown negative attitudes toward nuclear arms 
reduction, Japan has consistently voted for plans to establish 
NWFZ in Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Indian Ocean 
(13).  Japan also voted for the Treaty of Tlatelolco and the 
Treaty of Rarotonga (14).

Though Japan has not shown a clear position on NWFZ in Northeast 
Asia, it seems to maintain a negative position on NWFZ in 
Northeast Asia for the following reasons:  First, Japan seems to 
regard that a NWFZ in Northeast Asia would jeopardize the 
American nuclear umbrella over Japan.  Japan's security is almost 
totally dependent upon US security commitments.  Thus, US nuclear 
deterrence is critical to Japanese security.  Second, NWFZ may 
hinder Japanese nuclear capability.  Even though Japan officially 
rejects any possibility to develop nuclear weapons, NWFZ may 
prevent Japan from developing nuclear capability even for the 
peaceful purpose.

Denuclearization of The Korean Peninsula

 Amid continuing concern about future nuclear intentions on the 
peninsula, South and North Korea have been involved in a complex 
political dialogue concerning the establishment and 
implementation of NWFZ on the Korean peninsula.

In July 1991, North Korea submitted a proposal for the 
establishment of a nuclear-free zone on the Korean peninsula to 
the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.  The DPRK proposed that 
North and South Korea should negotiate all legal and practical 
matters related to establishing a zone and adopt a joint 
declaration no later than the end of 1992. This declaration would 
include a ban on testing, manufacturing  and possessing nuclear 
weapons by both North and South Korea.  It would also prohibit 
the deployment and passage of nuclear weapons within the entire 
peninsula.  In particular, North Korea stated that the US must 
withdraw all its nuclear weapons deployed in the region.  
Finally, North Korea required the nuclear weapon states to 
express their willingness to guarantee the status of a nuclear-
free zone and to provide negative security assurances (15).

In November 1991, South Korea affirmed that it would not 
manufacture, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons and 
undertook voluntarily never to possess nuclear fuel reprocessing 
or even enrichment facilities in its Declaration of Non-Nuclear 
Korean Peninsula. The US subsequently withdrew all its nuclear 
weapons deployed on South Korean territory and, on 18 December 
1991, South Korean President Roh declared South Korea free of all 
nuclear weapons and announced a willingness not to proceed with 
the annual Team Spirit military exercises with the US. He also 
called upon North Korea to conclude and ratify a safeguards 
agreement with the IAEA as soon as possible.

Following President Roh's announcement, on December 31, 1991, 
North and South Korea agreed on a "Joint Declaration on the 
Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."  The six-point 
declaration embraced the following: 

(1) forbids the manufacture, acceptance and use of nuclear 

(2) confirms uses of nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes;

(3) bans the running of nuclear enrichment and reprocessing 

(4) provides for the conducting of mutual inspections;

(5) establishes a South-North Nuclear Control Commission;

(6) enters into effect after being ratified respectively.

 The agreement contains the idea of NWFZ by prohibiting 
positioning, development, acquisition and testing of nuclear 
weapons, and provides for the creation of a bilateral 
verification regime.  It goes beyond the NPT and all other NWFZ 
agreements by banning either side from possessing uranium 
enrichment and plutonium reprocessing facilities. In February 
1992, South and North Korea exchanged the instruments of 
ratification of this agreement, obliging both parties not to 
"test, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear 

Subsequently, North Korea signed the IAEA safeguards agreement on 
January 30, 1992, thus, steps towards the creation of a NWFZ were 
taken.  The DPRK provided the IAEA with a partial inventory of 
its 16 nuclear facilities.  The IAEA began ad hoc inspections of 
North Korean nuclear installations, but there was still lingering 
concern that North Korea was withholding some important 
information regarding the past reprocessing activities.  In 
addition to  the fact that North Korea remains reluctant to agree 
to a reciprocal inspection scheme with South Korea, North Korea's 
withdrawal from the NPT in March 1993 heightened the suspicion on 
its nuclear weapon program.

South Korea's Position on NWFZ in Northeast Asia

 Up until today, South Korea has not expressed any official 
position toward NWFZ in Northeast Asia.  Regarding the 
denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, President Roh Tae Woo 
first announced "A Declaration for Denuclearization and Peace of 
the Korean Peninsula" on November 8, 1991.  Later South Korea 
signed the Joint Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula on 
February 19, 1992, at the 6th North-South High-Level Talks.

Based on these two documents, South Korea's position is that 
South Korea: (1) shall not produce, possess, store, deploy, or 
use nuclear weapons; (2) shall not possess nuclear reprocessing 
facilities and uranium concentration facilities; (3) wants to 
maintain the US nuclear umbrella; and (4) allows transit rights 
of the US ships and aircraft carrying nuclear weapons.

Therefore, even though it agreed to denuclearization of the 
Korean peninsula, South Korea might have a negative attitude 
toward a NWFZ in a regional level.  South Korea worries that a 
regional NWFZ might damage the US nuclear deterrence power and 
divest the US nuclear umbrella over South Korea.  South Korea 
also worries that a NWFZ may affect its policy to allow transit 
rights of the US ships and aircraft carrying nuclear weapons.

South Korea believes that for the successful implementation of 
NWFZ in Northeast Asia, the following conditions should be met: 
(1) all regional countries must participate in a regional NWFZ; 
(2) regional nuclear powers should guarantee non-use of nuclear 
weapons against  non- nuclear countries; (3) NWFZ in Northeast 
Asia should not negatively affect regional security environment; 
(4) NWFZ should not prevent participating countries' transit 
rights which are guaranteed by international laws; (5) NWFZ 
should include a verification methods which could check 
violations of participating countries; and (6) NWFZ should 
contribute to peace and stability of Northeast Asia.

At this moment, South Korea's immediate concern is to 
successfully implement the Joint Declaration of Denuclearization 
of the Korean peninsula.  Since North Korea refused to clear 
suspicion regarding its on nuclear program, South Korea cannot 
take a further step toward a regional NWFZ. If the Joint 
Denuclearization Declaration could be successfully implemented, 
then South Korea may agree to expand the scope of denuclearized 
zone step by step.  For example, at the first stage, it is 
acceptable for South Korea to establish a limited deployment zone 
within the radius of 1,500 km from Seoul.  All nuclear weapons 
should be withdrawn from the zone.  Next, the zone may expand to 
2,500 km from Seoul to include almost all areas of Japan, and 
part of China and Russian Far Eastern region.  In addition, NWFZ 
in Northeast Asia should contain international inspection regime 
which includes all regional countries.

However, transit rights should not be restrained at the initial 
stage.  Since South Korea and Japan depend on their security on 
American nuclear umbrella, they can not refuse  the US ships and 
aircraft carrying nuclear weapons to visit their ports and bases.  
If an initial and limited NWFZ is successfully implemented, then 
transit rights can be revised.


 There is no consensus in NWFZ theory or practice on whether a 
nuclear weapon-free zone should extend to portions of the high 
seas, to straits used for international navigation, and to 
international air space contingent to the zone, or whether it 
should affect the right of innocent passage through territorial 
waters.  Nor is there agreement on whether the transit of nuclear 
weapons through a NWFZ by outside powers should be permitted.  
There is also the question of whether "peaceful" nuclear 
explosive devices are allowed within a NWFZ and whether negative 
security guarantees (i.e., the pledge not to use or threaten to 
use nuclear weapons within the zone) offered by the nuclear 
powers are a prerequisite to a zone's effectiveness and should 
apply without reservations (16).

From the review of the concept of NWFZ, general requirements 
might be as follows: a renunciation by participating states of 
the zone of the production and acquisition of nuclear weapons or 
other nuclear explosive devices, and an obligation not to permit 
the deployment of foreign nuclear weapons within the limits of 
the region.  It is necessary to secure that such zones should be 
really free from nuclear weapons, and the relevant agreements 
should not contain any loopholes for violations of the nuclear-
weapon-free status of those zones.  The nuclear powers must 
strictly respect the status of a nuclear-weapon-free zone and 
refrain from using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against 
the states of the zone.

However, many allies of nuclear weapon states have gained 
acceptance for their policies of non-deployment in peace-time, 
but oppose the idea of extending it to apply also in times of 
crisis and war.  Another basic constraint embodied in the NWFZ 
concept is the commitment (by the nuclear weapon states) not to 
use nuclear weapons against the zone and (by the member states) 
not to allow the use of such weapons from zone territory.  But 
since nuclear weapons may well be within the nuclear free zone 
some of the time, they may also be there at the outbreak of war, 
in which case there will be strong incentive for them to be fired 
from the zone territory (17).

It is true that the concept of NWFZ is beneficial to keep peace 
and stability in regional and global contexts. Also the concept 
may contribute to confidence-building among participating 
countries.  However, it is very difficult to implement the idea 
among countries where confidence among them are not yet matured.  
The current security environment of Northeast Asia, for example, 
is not stable and secure enough for the idea of NWFZ to 
materialize.  The post-Cold War security environment of Northeast 
Asia is still uncertain, and regional countries pay much 
attention on building-up their armed forces.  In this 
circumstance, a regional NWFZ may not be acceptable for some 
regional countries.

For South Korea, it is more urgent to successfully implement the 
Joint Denuclearization of the Korea Peninsula which was signed in 
1992 between North and South Korea. Though all American nuclear 
weapons have been withdrawn from South Korea, as long as military 
threat from North Korea continues, South Korea can not give up 
American nuclear umbrella and the transit rights of American 
ships and aircraft carrying nuclear weapons.

If denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is successfully 
implemented, then South Korea will welcome a regional NWFZ.  
However, since the US, Russia and China possess nuclear weapons, 
it should be introduced in a gradual manner in order not to cause 
a negative attitude from nuclear powers.  Establishing a limited 
deployment zone is acceptable at the initial step in a small area 
around the Korean peninsula.  Then, if the limited zone is 
successful, the scope may expand to include Japan, adjacent 
waters, and part of China and Russia. Nevertheless, transit 
rights should not be restrained, as in the Treaty of Rarotonga.

ENDNOTES 1.    Korea Times, June 17, 1994.

2.    Jon Brook Wolfsthal, "Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones: Coming of 
Age?" Arms Control Today, vol. 23, no. 2 (March 1993), p. 3.

3.    UN General Assembly Resolution 3472B (XXX), 30th Session 
(December 11, 1975); Shannon Selin, Canada as a Nuclear Weapon-
Free Zone: A Critical Analysis, Issue Brief no. 10, Canadian 
Centre for Arms Control and Disarmament (August 1988), p. 2.

4.    Helen Leigh-Phippard, "Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zones: Problems 
and Prospects," Arms Control, vol. 14, no. 2 (August 1993), p. 

5.    United Nations Department of Disarmament, Nuclear Weapons: 
A Comprehensive Study (New York: United Nations, 1991), p. 120.

6.    United Nations, Nuclear Weapons, pp. 126-127.

 7.    United Nations, Nuclear Weapons, p. 127.

8.    Jon Brook Wolfsthal, "Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones: Coming of 
Age?" Arms Control Today, vol. 23, no. 2 (March 1993), p. 4.

9.    Leigh-Phippard, "NWFZs: Problems and Prospects," p. 96.

10.   United Nations, Nuclear Weapons, p. 122.

11.   Wolfsthal, "NWFZs: Coming of Age?" p. 5.

12.   Paul Power, "The South Pacific Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone," 
Pacific Affairs, vol. 59, no. 3 (July 20, 1987), p. 459.

13.   Sipri Yearbook 1980, pp. 429-430.

14.  Sipri Yearbook 1981, pp. 391-401.

15.   Leigh-Phippard, "NWFZs: Problems and Prospects," p. 107.

16.   Selin, Canada as a Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone, p. 2.

17.   Sverre Lodgaard, "Nuclear Disengagement Zones and No First 
Use Doctrines as Arms Control Measures," in Desmond Ball and 
Andrew Mack (eds.), The Future of Arms Control (Sydney: 
Australian National University Press, 1987), p. 129.


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