TOWARDS A NUCLEAR-FREE ASIA PACIFIC: LIFE-AFFIRMING CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
Roland G. Simbulan*
(Keynote address before the 2017 Asian No-Nukes Forum Against War and Poverty, Paradise Adventure Camp, San Jose del Monte, Bulacan. January 7, 2017)
Thank you for again asking me to give the Keynote address to your conference. It is always an honor to share my views at the beginning of the year in front of an audience of Japanese and Filipino advocates for peace and a nuclear-free Asia Pacific.
I do not want to spoil what is usually a time of the year for HOPE and GOODWILL with a gloomy report. But we are descending into dark and dangerous times, with terrible implications for so many. In a recent interview last Dec. 9, 2016, Noam Chomsky spoke about two of the most dangerous threats our human species is facing today:
- the terrifying possibility of a nuclear war, and
- the accelerating destruction of human-fueled climate change.
Chomsky said that the world is in its most severe threat to its existence in human history. Maybe Chomsky said this in the aftermath of the unexpected victory of the extremist Donald Trump, who as U.S. president will now be given the nuclear codes and power to launch one of the largest nuclear arsenals in the world – estimated to be the 7,000 nuclear weapons of the United States.
But as long as we are alive, there are always opportunities in the problems that we face in life no matter how dangerous and terrifying, that give us life-affirming hope and opportunities.
TWENTY ONE YEARS have passed since the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone Treaty (SEA-NWFZT) was signed, on Dec. 15, 1995 in Bangkok by all the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN. Designated as the “Bangkok Treaty”, the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone Treaty was entered into force (EIF) on March 28, 1997.
The first Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty after the Cold War, the Bangkok Treaty is considered a model for regional de-nuclearization. According to Dr. Hiro Umebayashi, Director of the Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition of Nagasaki University, this is because “it applies not just to territories but includes in its coverage Exclusive Economic Zones and Continental Shelves.” It also prohibits the dumping or discharge of radioactive material or nuclear waste in its area of coverage. This is why, predictably, even today, all the five Nuclear Weapons States( NWS) which include Russia, the U.S., China, U.K. and France refuse to sign its Protocols. But are the states of Southeast Asia, genuine Nuclear Weapons-Free states today?
The Bangkok Treaty emphasized ASEAN’s desire in signing and ratifying a formal treaty against nuclear weapons with the following goal: “Towards general and complete nuclear disarmament of nuclear weapons and the promotion of international peace and security.” The Treaty, in its preamble, proclaimed “ASEAN’s aims to protect the region from environmental pollution and the hazards posed by dumping of radioactive waste and other radioactive materials.”
The concept of a nuclear weapons-free zone was explored in the mid-80s by ASEAN on the assumption that they will have “mutual assurance that member states do not acquire nuclear weapons in the future.” This was to be an internal goal of ASEAN. On the other hand, as an external goal, “ASEAN wants to prevent the Nuclear Weapons States to introduce nuclear weapons in the area.”
Despite its existence for the past twenty years since 1995, we can identify three provisions and issues in the Bangkok Treaty why Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) have refused to sign the Protocols to the treaty:
- Transit rights and port/airfield visits thru compliance mediation;
- Sovereignty of states over EEZs and continental shelves;
- Negative Security Arrangements by NWS treaty protocols.
In principle, all of these issues pertain to the non-access to be given Nuclear Weapons States of their military forces with nuclear weapons and nuclear propulsion in the territories and waters as defined by the SEA-NWFZ Treaty.
The groundwork for the SEA-NWFZ Treaty was done when the original five ASEAN countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand) met in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Nov. 27, 1971, and signed the ASEAN’s Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN). Inevitably, in a nuclear-armed world, the target of ZOPFAN was to have a nuclear weapons-free zone in Southeast Asia. The ASEAN then agreed that “denuclearization effectively should ban all nuclear weapons in the region.”
Since the late 60s, the concept of Nuclear Weapons-Free Areas hasbeen developed internationally through the Treaty of Tlatelolco (LatinAmerica and the Caribbean), the Treaty of Pelindaba ( Africa), the Treaty of Rarotonga ( South Pacific)), the Central Asian Treaty which covers five independent states of the former Soviet Union, the Seabed Treaty and the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons in Outer Space. A Northeast Asian NWFZ Treaty has also, long been proposed by peace movements and academics in Japan and South Korea to ease the tensions in the Korean peninsula.
IN many ways the SEA-NWFZT was inspired by the Philippines’ prohibition of nuclear weapons on its territory in its fundamental law. This is expressed in the 1987 Philippine constitution which was drafted and ratified by the Filipino people after the 1986 People Power Revolution. It was therefore not a coincidence that on Dec. 12, 1987 during the ASEAN meeting in Manila that the ASEAN Declaration to establish the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone was first made. And it was also in Manila on June 2007, that the first SEA-NWFZ Treaty Review Conference was done.
On Feb. 2, 1987, The Filipino people – with 76 percent of the 25 million voting population ratifying, overwhelmingly voted for the new post-Marcos dictatorship Philippine Constitution. It was a strongly pro-life Constitution with specific provisions on human rights and social justice. But there was something game-changing in the new Constitution. It had in its “Declaration of State Policies” (Sec. 8, Article II), a provision banning nuclear weapons in Philippine territory. That section reads: “The Philippines, consistent with the national interest, adopts and pursues a policy of freedom from nuclear weapons in its territory.” This made the Philippines one of the very few countries in the world — at that time with Belau (or Palau) and later Mongolia was added to the list — with a nuclear weapons-free provision in its Constitution, the fundamental law of the nation.
Like the foundation and building block towards a self-determined foreign policy, this constitutional ban on nuclear weapons was soon to be enforced with consequences on the future of the sprawling U.S. military bases in the Philippines, the largest overseas naval and air force bases in the world. The constitutional ban on nuclear weapons became the key legal instrument for the Philippine Senate resolution on Sept.16, 1991. The Senate Resolution rejected the renewal of the treaty that would have extended U.S. military bases in the Philippines for another ten years, and subject to further renewal. During the time of the Philippine Senate’s ratification process, U.S. officials insisted on their “neither confirm nor deny” policy with regards to the deployment and transit of nuclear weapons on their bases in the Philippines; thus, the Philippine government assumed that they kept and transited them there, in violation of the Philippine constitution.
According to a now declassified but previously “TOP SECRET” Memo dated 1969 of the U.S. State Department, “Divulgence of the fact that nuclear weapons are stored in the Philippines, and have been there for many years without prior consultation with the Philippine government, would greatly jeopardize U.S.-Philippine relations, particularly on the eve of presidential elections.” This Memo came from a State Department official Robert McClintock who was reminding the Acting Secretary of the U.S. State Department that the storage of nuclear weapons everywhere “would be covered by executive privilege and not divulged to the Symington Subcommittee on overseas commitments.”
ANTI-NUCLEAR movements, NGOs and civil society organizations played a significant role in the Philippine Constitutional ban on nuclear weapons. So, regionally too, NGOs and civil society played a key role in the realization of the SEA-NWFZT. From the perspective of the Southeast Asian peace movements, the SEA-NWFZT was a major victory towards demilitarizing and de-nuclearizing the territories and seas in the region. It is also seen as an important step in denying the United States its military and nuclear infrastructure in the region, or in weakening it, since the U.S. uses its bases and “access” to countries in Southeast Asia as a springboard for aggression and destabilization against the Middle East, if not Asia itself. In short, the SEA-NWFZT will hamper the “freedom of navigation” of interventionist aircraft carriers, nuclear-armed ballistic submarines and other U.S. warships in the area.
There is relevance in connecting the assessment of the enforcement of the SEA-NWFZT with explaining the Philippine 1987 Constitution’s nuclear weapons-free policy. For in suggesting ways to effectively enforce the nuclear weapons-free policy in the Philippines, would also be a way of setting the example for the entire ASEAN. Its enforcement could also set itself as a model for a Northeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty between Japan, South Korea, and DPRK – a grand initiative to de-nuclearize the entire East Asia.
Closer home, it would also be relevant if there was a discussion among ASEAN member states as to why ASEAN – with its NWFZ Treaty – has been consistently riding on the international bandwagon in protesting the testing of missiles by North Korea, but is so quiet about the test firing of ICBM Minuteman III missiles by the U.S. from its continental mainland into the Pacific Ocean. Here, the U.S. target was the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific, 4,000 miles away from the launch, and which is part of the coverage of the Treaty of Rarotonga, a nuclear weapons free zone treaty for the South Pacific. Do we not see any inconsistency here, and double standards, in terms of the letter and spirit of NWFZ and nuclear disarmament?
There, is among certain ASEAN states during SEA-NWFZT Commission meetings, the unnecessary discussion on the pros and cons of the member country’s nuclear energy programs for setting up nuclear power plants. This is not directly relevant to the issue or NWFZT treaty at hand, which is all about freeing the region from nuclear weapons or their components. Anyway, any country legally constructing nuclear power plants and using radioactive material or uranium/plutonium for peaceful uses are already automatically subjected to the protocols of the International Atomic Energy Agency or IAEA. Unless there is an implied suggestion by some ASEAN members that nuclear power/energy be likewise prohibited outright even for their civilian utilization since this could lead to the development of nuclear weapons. This author believes that ASEAN should focus first on effectively and fully implementing the nuclear weapons free policy in the region, rather than taking up issues not directly included in the treaty.
The debate on the above issue is irrelevant in the Philippines since even the Philippine Constitution does not prohibit nuclear power or nuclear energy per se, but just nuclear weapons, to wit: “The Philippines, consistent with the national interest, adopts and pursues a policy of freedom from nuclear weapons in its territory.” In its Constitution, the Philippines does not prohibit nuclear-powered vessels such as U.S. submarines, aircraft carriers or naval vessels with nuclear propulsion. Likewise, the Bangkok Treaty is not a nuclear free treaty; it is a nuclear weapons-free treaty.
BILATERAL security agreements between the United States and the Philippines like the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the 2001 Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) and the new basing agreement signed in 2014 – the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) — for example, were entered into after the NWFZT was signed. This is despite the constitutional prohibition on nuclear weapons, which weakens both the Philippine municipal law and the regional treaty. While EDCA categorically bans the storage of U.S. nuclear weapons on Philippine soil, it is quiet with regards to visiting U.S. aircraft and naval vessels. These are not even challenged on the possibility of the nuclear weapons contraband that they carry when they visit and transit in and out of Philippine territory including its territorial waters.
Would it be a problem if ASEAN states were informed of the movements within the region of nuclear-armed and even nuclear-propelled vessels or fleets — whether they belong to the U.S. China, France, U.K., Russia — whenever such vessels enter ASEAN territorial waters and their Exclusive Economic Zones in compliance with the treaty? This is to ensure the spirit of the Treaty and to secure maritime security and safety from radioactive material of nuclear armed and nuclear-propelled vessels plying the ASEAN seabed and marine life. Many ASEAN peoples depend on fishing resources for their livelihood. Of course, the big powers would always invoke “freedom of navigation” and such preposterous unilateral claims such as the Nine Dash Line of China in the South China Sea.
The question is, if you are banning something from your territory, do you negotiate the terms with the potential violators or drug lords, or do you ban it outright with your enforceable laws in your territory? This can be compared to the standard customs requirement to declare that they are not bringing contraband, and with an option to inspect. Can the ASEAN state parties not require the Nuclear Weapons States entering the nuclear weapons free zone to certify that they are not carrying nuclear weapons, similar to a situation when a visitor traveling to one’s territory is made to certify as part of customs requirements and procedures that he or she is not carrying prohibited narcotics or contraband material? If the possession of nuclear weapons are indeed now considered illegal in the ASEAN region, state laws and municipal laws of ASEAN state parties may in fact utilize this to see the NWFZ treaty effectively enforced. As a matter of fact, a visiting foreign traveler or tourist cannot declare that ” I neither confirm nor deny” that I am carrying narcotics or contraband material upon entering a foreign territory, including its territorial waters.
Ironically, the ASEAN inspiration for its NWFZT –the Philippines — was also the last to ratify the SEA-NWFZT on June 21, 2001 almost four years after the other nine ASEAN states had collectively ratified it in 1997. Was this perhaps a reflection of its vacillating attitude because of U.S. pressures and also because it had forged a bilateral agreement with the United States — the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) which was inconsistent not only with its own national constitution and with its regional commitments in the SEA-NWFZ Treaty?
In 2014, at the meeting in Manila for the ASEAN Commission for the NWFZT, the Ministers reviewed the progress of the implementation of the 2013-2017 Plan of Action to strengthen the SEA-NWFZ Treaty, while reaffirming commitment to preserve Southeast Asia as a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. It is significant to note that the SEA-NWFZ Treaty seeks “to prevent in the territory of States Parties the stationing of any nuclear explosive device” but gives States Parties the discretion in their respective territories. Documents of the ASEAN Commission to implement the SEA-NWFZ Treaty describe “Zones” covered by the treaty as “territories of ASEAN states and their respective continental shelves and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs).
EXPECTEDLY, the strongest objections to the SEA-NWFZ Treaty’s Protocol under which the five Nuclear Weapons States are asked to respect the Treaty and not to violate it, have come from the United States. The United States Navy and U.S. 7th Fleet is one of the most active users of the South China Sea, long treated by the United States as part of its “American Lake”. And with the global economic rise of China especially in ASEAN, the United States and China are today, jockeying for dominance of the South China Sea. All the more terrifying is the possibility that U.S. president Trump will scrap and tear up nuclear arms agreements and commitments of the United States.
The U.S., which is the noisiest in objecting about North Korean nuclear weapons development is also the strongest objector to the ASEAN countries’ assertion of their territorial sovereignty in terms of security assurances over their own territory including EEZ’s and continental shelves. In short, the U.S. objects to “the ambiguity of the treaty language concerning permissibility of port calls by ships which may carry nuclear weapons.” A high-ranking official of the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs whom I interviewed said that from the very start, the U.S. has vehemently opposed this anti-nuclear weapons treaty for Southeast Asia. This is because, long before China began its recent fantastic claims to sovereignty over the entire South China Sea, the U.S. perceived this treaty as restricting, if not challenging, the unhampered operations in the region of the U.S. Seventh Fleet.
The South China Sea is now a regional if not a global flashpoint vis a vis China’s assertiveness on the seas surrounding this global economic colossus, and the rebalancing of U.S. military forces through its “pivot in Asia”. Thus, can we blame the ASEAN countries for being concerned about the South China Sea when this is an active lake for the Russian, American, Chinese, British and French navies which have, according to the 2014 Federation of American Scientists, the largest nuclear arsenals in the world? Among NWS, only China has verbally committed to sign the Protocol but this has not happened yet; to this day no NWS has signed the Protocols of the Bangkok Treaty.
IN 1994, the Nuclear Free Philippines Coalition (NFPC) which I chair recommended the following proposals to the ASEAN Commission for the SEA-Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty through the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs:
First, ASEAN should seek concrete steps and measures to enforce and effectively implement the spirit and letter of its NWFZ treaty and put more muscle into the SEA-NWFZT Commission which ASEAN established precisely to put teeth to the treaty. As the treaty was signed by ASEAN 20 years ago, yet we still have to see it enforced. In 1988, the Philippine Senate by a vote of 19 “yes” votes versus 3 “no” votes, passed Senate Bill No. 413, “Enforcing the policy of freedom from nuclear weapons provided in the Constitution and declaring unlawful certain acts in violation of the said policy, and for other purposes.” This was to be the Constitutional directive that would guide the Senate in its eventual rejection of the U.S. bases treaty in Sept. 16, 1991, because of the U.S. insistence “to neither confirm nor deny the existence of nuclear weapons” in their bases in the Philippines.
Second, being the only state with a nuclear weapons-free Constitution, the Philippines, following the spirit of the SEA-NWFZT which it inspired, should encourage the nine other ASEAN states to adopt nuclear weapons free policies with implementing rules and regulations in their Constitutions (like the Philippines), or through parliamentary legislation (like in New Zealand). Why would the State enforcer be burdened with transit rights and port/airfield visits, with sovereignty issues and zones of applications, when Nuclear Weapons States treat these as natural rights in their respective territories, but does not apply it to others? The Negative Security Assurance is a necessary assurance that we will not be targets of nuclear retaliation when Nuclear Weapons States submarines/vessels launch missiles from the ASEAN zone.
Finally, to make an enforceable and effective NWFZ Treaty, we should consider a situation where ASEAN can tap the expertise of its very vibrant civil society organizations, especially non-state entities and non-government organizations in monitoring and implementing the SEA-NWFZ Treaty. The ASEAN region today has a wide reservoir of NGOs and civil society organizations which have developed sufficient expertise in monitoring an implementing an anti-nuclear weapons treaty — nationally as well as regionally.
Only then will ASEAN’s nuclear weapons-free zone treaty make an impact on efforts to attain genuine regional peace and security, secure environmental security in the region and contribute to global nuclear disarmament.
The spirit behind NWFZs – which is to significantly contribute to efforts to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in security policies — has been well defined by the United Nations’ Disarmament Commission when its declared in 1999:
“Each Nuclear Weapons Free Zone is the product of the specific circumstances of the region concerned and highlights the diversity of situations in the different regions. Moreover, the establishment of NWFZ is a dynamic process. The experience of existing NWFZs clearly shows that these are not static structures and also in spite of the diversity of the situation in different regions, highlights the feasibility of establishment of the new NWFZs.”
With these nuclear weapons free zones in place, is it still relevant to have bilateral or multilateral military alliances like the Ampo between Japan and the United States, or the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the United States which has branched out into other agreements like the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Security Agreement?
Are these not directed against other nations, or considered as hostile war-preparations and belligerent acts?
Perhaps, we can also learn from our European counterparts in the anti-nuclear campaign to focus on financial institutions which have large investments in the nuclear industry – for nuclear power development and indirectly, for nuclear weapons. This is to say that the discourse and conversation on our nuclear weapons campaign must also deal and target the financial sources – nuclear power investments. It is said that the biggest investors in the Asia Pacific on nuclear power and indirectly, on nuclear weapons development are in Japan and India: the Mitsubishi UFJ Financial (Japan), and Sumitomo
Mitsui Financial (Japan); and the Life Insurance Corporation of India. The 15 thousand nuclear weapons that is in the hands of nuclear armed powers relies on the banks, financial funds and insurance companies which have financial relations with companies involved in nuclear production companies which are also involved in other weapons of mass destruction.
Ultimately, there is only one way to stop nuclear-armed countries from using nuclear weapons, or for terrorists from getting a nuclear weapons: Keep the fissile material out of their hands. There is no such thing as a “safe” application of nuclear technology as the case of Fukushima in Japan shows. In a recent official estimate of the Japan Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, it was admitted that the cost of the Fukushima nuclear disaster has reached 20 Trillion Yen, or US $126 Billion. A safe and secure world has to be completely nuclear- free without nuclear power plants that breed nuclear weapons. International cooperation and solidarity also has to be strengthened, as well as the rule of international law.
As the Philippines is the only country among ASEAN that has adopted a nuclear weapons-free policy in its national constitution, it is no small feat that its policy has now become not just a regional aspiration, but a reality as expressed in a formal treaty signed twenty years ago by the 10-member ASEAN. It is therefore imperative for ASEAN member states to now take the next step to enforce the spirit and letter of the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty. This means to put more collective muscle through the Commission on the NWFZ Treaty, a mechanism which ASEAN established in 2014 in Manila. It has been observed that this “Commission” does not even have a secretariat of its own.
This collective endeavor will go a long way in easing the current tensions in the South China Sea, a sea that embraces almost the entire Southeast Asia. It may get us closer to sustaining regional and global peace and economic prosperity.
Gerson, Joseph. 2007. Empire and the Bomb: How the U.S. Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World. London, UK: Pluto Press.
Lutz, Catherine, editor. 2009. The Bases of Empire: The Global Struggle Against U.S. Military Posts .London, U.K.: Pluto Press.
National Security Archive, George Washington University. http://www.gwu.edu/-nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB197/nd-17c.pdf
Umebayashi, H., Maclellan, N. and Willis, P. 1989. Nuclear Oceans. Melbourne: Victorian Association of Peace Studies.
* Roland G. Simbulan is Professor in Development Studies and Public Management at the University of the Philippines. He was the National Chairman of the Nuclear-Free Philippines Coalition(NFPC), which succeeded in lobbying for the freedom from nuclear weapons provision in the 1987 Philippine Constitution, leading to the removal of U.S. bases from the Philippines. Email: email@example.com