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former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Progress Made on SE Asian Nuclear Pact

Peter Crail

Southeast Asian countries reached agreement last month on a process for the world’s five recognized nuclear-weapon states to endorse the region’s nuclear-weapon-free zone, the Indonesian Foreign Ministry said in a Nov. 16 statement.

The agreement came after the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) met Nov. 14 with China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States to discuss ratification by those five states of a protocol to the 1995 Treaty of Bangkok, which established the zone. Under the protocol, the nuclear-weapon states would pledge not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against zone members and not to transport nuclear weapons through the zone.

The world’s five regional nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaties all include similar protocols, but none of the nuclear-weapon states have signed the Southeast Asian pact. China has been supportive of doing so, but the other four countries have expressed concern that the Bangkok Treaty includes the continental shelves and exclusive economic zones of the zone’s members. The five nuclear powers have agreed to the protocols of some of the other treaties on nuclear-weapon-free zones.

A Nov. 19 White House summary said that, during the Nov. 18-19 East Asian summit, President Barack Obama and other leaders “welcomed the successful conclusion of a 40-year long negotiation between ASEAN and the Nuclear Weapons States to enable the latter’s accession” to the zone’s protocol. “All sides have agreed to take the necessary steps to enable the signing of the protocol and its entry into force at the earliest opportunity,” it added.

Those steps appear to include further negotiations among the various parties. Agreement on the protocol “cannot be deemed settled until all the matters are agreed upon by the nuclear-weapon states and all ASEAN members,” Indonesian Foreign Ministry Director for International Security and Disarmament Febrian Alphyanto Ruddyard told reporters Nov. 16.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced during the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference last year that the United States would ratify the African and South Pacific nuclear-weapon-free-zone protocols and would work with the members of the Southeast Asian and Central Asian zones toward endorsing those pacts as well. (See ACT, June 2010.)