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Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones (NWFZ) At a Glance
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Press Contacts: Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, (202) 463-8270 x102

Updated: July 2017

What is a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone?

A nuclear-weapon-free zone (NWFZ) is a specified region in which countries commit themselves not to manufacture, acquire, test, or possess nuclear weapons. Five such zones exist today, with four of them spanning the entire Southern Hemisphere. The regions currently covered under NWFZ agreements include: Latin America (the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco), the South Pacific (the 1985 Treaty of Rarotonga), Southeast Asia (the 1995 Treaty of Bangkok) Africa (the 1996 Treaty of Pelindaba) and Central Asia (the 2006 Treaty of Semipalatinsk).

Background

Initial efforts to create an area free of nuclear weapons began in the late 1950s with several proposals to establish such a zone in Central and Eastern Europe. Poland offered the first proposal-named the Rapacki Plan after the Polish foreign minister-in 1958. The Rapacki Plan sought to initially keep nuclear weapons from being deployed in Poland, Czechoslovakia, West Germany, and East Germany, while reserving the right for other European countries to follow suit. The Soviet Union, Sweden, Finland, Romania, and Bulgaria also floated similar proposals. All these early efforts, however, floundered amidst the U.S.-Soviet superpower conflict, although the Rapacki Plan would serve as a model to the nuclear-weapon-free zones that were eventually set up in other regions of the globe.

Article VII of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which entered into force in 1970, affirms the right of countries to establish specified zones free of nuclear weapons. The UN General Assembly reaffirmed that right in 1975 and outlined the criteria for such zones. Within these nuclear-weapon-free zones, countries may use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Protocol for Nuclear Weapon States

Each treaty establishing a nuclear-weapon-free zone includes a protocol for the five nuclear-weapon states recognized under the NPT-China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States-to sign and ratify. These protocols, which are legally binding, call upon the nuclear-weapon states to respect the status of the zones and not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against treaty states-parties. Such declarations of non-use of nuclear weapons are referred to as negative security assurances. For more information, see Nuclear Declaratory Policy and Negative Security Assurances.

However, the five nuclear-armed countries have at times signed and ratified a NWFZ protocol and declared conditions reserving the right to use nuclear weapons in certain scenarios against parties to a nuclear-weapon-free zone. For instance, the United States signed the protocol for the African nuclear-weapon-free zone in April 1996 with a declaration that it would reserve the right to respond with all options, implying possible use of nuclear weapons, to a chemical or biological weapons attack by a member of the zone. None of the nuclear-weapon states have signed the relevant protocol for the treaty creating a zone in Southeast Asia because of concerns that it conflicts with the right of their ships and aircraft to have freedom of movement in international waters and airspace and problems with the definitions of territory, since includes exclusive economic zones and continental shelves. The other three zones do not explicitly rule out the transit of nuclear weapons by nuclear-weapon states through the zones, and the general practice of nuclear-weapon states is not to declare whether nuclear weapons are aboard their vessels.

In addition to nuclear-weapon-free zones, there are treaties and declarations, which are not covered by this fact sheet, banning the deployment of nuclear weapons in Antarctica, Mongolia, on the seabed, and in outer space.

Basic Elements of Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaties

Duration: The treaties are to remain in force indefinitely. Yet, each treaty includes a withdrawal option for states-parties. With the exception of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which simply requires three months' advance notice before a withdrawal can take effect, all the NWFZ treaties require 12 months' advance notice for a state-party to end its treaty obligations.

Conditions: None of the treaties can be subjected to conditions by its non-nuclear-weapon states-parties.

Verification: Each state-party adopts comprehensive safeguards administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which verifies that states-parties are not pursuing nuclear weapons illicitly. The Central Asian NWFZ goes a step further in requiring that states in the region adopt the IAEA's Additional Protocol, which provides for expanded monitoring.

Territory Covered: Each zone applies to the entire territories of all of its states-parties. Territory is understood to include all land holdings, internal waters, territorial seas, and archipelagic waters. The Latin American treaty also extends hundreds of kilometers from the states-parties' territories into the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, but the nuclear-weapon states, citing their freedom at sea, assert that this does not apply to their ships and aircraft that might be carrying nuclear weapons. A dispute also exists over the inclusion of the Chagos Archipelago, which includes the U.S. military base at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, as part of the proposed African nuclear-weapon-free zone. Neither the United States nor the United Kingdom recognizes Diego Garcia as being subject to the Pelindaba Treaty.


The Treaty of Tlatelolco (Latin America and the Caribbean)

Opened for signature: February 14, 1967
Entered into force: October 23, 2002[1]

States-Parties

Signed

Ratified

Antigua and Barbuda

October 11, 1983

October 11, 1983

Argentina

September 27, 1967

January 18, 1994

Bahamas

November 29, 1976

April 26, 1977

Barbados

October 18, 1968

April 25, 1969

Belize

February 14, 1992

November 9, 1994

Bolivia (Plurinational State of)

February 14, 1967

February 18, 1969

Brazil

May 9, 1967

January 29, 1968

Chile

February 14, 1967

October 9, 1974

Colombia

February 14, 1967

August 4, 1972

Costa Rica

February 14, 1967

August 25, 1969

Cuba

March 25, 1995

October 23, 2002

Dominica

May 2, 1989

June 4, 1993

Dominican Republic

July 28, 1967

June 14, 1968

Ecuador

February 14, 1967

February 11, 1969

El Salvador

February 14, 1967

April 22, 1968

Grenada

April 29, 1975

June 20, 1975

Guatemala

February 14, 1967

February 6, 1970

Guyana

January 16, 1995

January 16, 1995

Haiti

February 14, 1967

May 23, 1969

Honduras

February 14, 1967

September 23, 1968

Jamaica

October 26, 1967

June 26, 1969

Mexico

February 14, 1967

September 20, 1967

Nicaragua

February 15, 1967

October 24, 1968

Panama

February 14, 1967

June 11, 1971

Paraguay

April 26, 1967

March 19, 1969

Peru

February 14, 1967

March 4, 1969

Saint Kitts and Nevis

February 18, 1994

April 18, 1995

Saint Lucia

August 25, 1992

June 2, 1995

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

February 14, 1992

February 14, 1992

Suriname

February 13, 1976

June 10, 1977

Trinidad and Tobago

June 27, 1967

December 3, 1970

Uruguay

February 14, 1967

August 20, 1968

Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of)

February 14, 1967

March 23, 1970

Protocol ratification by nuclear-weapon states: 

Protocol

Subject

States Ratified

Protocol I

Jurisdictional responsibility

France, United Kingdom, United States

Protocol II

Negative security assurances

China, France, United Kingdom, United States, Soviet Union[2]

The Treaty of Rarotonga (South Pacific)

Opened for signature: August 6, 1985
Entered into force: December 11, 1986

States-Parties

Signed

Ratified

Australia

August 6, 1985

December 11, 1986

Cook Islands

August 6, 1985

October 28, 1985

Fiji

August 6, 1985

October 4, 1985

Kiribati

August 6, 1985

October 28, 1986

Nauru

July 17, 1986

April 13, 1987

New Zealand

August 6, 1985

November 13, 1986

Niue

August 6, 1985

May 12, 1986

Papua New Guinea

September 16, 1985

September 15, 1989

Samoa

August 6, 1985

October 20, 1986

Solomon Islands

May 29, 1987

June 27, 1989

Tonga

August 2, 1996

December 18, 2000

Tuvalu

August 6, 1985

January 16, 1986

Vanuatu

September 16, 1995

February 9, 1996

Protocol ratification by nuclear-weapon states: 

Protocol

Subject

States Ratified

Protocol I*

Prohibition on the manufacture, stationing and testing of any nuclear explosive device

France, United Kingdom

Protocol II

Negative security assurances

China, France, United Kingdom, Soviet Union[2]

Protocol III

Ban on nuclear testing in nuclear-weapon-free zone

Soviet Union[2]

*(open only to France, the United Kingdom and the United States)

The Treaty of Bangkok (Southeast Asia)

Opened for signature: December 15, 1995
Entered into force: March 27, 1997

States-Parties

Signed

Ratified

Brunei Darussalam

December 15, 1995

November 22, 1996

Cambodia

December 15, 1995

March 27, 1997

Indonesia

December 15, 1995

April 10, 1997

Lao People’s Democratic Republic

December 15, 1995

July 16, 1996

Malaysia

December 15, 1995

October 11, 1996

Myanmar

December 15, 1995

July 17, 1996

Philippines

December 15, 1995

June 21, 2001

Singapore

December 15, 1995

March 27, 1997

Thailand

December 15, 1995

March 20, 1997

Vietnam

December 15, 1995

November 26, 1996

Protocol ratification by nuclear-weapon states: 

  • None. Five nuclear weapons states and ASEAN members met in July 2012 to sign the treaty protocol. The treaty commission, however, postponed the signing of the protocol until November, requesting more time to review reservations that several of the NWS indicated that they would attach during ratification.

The Treaty of Pelindaba (Africa)

Opened for signature: April 11, 1996
Entered into force: July 15, 2009

States-Parties

Signed

Ratified

Algeria

April 11, 1996

February 11, 1998

Angola

April 11, 1996

June 20, 2014

Benin               

April 11, 1996

September 4, 2007

Botswana

June 9, 1998

June 16, 1999

Burkina Faso

April 11, 1996

August 27, 1998

Burundi

April 11, 1996

July 15, 2009

Cameroon

April 11, 1996

September 28, 2010

Cape Verde

April 11, 1996

-----

Central African Republic

April 11, 1996

-----

Chad

April 11, 1996

January 18, 2012

Comoros

April 11, 1996

July 24, 2012

Congo

January 27, 1997

November 26, 2013

Cote D’Ivoire        

April 11, 1996

July 28, 1999

Democratic Republic of the Congo

April 11, 1996

-----

Djibouti

April 11, 1996

-----

Egypt

April 11, 1996

-----

Equatorial Guinea

 

February 19, 2003

Eritrea

April 11, 1996

-----

Ethiopia

April 11, 1996

March 13, 2008

Gabon

April 11, 1996

June 12, 2007

Gambia

April 11, 1996

October 16, 1996

Ghana

April 11, 1996

June 27, 2011

Guinea

April 11, 1996

January 21, 2000

Guinea-Bissau

April 11, 1996

January 4, 2012

Kenya

April 11, 1996

January 9, 2001

Lesotho

April 11, 1996

March 14, 2002

Liberia

July 9, 1996

-----

Libya

April 11, 1996

May 11, 2005

Madagascar

 

December 23, 2003

Malawi

April 11, 1996

April 23, 2009

Mali

April 11, 1996

July 22, 1999

Mauritania

April 11, 1996

February 24, 1998

Mauritius

April 11, 1996

April 24, 1996

Mozambique

April 11, 1996

August 28, 2008

Namibia

April 11, 1996

March 1, 2012

Niger

April 11, 1996

February 22, 2017

Nigeria

April 11, 1996

June 18, 2001

Rwanda

April 11, 1996

February 1, 2007

Sao Tome & Principe

July 9, 1996

-----

Senegal

April 11, 1996

October 25, 2006

Seychelles

July 9, 1996

May 23, 2014

Sierra Leone

April 11, 1996

-----

Somalia

February 23, 2006

-----

South Africa

April 11, 1996

March 27, 1998

Sudan

April 11, 1996

-----

Swaziland

April 11, 1996

July 17, 2000

Togo

April 11, 1996

July 18, 2000

Tunisia

April 11, 1996

October 7, 2009

Uganda

April 11, 1996

-----

United Republic of Tanzania

April 11, 1996

June 19, 1998

Zambia

April 11, 1996

April 6, 1998

Zimbabwe

April 11, 1996

April 6, 1998

 Protocol ratification by nuclear-weapon states: 

Protocol

Subject

States Ratified

Protocol I

Negative security assurances

China, France, Russia, United Kingdom

Protocol II

Ban on nuclear testing in zone

China, France, Russia, United Kingdom

Protocol III*

Jurisdictional responsibility

France

*(open only to France and Spain)

Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty

Opened for signature: September 8, 2006
Entered into force: March 21, 2009 

States-Parties

Signed

Ratified

Kazakhstan

September 8, 2006

February 19, 2009

Kyrgyzstan

September 8, 2006

July 27, 2007

Tajikistan

September 8, 2006

January 13, 2009

Turkmenistan

September 8, 2006

January 17, 2009

Uzbekistan

September 8, 2006

May 10, 2007

 Protocol ratification by nuclear-weapon states: 

Protocol

Subject

States Ratified

Protocol I*

Negative security assurances

China, France, Russia, United Kingdom

*United States signed but has not ratified


Notes:

1. The treaty specified that the full zone would not enter into force until it was ratified by all states within the zones. That did not occur until Cuba ratified the treaty in 2002. However, the treaty permitted individual states to waive that provision and declare themselves bound by the treaty, which many did beginning in 1968.

2. Russia is recognized as inheriting the Soviet Union's treaty commitments.

Posted: July 17, 2017