Tag: South Pacific

Nuclear umbrella or nuclear-free?

Australia’s disarmament dilemma

By Michael Hamel-Green

In this background paper, professor Michael Hamel-Green unpacks the paradox of Australia on the one hand being party to the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone, and relying on a nuclear security strategy through the ANZUS Security Treaty with the United States on the other.

South Pacific

click to enlarge map

click to enlarge map

The South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty, also known as the Treaty of Rarotonga, was adopted in 1985, and the Treaty came into force with its eighth ratification on 11 December 1986. The zone now includes thirteen countries (Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu) and ten territories (Christmas Island, Cocos Islands, Heard and McDonald Islands, Norfolk Island (Australia), Tokelau (New Zealand), French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna (France), Pitcairn Islands (United Kingdom), and American Samoa (United States)).

The Treaty bans the use, testing, and possession of nuclear weapons within the Zone. With the notable exception of the United States, all the nuclear-weapon states of the NPT have ratified the parts of the Treaty that apply to them.

During the first few decades of the Cold War, the South Pacific and surrounding regions experienced wide-ranging atmospheric and underwater testing, causing considerable concern. The first steps toward creating the Zone were taken in 1975, when New Zealand called for the establishment of a South Pacific Zone – an idea the UN General Assembly endorsed later that year. After a short period of inactivity, Australia took up the baton at a meeting of the South Pacific Forum in 1983. The efforts ultimately resulted in a draft Treaty being prepared by a working group and opened for signature two years later.

Australia is one of the few countries in the world to be part of both a nuclear umbrella and a NWFZ. The compatibility of these two commitments is disputed.

LEGAL DOCUMENTS: Treaty of Rarotonga
The South Pacific Nuclear-weapon-free zone treaty was opened for signature on August 6 1985. The treaty entered into force on 11 December 1986 and has been ratified by all 13 signatory states.