At a ceremony on the margins of last week’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) preparatory committee meeting in New York, the governments of France, the United Kingdom and the United States reversed their long-standing opposition and joined China and Russia in signing the protocol to the Central Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Agreement. The regional nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ)—the world’s fifth—was established in March 2009, following ratification by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan of the Treaty of Semipalatinsk, which they signed in 2006. The zone will officially enter into force once the protocol is ratified by the five states that signed it on May 6.
Article VII of the NPT guarantees the right of states to establish such zones, and the United Nations has developed a precise definition as well as generic principles and guidelines for the authors of the relevant agreements. The five treaties establishing regional NWFZs all oblige their states parties to forego research, development, manufacture, stockpiling or other efforts to obtain any nuclear explosive devices in the territory specified by the texts. They further require parties to avoid assisting other countries from undertaking such activities in the region covered by the zone. Conversely, the treaties typically affirm the right of states parties to pursue nuclear energy for peaceful purposes such as research and commerce, providing all their nuclear material and installations are placed under the full-scope safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). These measures allow the IAEA to verify that all activities at declared nuclear sites have peaceful purposes. ...
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