It’s time for a nuclear-weapon-free Northeast Asia

There is simply only one thing more terrifying than nuclear weapons pointed in your direction and that is nuclear weapons pointed in your enemy’s direction. The outcome of their use would be the same in either case, and that is the annihilation of you and all of us. That is a defense which is no defense”. (David Lange, 1985 Oxford Union debate)

Since 1945, when the US and the Soviet Union divided Korea along the 38th parallel, Northeast Asia has been in a state of war. North Korea (DPRK), Russia, and China to the north, and South Korea (ROK), Japan, and the US to the south. The Berlin Wall fell at the end of the cold war, but the 38th parallel is still separating the Koreans, becomming the symbol of a new cold war, and a serious nuclear threat. It is urgent to declare the end of Korean war, build confidence in the area by setting up a NEA-NWFZ (Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone) with 3+3 comprehensive apporach. Here is how.

What is 3+3?

Three-Plus-Three Arrangement: A Six-Party Treaty or a Three-Party Treaty, involving Japan, ROK & DPRK with NonNuclear Commitments, and the USA, Russia, and China with Negative Security Assurances. (Hiro Umebayashi)

The NEA-NWFZ(Northeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone)with 3+3 comprehensive approach is a proposed treaty between Japan, ROK (Republic of Korea), and DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) to create a NWFZ, which would be guaranteed by the USA, China, and Russia to provide NSA (Negative Security Assurances), not to attack or threaten the area by nuclear and/or conventional weapons. The shorthand name used for this project is the “Three-plus-Three initiative (3+3)”.

A very early proposal to establish a NWFZ on the Korean Peninsula was suggested by the 1959 Soviet Union. China also proposed an Asia Pacific NWFZ in the late 1950s. Both were rejected at the time by the Western powers, and a few years later, in 1964, China was to develop nuclear weapons. So began the Asia Pacific nuclear weapons proliferation spiral, from US nuclear deployment in the 1950s, Chinese nuclear acquisition in 1964, India and Pakistan acquiring the bomb in 1998, North Korea in 2006.

Proposed NEA-NWFZ would serve to link up with the existing Southeast Asian NWFZ, Central Asia (Semipalatinsk) NWFZ, and the South Pacific NWFZ to expand the reach across the world. It would also be a major inspiration for countries in the Middle East.

What is NWFZ?

The nuclear arms control agenda has two inerlinked components: non-proliferation and disarmament. Nuclear-weapn-free zones (NWFZ) are legal mechanisms for the former and political stepping stones towards the latter. (Ramesh Thakur, 1998)

The UN General Assembly, in Resolution 3472B (1975) has defined the NWFZ as follows:

— — — — — —

I. Definition of the concept of a nuclear-weapon-free zone

1. A “nuclear-weapon-free zone” shall, as a general rule, be deemed to be any zone, recognized as such by the General Assembly of the United Nations, which any group of States, in the free exercise of their sovereignty, has established by virtue of a treaty or convention whereby:

1. A (a) The statute of total absence of nuclear weapons to which the zone shall be subject, including the procedure for the delimitation of the zone, is defined;

1. A (b) An international system of verification and control is established to guarantee compliance with the obligations deriving from that statute.

II. Definition of the principal obligations of the nuclear-weapon States towards nuclear-weapon-free zones and towards the States included therein

II. 2. (c) To refrain from using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against the States included in the zone.

— — — — — — —

In sum, a NWFZ is a mechanism to protect a specific zone with a non-nuclear-umbrella.

There are 7 existing NWFZs

Excluding Space, Moon, and the Seabed, there are 7 existing NWFZ. According to the research paper by Dr. Michael Hamel-Green, the established NWFZs have all involved leaders at various levels for the proposed treaty to become a reality, whether within governments, regional organizations, international bodies, political parties, or civil society groups.

  1. In the case of the Antarctic Treaty, US President Eisenhower was one of the key advocates.
  2. In Latin America, it was the Mexican diplomat, Alfonso Garcia Robles.
  3. In the South Pacific, grassroots organizations opposed to Pacific nuclear testing were able to galvanize support amongst Labour parties in New Zealand.
  4. In the case of Southeast Asia, Indonesian Foreign Ministers Mochtar Kusuma-Atmadja and later Ali Alatas played pivotal roles in implementing ASEAN’s 1971 Zone of Peace, Freedom, and Neutrality (ZOPFAN) agreement.
  5. The African NWFZ with Nigerian Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji being credited as the driving force for the eventual negotiation of the treaty.
  6. The Central Asian NWFZ was first advocated by Mongolian President Punsalmaagin Ochirbatthe at the UN General Assembly in 1992, and Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov was the first to call for the five former Soviet Central Asian states to establish a NWFZ.

Journey to the NEA-NWFZ 3+3

In the case of NEA-NWFZ, some of the most developed proposals have been those put forward by Hiro Umebayashi, John Endicott, the Nautilus Foundation, and regional gatherings of Northeast Asian specialists and experts convened by the Nagasaki University Research Center for Nuclear Weapon Abolition (RECNA), and its associated regional Panel for Peace and Security of Northeast Asia (PSNA) involving experts from Japan, South Korea, Mongolia, Europe, US, Australia, and specialists from South Korea’s Sejong Institute, Japan’s Peace Depot, the US and Australia-based Nautilus Foundation.

Umebayashi, in association with Peace Depot, has developed a Model Northeast Asian NWFZ that would cover the two Koreas and Japan, with a supportive role for China, the United States, and Russia (3+3). The Model Treaty incorporates core denuclearization provisions and negative security assurances but also goes further than other established NWFZs by explicitly asking that zone members discard their dependence on extended deterrence (the nuclear umbrella).

As Umbeyashi notes, there was agreement at the NPT 2000 Review Conference that NPT parties would seek “a diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies”.

Challenge: Japan

U.S. President Joe Biden will need to take a number of steps to restore allied confidence in the United States. Strengthening the U.S. nuclear umbrella isn’t one of them. (2021, The Deplomat)

The current Japanese government failed to ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which became international law this year. TPNW is the first treaty to define nuclear weapons and associated activity as illegal. Heavily relying on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for security, Japanese Prime Minister Suga cited the weakness of support for the treaty (52 out of 193 U.N. member states have ratified it) would limit its effectiveness, and that Japan has no intention of signing it.

The gap between the government’s position and public sentiment is glaring. A recent academic poll found that 75% of Japanese believe their country should join TPNW. Further, as of April 2021, 1,653 out of 1,724 cities of Japan (96% of regional cities) declared themselves a NWFZ. This effort was largely led by the National Council of Japan Nuclear Free Authorities, inspired by the Manchester City Declaration of Nuclear Free Zone in 1980.

While the current Japanese government has yet to embrace an NEA-NWFZ, there are antecedents. The Japan Socialist Party (JSP) advocated the treaty, and issued a joint communique with DPRK in 1981, proposing the abolition of nuclear weapons in Northeast Asia, withdrawal of Foreign troops, ending of military alliances with external countries, and establishment of a NWFZ on the Korean Peninsula and around the East China Sea.

In 2009–10, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) led by Yukio Hatoyama strongly supported the NEA-NWFZ and established regional organizations that might address security issues that may lead to some form of East Asia Community.

3+3 Comprehensive Approach

In late 2011 a new initiative appeared regarding efforts to establish a NEA-NWFZ by Dr. Mortn Halperin, Senior Advisor to the Open Society Foundation. Because of this proposal, the framework of the discussion has shifted from the question of whether such a zone might even be possible, to what kind of approach might be taken to actually realize it. It was a game-changer. These are the six core proposals in the 3+3 Comprehensive Approach:

  1. Termination of the state of war: This is clearly a major objective of the DPRK. This section should be adhered to by the armistice nations and by the ROK and perhaps other states party to the conflict. It should end the state of war and provide for the normalization of relations among the signatories while providing for the eventual unification of the peninsula.
  2. Creating a permanent council on security: The Treaty should create a permanent council and organization to monitor and enforce the other provisions of the treaty. The treaty should leave open the question of whether it might also become a forum to deal with future security problems in the region. In addition to the six parties, other states from the region and beyond would be invited to join including Mongolia and Canada. The IAEA might be asked to play a role in the monitoring process; other verification might be done by a staff recruited by the security organization and be composed of nationals from countries other than the six parties.
  3. Mutual declaration of no hostile intent: This is a key objective of the DPRK which put great stock in getting such a statement from the Clinton Administration. It was flummoxed when the Bush Administration simply withdrew it and when this policy was continued by the Obama Administration. To be credible this commitment must be embodied in the treaty and affect all the parties’ relations with each other.
  4. Provisions of assistance for nuclear and other energy: The right of all parties to the treaty to have access to necessary sources of energy including nuclear power, as provided for in the NPT, will need to be affirmed. Any limitations on the DPRK might need to apply equally to other non-nuclear states party to the treaty, especially the ROK and Japan. The DPRK will also want assurances that its energy needs will be subsidized. Beyond a general commitment, this will probably need to be negotiated as a separate agreement.
  5. Termination of sanctions: The Parties to the treaty will need to commit not to impose sanctions on any other party to the treaty-based on its nuclear programs as long as it fully adhered to the treaty. The parties would reserve the right to collectively impose sanctions on any state which violates its commitments under the treaty. The United States would need to reserve the right to impose sanctions based on other issues as mandated by its laws and to impose sanctions unilaterally if it believed that the DPRK was violating the terms of the treaty. But this might require the US to withdraw from the treaty.
  6. A nuclear-weapons-free zone: Finally, the treaty would contain a chapter that would create a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in Northeast Asia.

(“Promoting Security in Northeast Asia: A New Approach”, NAPSNet Policy Forum, October 30, 2012)

3+3 Comprehensive Framework Agreement (CFA) proposed by RECNA

After going through series of international conferences convened by RECNA (Research Center for Nuclear Abolision, Nagasaki University) with ROK, China, US, and Russian counter parts, a Comprehensive Framework Agreement (CFA) was proposed RECNA Proposal p.12–3., based on the Halperin’s comprehensive apporach. The declaratory chapters and ctionable chapters are proposed as a process and realistic Confidence Building Measures. These are the four chapters:

(1) Declare to terminate the Korean War and provide for mutual nonaggression, friendship, and equal sovereignty among CFA state parties. States lacking diplomatic relations will endeavor to succeed in normalizing their diplomatic relations. Encourage negotiations among states concerned for the Korean War Peace Treaty. (Declaratory)

(2) Assure equal rights to access all forms of energy, including nuclear energy. Establish a Northeast Asia Energy Cooperation Committee that is dedicated to contributing to the stability of Northeast Asia and the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula. The invitation for committee members extends beyond the six parties and is open to any state or state groups supporting the cause. Participation of Mongolia and Canada would be welcome. (Declaratory)

(3) Agree on a treaty to establish a Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone. It will include requirements to join the NPT and other details mandated to achieve a NWFZ. Signatory states are obligated to join the Chemical Weapons Convention. The agreement will protect the rights of signatory states for peaceful space exploration by the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. An article will be provided to place collective sanctions on states in violation of the treaty while restricting any unilateral sanction imposed by an individual state party on account of treaty matters. (Actionable)

(4) Establish a permanent Northeast Asia Security Council. The primary objective of this council will be to ensure the implementation of the CFA. The Six-Parties will form the initial members of the Council, while member states of the Energy Cooperation Committee and any other states offering to cooperate for Northeast Asian security are welcome to be general members. (Actionable)

Where do we start? A Coalition for the 3+3

A binding treaty will have to be approved by the national parliaments involved, and a declaration of such an agreement may signed by the heads of the governments. However, it might not work unless we have broad national and international public supports.

PNND (Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament), with its global coordinator Alyn Ware, currently has more than 700 members of national or regional parliaments from more than 100 countries. PNND and Mayors for Peace organized the civil society forums for the Conferences of State Parties to the NWFZs.

There is now greater potential for regional and international networks, including the Asia Pacific Leaders Network (APLN), the European Leaders Network (ELN), the Japan Peace Committee’s annual forums, and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

Given the enormity of the challenge, how do we start? First, we should put together a Coalition for the 3+3 (C3+3), compounding on the lessons from the World Federalist Movement / Institute for Global Policy’s (WFM/IGP) successful and historic experience of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC).

As a first step in the establishment of the Coalition, WFM/IGP has invited each of you to discuss the formation of a Coalition and the willingness to support the project through collective action and fundraising to establish and host a Secretariat in the region.

From Berlin Wall to 38th Parallel North

Mexican diplomat, Alfonso Garcia Robles, the principal architect of the 1967 Latin American Tlatelolco Treaty, said the following at the 1974 UN General Assembly plenary meeting (line 33):

Because of the reluctance of the nuclear Powers to adopt effective disarmament measures, non-nuclear states should resort to procedures similar to those which apply in the case of an epidemic: to seek gradually to broaden the zones of the world from which nuclear weapons are prohibited for all time so that the territories of the nuclear powers will constitute something like contaminated islands, subject to quarantine — Alfonso Garcia Robles

Nuclear deterrence to be credible must convince the opponent that it will be used when put to the test. The test is not the capabilities of the weapons, but the willingness to use them. The “low-yield” nuclear weapons, like the W76–2 warheads, were deployed to the US sea-launched cruise missile (SLCMs) in 2019, with a reported capacity of 5kt (the Fat Man dropped in Nagasaki was 21 kt). The low-yield, easier-to-use nuclear weapons would escalate to a nuclear war that will result in the annihilation of the planet. We urgently need security cooperation in Northeast Asia.

The European Union started with EEC (European Economic Community) in the spirit of economic cooperation. Soon after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, the initial 12 nations ratified the treaty establishing the European Union, resulting in sustainable peace of the area. Similarly, negotiating a NWFZ has historically taken between 13 years (Rarotonga treaty) to 35 years(Pelindaba treaty) to conclude, after one or more governments of the region have officially proposed the idea. But come to think of it, it is an effort of only one generation.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 should have continued in the elimination of the 38th Parallel North. It is not too late. We start the process with Coalition for the 3+3 (C3+3), in the shared spirit of security cooperation. We need a coalition: because the issue requires collective action, because it is beyond the scope of an individual organization, and because it requires extensive pooled resources and capacity.

WFM-IGP Executive Committee member, Former Senator of Japan

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