Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones and Security Assurances

France is an active player in ongoing initiatives aimed at reinforcing the non-proliferation regime in practical ways in order to meet the challenges that threaten the future of the NPT. It supports Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones and has made strong committments to provide security assurances to Non-Nuclear States, both unilaterally and within a regional framework.

© DICoD / Serge Malivert© DICoD / Serge Malivert

Support for Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones

Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones (NWFZ) arise from international treaties concluded between the States of a given region. Such zones are made up both of States that have renounced the option of possessing nuclear weapons or of authorizing the stationing of such weapons on their territory and, sometimes, parts of the territory of States outside the Zone, in most cases nuclear-weapon States that have likewise undertaken not to deploy nuclear weapons in the areas concerned.

France provides its support to the establishment of Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones. It is, of course, necessary, in line with the principles set out by the Disarmament Commission in 1999 1, that they result from a unanimous decision by States in the region concerned, that they have a geographical and military relevance, and that they do not violate existing international universal legal standards, such as the law of the sea. It is likewise important that they be discussed beforehand with nuclear-weapon States.

France is indeed convinced that a realistic and concrete approach needs to be taken to advance in security, disarmament and non-proliferation matters. This regional aspect of non-proliferation and of its contribution to everyone’s security continues to be affirmed, fully in line with Article VII of the NPT.

Among nuclear-weapon States, France is party to the greatest number of protocols to treaties establishing Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones. In addition to the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 (providing for complete demilitarization), France is party to the protocols to the Treaty of Tlatelolco (ratified in 1974 and 1992), the Treaty of Rarotonga (ratified in 1996) and the Treaty of Pelindaba (ratified in 1996). In this regard, France reiterated for nearly a hundred States the security assurances it had already unilaterally given.

The latest illustration of this policy was the ratification by the President of the French Republic, Mr François Hollande, of the Protocol to the Treaty of Semipalatinsk (on the creation of a Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone), signed by France and the four other nuclear-weapon States in New York on 6 May 2014, during the third Preparatory Committee of the NPT review cycle.

France also remains fully committed to signing as soon as possible the Protocol to the Treaty of Bangkok, following on from the consultations recently held between the nuclear-weapon States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

France, like the other nuclear-weapon States, has committed to refraining from deploying explosive nuclear devices in these treaty zones, from conducting nuclear tests there or from using or threatening to use nuclear weapons either against States Parties to such treaties or against territories in the zone belonging to the States Parties to the relevant protocols. It therefore ratified, on 15 June 2004, the agreement concluded with the IAEA and Euratom extending the system of safeguards to all source material and all special fissile material in all nuclear activities conducted in French territories located within the area of application of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, with the sole aim of verifying that such materials and products are not diverted to the production of nuclear weapons or other explosive nuclear devices.

Moreover, France supports the establishment of a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery in the Middle East based on UN Security Council resolution 687 (1991) 2 and on the resolution on the Middle East adopted by the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference 3, the aim of which was reaffirmed in the action plan adopted by consensus during the 2010 NPT Review Conference.

Giving security assurances

The desire of the non-nuclear-weapon States Parties to the NPT to obtain legal measures guaranteeing their security against the use or threatened use of nuclear weapons is legitimate. It was expressed even before the signing of the Treaty, in the principles laid down by resolution 2028 of the United Nations General Assembly, adopted on 19 November 1965. The resolution made negotiating the Treaty subject to the establishment of “an acceptable balance of mutual responsibilities and obligations of the nuclear and non-nuclear powers.”

Negative security assurances consist of a commitment from nuclear-weapon States not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon States.

Positive security assurances consolidate those negative assurances by obliging States to take steps (relating to collective security or assistance) in the event of any violation of such assurances.

France has made strong commitments in this area, both unilaterally and within a regional framework :

- France’s deterrence doctrine is the first of such assurances because it is strictly defensive. The use of nuclear weapons would only be conceivable in extreme circumstances of self-defence.

- In June 1982, France gave negative security assurances to all non-nuclear-weapon States in a statement by the Minister of Foreign Affairs to the United Nations General Assembly. And in a unilateral statement on 6 April 1995, France reaffirmed and clarified those negative assurances and, for the first time, gave positive security assurances to all non-nuclear-weapon States Parties to the NPT. The President of the French Republic solemnly reiterated the negative security assurances given to the non-nuclear-weapon States that comply with their non-proliferation commitments in his speech in Istres on 19 February 2015.

UN Security Council Meeting. Photo credit : UN Photo/Mark GartenUN Security Council Meeting. Photo credit : UN Photo/Mark Garten

In resolution 984 4, adopted unanimously on 11 April 1995, the United Nations Security Council took note “with appreciation of the statements made by each of the nuclear-weapon States (...) in which they give security assurances against the use of nuclear weapons to Non-nuclear-weapon States that are Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons”.

This resolution provided for the first time a comprehensive, collective and concrete response to the concerns of non-nuclear-weapon States regarding security assurances. Comprehensive, in that it includes both positive and negative assurances ; collective in that the Resolution was co-sponsored by the five nuclear powers ; and concrete because the resolution refers to the actions that the Security Council could take in the event of aggression, notably in the areas of dispute settlement, humanitarian assistance and the compensation of victims.

That same resolution reaffirms the need for all NPT States Parties to comply fully with their obligations. As such, it recalls a fundamental rule.

- Lastly, France considers that giving negative security assurances within a regional framework is an important nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation path, in full accordance with Article VII of the NPT, thanks to the creation of Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones. Over a hundred States have been given negative security assurances by France under protocols to treaties establishing Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones. Moreover, through these protocols, France has renewed the commitments it has taken concerning all non-nuclear-weapon States Parties to the NPT.

For the Member States of such zones, the assurances exchanged between each other based on their renunciation of nuclear weapons are supplemented by the undertakings of the nuclear-weapon States to respect the status of such zones and to refrain from using nuclear weapons against States within the zone.

In this way, the creation of Nuclear-Weapon-Free zones, combined with negative security assurances, is an essential regional aspect of non-proliferation and contributes to the security of all in accordance with Article VII of the NPT.

Pursuing this regional approach seems to be the most realistic path towards progress in the area of negative security assurances.