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Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones: Pursuing Security, Region by Region

Vienna, Austria

Tlatelolco, Mexico
Conference of States Parties and Signatories of Treaties That Establish Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones

I welcome the opportunity to participate in this first-ever meeting of States from all nuclear-weapon-free zones.

The development of nuclear-weapon-free zones, over the past four decades, is a testament to what nations can do, region by region, to achieve common security objectives. In fact, when considering the history of nuclear non-proliferation efforts, it might be said that here in Mexico City is "where it all began". The 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco was the first multilateral treaty to establish a region free of nuclear weapons and a requirement for comprehensive IAEA safeguards for its parties — and clearly gave impetus to the conclusion of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Nuclear-weapon-free zones provide tangible security benefits. They help to reassure the larger international community of the peaceful nuclear intentions of countries in these regions. They provide their members with security assurances against the use, or threat of use, of nuclear weapons by a nuclear-weapon State. They include control mechanisms for dealing with non-compliance in a regional setting. And in all cases, they prohibit the development, stationing or testing of nuclear weapons in their respective regions.

An important benefit of these zones is that they open a forum for expanded regional dialogue on issues of security. Because the causes of insecurity vary from region to region, security solutions do not come in a "one-size-fits-all" package. It is for this reason that regional dialogues, as we see in the nuclear-weapon-free zones, are so beneficial. It is clear that such treaties, and such security dialogues, would be invaluable in other areas of the world, such as the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula.

Since the end of the Cold War, the international security landscape has undergone dramatic changes. For example, the rise in terrorism, the discovery of clandestine nuclear programmes, and the emergence of covert nuclear procurement networks have heightened our awareness of vulnerabilities in the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

Today, I would like to focus on two issues related to your discussions. First, the link between security and development; and second, the need to strengthen nuclear non-proliferation and accelerate nuclear disarmament.

Recognizing the Link Between Security and Development

First, we need to underscore the linkage between security and development that forms the foundation of the NPT. This linkage is reflected in the three-fold commitment by States Party to the Treaty: to work towards a world free of nuclear weapons; to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons by additional States; and to make the peaceful applications of nuclear energy available to all.

The nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaties draw on a similar premise. While banning nuclear weapons, they recognize the rights of all States in their respective regions to make full use of nuclear technologies to enhance economic and social development.

But this linkage between security and development is not just the result of treaty commitments. The absence of development — as reflected, for example, in poor living standards, lack of education or lack of good governance — is fertile ground for breeding insecurity and unrest. Yet we at times forget to acknowledge these conspicuous disparities in quality of life as "security threats", or to treat them with the urgency they deserve. It is an irony peculiar to our time that, as a global community, we spend $900 billion every year on armaments, but only $60 billion on development assistance to the developing world. Improving the balance in our distribution of resources could certainly go a long way to pre-empt many of the security threats — let alone the social ills — that affect our planet.

The IAEA´s technical cooperation programme recognizes the essential role that nuclear science plays in promoting development. Nuclear research produces higher yielding, disease resistant crops for farmers. Radiotherapy is widely used to combat cancer, and isotopic techniques are used to study child malnutrition, to fight infectious diseases, to manage water resources, to enhance industrial productivity and to support environmental clean-up efforts. And not least, we support Member State efforts in 30 countries — including seven developing countries — to use nuclear energy, safely and securely, to generate electricity.

Strengthening Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Accelerating Disarmament

With the start of the 2005 NPT Review Conference in a week´s time, I would like to examine a few of the ways in which the nuclear non-proliferation regime could be strengthened.

IAEA Verification Authority
The revelation in the early 1990s of Iraq´s clandestine nuclear weapons programme underlined the importance of strengthening the IAEA safeguards system. This led to the establishment of the "additional protocol" to comprehensive safeguards agreements under which States give the IAEA greater rights of access to locations and to information.

In the past few years, the additional protocol has proven its value. With better access, we get better results. I believe the additional protocol should be regarded as an integral part of IAEA safeguards in all countries party to the NPT.

Moreover, verification is but one part of the non-proliferation regime. For the regime as a whole to function effectively, we must ensure not only effective verification but also effective export controls, effective physical protection of nuclear material and effective mechanisms for dealing with cases of non-compliance. It is imperative that these components are well integrated.

Control of the Fuel Cycle
As more and more countries gain access to sensitive nuclear technology and know-how, the margin of security under the current non-proliferation regime is becoming too close for comfort. Clearly, we need better control over proliferation sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle — uranium enrichment and plutonium separation.

This does not imply that we should seek to curtail the peaceful uses of nuclear technology. In fact, it is just the opposite: by reducing the risks of proliferation, we could pave the way for more widespread use of peaceful nuclear applications.

I am not yet sure what the optimum approach to fuel cycle control should look like, but I am convinced it should be different from what we have today. Clearly, any such control must be equitable and effective, and must provide the assurance of supply to legitimate users.

Nuclear Disarmament
Measures to strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime must also be accompanied by measures to accelerate progress towards nuclear disarmament. Nuclear weapons continue to be regarded as a source of global influence, and are valued for their deterrent effect. But as long as some countries have these weapons (or are protected by them under strategic "umbrella" alliances) and others do not, the result will continue to be a sense of imbalance and a cause for insecurity.

Part of the problem in accelerating nuclear disarmament is that the international community has, as yet, developed no alternative to a reliance on nuclear deterrence. This is a challenge — not just for nuclear-weapon States, but for all of us — and we must seek a solution. If we expect nuclear-weapon States to follow through on their commitment to completely eliminate their arsenals, then we must channel all our creativity and resources towards the development of an alternative system for collective security.

To be successful, a collective security system must be equitable, inclusive and effective. It must take into account the concerns of all parties. It must be able to respond promptly to emerging threats. And it must not rely on nuclear deterrence.

The ultimate goal — the elimination of all nuclear weapons — is admittedly complex. But that complexity should not be used by nuclear-weapon States as a reason for not reducing their existing arsenals. In addition, confidence in disarmament commitments clearly would be enhanced if nuclear-weapon States were to take concrete action to reduce the strategic role currently given to nuclear weapons.


Over the past four decades, the contributions to international security made by the NPT and nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaties have been substantial. But as we look towards the future, it is evident that we still have serious challenges ahead of us.

As I stated at the outset, nuclear-weapon-free zones are beneficial for the regional dialogues they generate among members on how to address issues of security concern. It is my hope that this Conference will provide a valuable exchange of views on lessons learned through the establishment and operation of nuclear-weapon-free zones. In doing so, it could lead to practical ways to enhance the nuclear arms control regime and to concrete steps towards reaching our ultimate goal — a world free from nuclear weapons.


Last update: 26 Nov 2019

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