Southeast Asian countries have a growing interest in having the five nuclear weapon states sign and ratify the protocol to the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty in the near future. Making the protocol enter into force would help maintain the region of Southeast Asia as a zone of peace and neutrality at a time of increasing great power competition in the Asia-Pacific. The nuclear weapon states have so far resisted making progress due to four main concerns. However, changes in the global and regional strategic environment over the past few years offer new incentives for them to reconsider their positions. New development in military technologies also makes many of the original concerns less relevant today. If all parties, including the Southeast Asian countries and the nuclear weapon states, are willing to exercise political flexibility, there should be no serious obstacle for them to take the final step and close the deal soon. As the nuclear weapon states face increasing international pressure to make new progress on disarmament, signing and ratifying the protocol should be a top priority to consider.
1. When the five nuclear weapon states (NWS) met in Washington, DC in the fall of 2016 as part of the P5 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council who happen to also be the five NWS: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) process to discuss nuclear arms control and non-proliferation issues, they reaffirmed “their readiness to sign the protocol to the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone [SEANWFZ] at the soonest possible time.” In 2017, the SEANWFZ Treaty will see its 20th anniversary of entering into force, but the protocol has not been signed by any of the NWS. Five years have passed since the last time the NWS came close to signing the protocol in 2012. New developments in the region and across the globe in recent years have important implications for the prospects of the protocol entering into force but have been largely neglected. This paper seeks to offer an assessment of existing disagreements and new developments with a view toward identifying possible areas of progress.
Main Concerns of NWS Countries
2. Based on open sources, the five countries designated as NWS under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) have four main concerns about signing and ratifying the Protocol to the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty.
3. First, some NWS do not want to offer a comprehensive negative security assurance to everyone within the zone. There are two issues about…