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This paper was prepared for the 24th United Nations Conference on Disarmament Issues,
Shizuoka, Japan, 30 January – 1 February, 2013

A Possible Approach for Establishing
a Northeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone

Hiromichi Umebayashi, Director
Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition, Nagasaki University (RECNA)

§ Introduction

In late 2011 a new initiative appeared regarding efforts to establish a Northeast Asia nuclear-weapon-free zone (NEA-NWFZ). Since then, the framework of the discussion has generally shifted from the question of whether such a zone might even be possible and, if so, what kind of scheme it would be, to what kind of approach might to be taken to actually realize it. This shift has been brought about by a proposal made by Morton H. Halperin, a well-known U.S. foreign policy expert, at a workshop on East Asia security that was organized by Nautilus Institute in Tokyo in November 2011[1]. His contribution was soon published in an article entitled “A Proposal for a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone in Northeast Asia.” [2] Discussions of this proposal then took place at two successive independent workshops — one in Washington D.C. in October 2012[3] and the other in Nagasaki in December 2012[4]. The latter was organized by our Center RECNA together with other institutions, and is to be followed by a sister workshop in Seoul in June of this year, which will be organized by RECNA, Korean institutes and others. The details of the Halperin’s proposal will be discussed later in this paper.

§ Scheme Proposals

After the end of the Cold War, a Northeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (NEA-NWFZ) became more than a political slogan and several concrete proposals with different arrangements have been proposed. A chronology of such proposals is appended at the end of this paper.

The first of such proposals was made by a research group led by John E. Endicott in 1995 after three years research cooperation[5]. One typical scheme they presented is a circular zone with 2000 km radius centered on Panmunjom, which encircles the whole land area of the Republic of Korea (ROK), the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Japan and Taiwan, and part of China, Russia and Mongolia. The U.S. is also included in the treaty arrangement because it has military bases in the ROK and Japan. The Track II study of such a circular scheme, together with a later elliptical modification, led to a proposal of a Limited NWFZ in which only non-strategic nuclear weapons are prohibited in the zone.

Among others, the present author proposed a scenario called the “three plus three” in 1996[6], in which a trilateral NEA-NWFZ treaty among Japan, the ROK and the DPRK was envisioned. It included a special protocol with provisions including negative security assurances by the three neighboring nuclear weapon states (NWS) — China, Russia and the United States of America. Later, in 2004, a model treaty was developed by the same author in cooperation with NGOs in Japan and the ROK[7]. In that model treaty, while continuing to be based upon the three plus three scenario, a six-party treaty, rather than a three-party treaty, was proposed. The parties to the treaty would be divided into two categories: “Intrazonal states” (Japan, ROK and DPRK) and “neighboring NWS” (China, Russia and U.S.). Geographically, the NEA-NWFZ is composed of the territory of the intrazonal states. Provisions stipulating obligations of neighboring NWS, including security assurances, were incorporated into the main text of the treaty, rather than provided in a protocol because they are deemed essential to the treaty negotiation process from its outset.

§ Regional and Global Contexts

The study on a NEA-NWFZ has been undertaken with mid- or long-term goals of the region in mind. — To reverse the on-going attempt by the DPRK to acquire and strengthen its nuclear deterrent, as well as the counter military actions by Japan and the ROK by means of the strengthened U.S. extended deterrence including nuclear elements. — To prevent a foreseeable competitive escalation of nuclear development among Japan, the ROK and the DPRK, or between Japan and a reunified Korea. — To establish mechanisms to implement the provisions of a NEA-NWFZ treaty, including verification and energy cooperation, as the first step toward further confidence building and broader cooperative security mechanisms in the region.

While these objectives continue to be relevant today, the establishment of a NEA-NWFZ is increasingly more important in the global context, because it will contribute to contemporary global nuclear disarmament efforts. Today is an historic moment for human kind to grasp the rare opportunity for the global elimination of nuclear weapons. The determination to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons has been manifested in numerous statements and documents in recent years. At such a moment, everywhere in the world, especially in the regions where nuclear weapons have been playing significant roles as in Northeast Asia, nations have to demonstrate efforts to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in their security policies and to pursue the possibility of regional peace and security without reliance on nuclear weapons. In fact, ongoing global nuclear disarmament efforts by non-nuclear countries that rely upon extended nuclear deterrence, such as efforts by my own country Japan, have implications beyond the requirements for NWS nuclear disarmament in that those requirements are also applicable to non-nuclear countries like themselves.

As an effort to implement the agreed action plan for nuclear disarmament at the 2010 NPT Review Conference, a ten-nation group initiated by Japan and Australia, called the NPDI (Non-proliferation and Disarmament Initiative), presented a working paper entitled, “Transparency of Nuclear Weapons” [8] at the 2012 Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2015 NPT Review Conference. In this working paper, they developed a standard report form to be used by nuclear weapon states (NWS) in order to secure progressive nuclear disarmament in a transparent manner. In the standard form they proposed, one of the items to be included is “the measures taken to diminish the role and significance of nuclear weapons in military and security concepts, doctrines and policies.” Moreover, the NPDI requests its rapid implementation by encouraging NWS to start reporting at every PrepCom, namely beginning this year. Obviously this request should be directed not only to NWS, but also to states adopting security policy involving extended nuclear deterrence, such as Japan and others. In fact, this point was addressed by a South African delegate at the same PrepCom, who said, “those states that are part of military alliances which includes NWS, should report, as a significant transparency and confidence-building measure, on steps taken or future steps planned to reduce and eliminate the role of nuclear weapons in collective security doctrines.” [9] The establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free-zone is a typical way toward a security arrangement to eliminate the role of nuclear weapons regionally.

§ Deadlock of the Six Party Talks

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the birth of the Six-Party Talks in August 2003. At the time of the introduction of a NEA-NWFZ with a three plus three arrangement in 1996, there were no Six-Party Talks. The Talks eventually involved the same six countries as proposed in the arrangement and became a potential forum to discuss such a zone. When we developed a six-party model treaty, there was no September 19 Joint Statement of 2005, the fundamental agreement among the six parties. The September 19 Joint Statement acknowledges the relevance of security cooperation in Northeast Asia to “the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” by saying: “The Six Parties agreed to explore ways and means for promoting security cooperation in Northeast Asia.” A NEA-NWFZ typifies such ways and means for security cooperation. Moreover, the agreement of February 2007 on “Initial Actions for the Implementation of the Joint Statement” established five working groups including one devoted to a “Northeast Asia Peace and Security Mechanism.”

Another innovative element is found in the 2005 Joint Statement. In addition to the DPRK’s commitment to “abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs,” the United States affirmed that it has “no intention to attack or invade the DPRK with nuclear or conventional weapons.” This means that future security assurances by nuclear weapon states could be extended to include response to an attack by conventional weapons and that a new dimension of the regional security cooperation mechanism could possibly be envisioned in this regard. The importance of this statement centers on its implication of the transformation of the 1953 Armistice Treaty of Korean War into a permanent peace treaty.

On the other hand, the past seven years have witnessed serious negative developments regarding the DPRK nuclear program. The DPRK conducted two underground nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009. Although the weaponization of those devices has not yet been proven, it will not be surprising if this becomes apparent in very near future. Also, the DPRK demonstrated its ongoing indigenous plan of so-called “Juche-based nuclear power industry” [10], involving the construction of a prototype small light water reactor (LWR) and a modern centrifuge uranium enrichment facility, as was observed by a team of U.S. experts who visited Pyongyang in November 2010[11].

The latter development relative to the LWR is considered to be more or less consistent with arguments maintained by the DPRK both before and after the start of the Six-Party Talks and could be used as a renewed path for the international community to engage the DPRK with multi-faceted deliberations[12]. Regarding the former development of escalated nuclear deterrence, it is important to note that the DPRK has never hinted that it would possess a nuclear deterrent for the purpose of dominance, but it continues to say to the effect that the deterrence is needed to assure national security and regime preservation. Following intervening events, such as the passing of Kim Jong-Il and the regime succession by Kim Jong-Un, the U.S. and the DPRK resumed their bilateral talks on pending nuclear issues in late 2011 and early 2012, resulting in a seemingly positive agreement, while the actual contents of the agreement remain unclear. According to a statement issued by the DPRK Foreign Ministry spokesman in late February 2012, the Kim Jong-Un regime has reaffirmed its commitments in the September 19 statement during the US-DPRK bilateral talks[13]. Whatever was the truth of the agreement, the DPRK satellite launch in December 2012 prevented any further progress of the bilateral talks, not to mention the Six-Party Talks. In consequence, the Six-Party Talks have been dead-locked for a full four years since December 2008, when the parties failed to agree on any verification process at a meeting of the heads of delegation during the sixth session of the Talks.

§ Halperin’s Proposal on a Comprehensive Agreement

It was in the context of how to overcome this deadlock and to realize the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula that Morton H. Halperin proposed a comprehensive agreement including the establishment of a NEA-NWFZ. There seem to be two major underlying recognitions that motivated his proposition. One is the devastating consequences of the proliferation domino effect, both regionally and globally, that would result from the emergence of the DPRK as a de facto permanent nuclear power. Thus, he argues, “Until and unless it is absolutely clear that reversing North Korea’s nuclear program is not possible, Western security policy in the region must be directed at persuading the North to give up its nuclear weapons.” [14] The other is the near success achieved in the relationship between the U.S. and the DPRK in 2000, after a kind of comprehensive negotiations at that time, the near success that culminated in the U.S.–DPRK Joint Communique followed by the visit to Pyongyang by Madeleine Albright, then U.S. Secretary of State. Halperin served as Director of the Policy Planning at the U.S. Department of State at that time. The Joint Communique reads, “As the first important step both sides declared that any of the two governments entertains no hostile intention toward the other and affirmed the commitment to make all efforts to establish new relations free from past antagonism in the future.” [15]

Halperin argues that as long as the U.S. (and its allies) and DPRK cannot agree to the cause of the failure of the implementation of the agreed steps of the Six-Party Talks, “an effort must be made to bypass this dispute.” And, he suggests pursuing a ‘Comprehensive Agreement (or Treaty) on Peace and Security in Northeast Asia’ covering all outstanding issues affecting relations with North Korea”. In a sense, this approach appears similar to the 1994 ‘Agreed Framework’, which created KEDO (Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization) that eventually failed, after the culmination of near success of the year 2000 as mentioned above. However, the new Comprehensive Agreement is meant to be modified to meet today’s circumstances in its comprehensiveness and multilateralism. It will create a permanent organization to implement and enforce the comprehensive agreement unlike KEDO that was meant to deal with the energy issue only.

Six key elements in the comprehensive agreement he proposed include:
1. Termination of the state of war.
2. Creating a permanent council on security.
3. Mutual declaration of no hostile intent.
4. Provisions of assistances for nuclear and other energy.
5. Termination of sanctions/response to violations of the treaty.
6. A nuclear-weapons-free zone

While the original papers should be consulted for the detailed accounts of these elements, it is useful to note some features of the proposed NEA-NWFZ. The fundamental structure of the zone is the same as that of a three plus three arrangement. Namely, the geographical zone consists of the territorial areas of Japan, the ROK and the DPRK, and three nuclear weapon states, the U.S., Russia and China, are obligated not to store nuclear weapons in the zone as well as not to use or threaten to use such weapons against the countries within the zone. As is the case in other preceding discussions, it is open to modification, such as expansion to include Mongolia into the zone[16]. It includes a provision concerning the destruction of existing stockpiles as in the case of Pelindaba Treaty which involves South Africa, a past nuclear weapons holder. One of the new challenges that Halperin’s NWFZ proposal might address is to restrict reprocessing by non-nuclear weapon states by some means. The inspection provisions to verify compliance with the treaty are equally applied to countries within the zone and conducted by an organization controlled by the permanent security council created by the Agreement (or Treaty).

Also it is important to note that the term “Comprehensive Agreement” in Halperin’s concept is used in a limited context so that it can be strictly relevant to solving the current stalemate and not in a general context for broader regional security. This avoids the situation where a concept of comprehensiveness is unnecessarily broadened and goes beyond the original intent of the agreement.

§ Good Opportunity to be Exploited

Naturally there are, and will be, discussions pro and con regarding the concept proposed by Halperin. In fact, one can observe a variety of views that appeared in the workshop held in Washington DC in October 2012[17]. However, there is no doubt that we need a new approach to solve the current stalemate regarding nuclear problems in Northeast Asia and that Halperin’s proposal provides a reasonable starting point to move in the right direction. This is especially true today, when new administrations are taking office nearly at the same time in key relevant countries, including the second term of President Obama in the United States, President Xi Jinping in China, President Park in the ROK, and Prime Minister Abe in Japan, with First Secretary Kim Jong-Un in the office one year earlier. In such circumstances, our center RECNA launched a research project entitled “Developing a Comprehensive Approach to a NEA-NWFZ” in cooperation with other institutes.

Some areas that we consider worthy of further deliberation are as follows:

Elements to be included in the comprehensive agreement: While the comprehensive agreement should be as simple as possible, it may be appropriate to think about possible elements to be added, or to be subordinated, to the six elements proposed by Halperin. For example, since UN sanctions against the DPRK enforced by the Security Council Resolution are related not only to nuclear programs, but also to missile programs, the means by which to address the missile or space rocket issue in the agreement would be a subject to be considered. Even if the nuclear weapons issue is resolved and thus, the missile issue might not be as serious as at present, we need to have a clear picture of the ultimate solution at the very outset.

Modalities of the general agreement:
One of the characteristics of Halperin’s approach is that a legally binding treaty with general agreement on the elements should come first, before any negotiations start on steps to be taken to achieve them. A binding treaty will have to be approved by the national parliament of each party to the treaty. So if we can find strong leadership among one or more key countries concerned, I think the legally-binding-treaty-first option will be the best and most feasible approach. However, a declaration on such an agreement signed by the heads of the governments concerned might work if we have broad national and international public support. It will be worthwhile to study further the modalities of the general agreement, which will serve as the firm and sound, while still feasible, basis for future negotiations.

Ideas on treaty provisions of a NEA-NWFZ:
The negotiation histories of the existing NWFZs provide us with rich lessons, including a fundamental understanding that each NWFZ devises provisions unique to its own region, reflecting its regional histories and geopolitics. There have already been such unique ideas proposed for Northeast Asia in Halperin’s paper as well as in others[18], for example, regarding entry-into-force provisions and regional verification mechanisms. A systematic review and revision of such ideas will be necessary.

Steps for preparatory diplomatic work:
While it is no doubt important that prior close consultations take place among U.S. and its allies, as pointed out by Halperin, the dialogue between U.S. and China at an early stage is mandatory as well, considering their recent delicate relationship over the security of East Asia, including that of the South China Sea. In order to pursue such dialogues in parallel, we will need a draft text of the Comprehensive Agreement as a shared reference point to ensure mutual trust. The possibility of a party, including from non-governmental organizations, coming forth in the role of broker or catalyzing agent, deserves serious consideration.

Mongolia’s potential critical role:
Last year, Mongolia marked the twentieth anniversary of its declaration of a unique single-state nuclear-weapon-free status. Its remarkable diplomatic endeavors drew a five plus one parallel declaration on September 17, 2012 to obtain P5’s reaffirmation of their respect of Mongolia’s non-nuclear status, including negative security assurances. On that occasion, Ambassador Enkhsaikhan, Mongolia’s focal point and the coordinator of the country’s nuclear-weapon-free status, expressed Mongolia’s commitment to the nuclear-free Northeast Asia. I want to quote his statement[19]: “Mongolia is a part of the Northeast Asian region and believes that an open, unbiased and comprehensive approach is needed to addressing the region’s pressing issues, especially ridding the region of nuclear weapons. In this respect it is prepared to participate in the joint search for mutually beneficial arrangements and solutions.” Considering the fact that Mongolia is a neighbor to the Six Parties of the three plus three arrangement, in fact making it a four plus three arrangement, that it maintains good relationship with the DPRK, and that it will acquire legally binding negative security assurances in a NEA-NWFZ unlike the non-binding P5 declaration above, Mongolia could play a critical role in initiating the comprehensive agreement process in NEA.

— End

Chronology of Proposals on a Northeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone

 Mar. 1995

 John Endicott, et al. [20]  Limited Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (LNWFZ),
 involving only non-strategic weapons.
 A Circular Zone with 2000 km radius centered
 on Panmunjom or an elliptical zone.
 1995  Andrew Mack[21]  NWFZ involving the ROK, DPRK, Japan and Taiwan
 Mar. 1996  Kumao Kaneko[22]  A Circular Zone with 2000 km radius centered
 on Panmunjom. Different obligations posed
 on nuclear weapons state and non-nuclear
 weapons states.
 May 1996  Hiromichi Umebayashi[23]  Three plus Three nations arrangement involving ROK,
 DPRK and Japan as non-nuclear weapons states and
 China, Russia and U.S. as nuclear weapons states.
 Oct. 1997  John Endicott, et al. [24]  NEA League of Non-Nuclear States, involving the ROK,
 Japan and Mongolia (and DPRK if possible) as
 a phase I formation of the LNWFZ.
 Jun. 2000  Seongwhun Cheon & Tatsujiro Suzuki[25]  A NWFZ supported by a tri-party treaty among
 ROK, DPRK and Japan.
 Apr. 2004  Hiromichi Umebayashi, et al. [26]  A model NWFZ treaty drafted based upon
 a Three plus Three nations arrangement.
 Spring 2007  J. Enkhsaikhan[27]  An approach to form a zone through relevant
 non-nuclear constituent states’ attaining
 single state NWF status.
 Aug. 2008  DPJ Disarmament Group[28]  A draft treaty proposal based upon
 a Three plus Three arrangement
 Nov. 2008  Jaejung Suh[29]  Multilateralization of 1992 Joint Declaration
 for Denuclearization of the Korean
 Peninsula by making protocols to it.
 May 2010  Nautilus Institute[30]  An approach to form a zone by establishing
 first a NWFZ composed of Japan and ROK.
 Nov. 2011  Morton H. Halperin[31]  An approach to conclude a comprehensive
 agreement among member states of
 the Six-Party Talks and others on key elements
 including the establishment of a NEA-NWFZ.


[1] “East Asia Nuclear Security Workshop,” Tokyo November 11, 2011, cosponsored by Nautilus Institute, Mansfield Foundation, and Asia-Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament.
[2] Morton H. Halperin, Global Asia Vol. 6, No.4, winter 2011. Also there is a revised paper “A New Approach to Security in Northeast Asia: Breaking the Gridlock,” The Asia Pacific Journal, Vol. 10, Issue 34, Aug. 20, 2012.
[3] The workshop “A New Approach to Security in Northeast Asia: Breaking the Gridlock,” Washington D.C. October 9-10, 2012, cosponsored by Nautilus Institute and Woodrow Wilson Center.
[4] “Developing a Comprehensive Approach to a Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone — Workshop I,” Nagasaki, December 7-8, 2012.
[5] John E. Endicott and Alan G. Gorowitz, “Track II Cooperative Regional Security Efforts: Lessons from the Limited Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone for Northeast Asia,” Pacific Review, vol. 11, no. 3, October 1999.
[6] Hiromichi Umebayashi, “A Northeast Asia NWFZ: A Realistic and Attainable Goal,” at INESAP Conference, Gothenburg, Sweden, May 30 – June 2, 1996, and published in INESAP Bulletin, No. 10, August 1996.
[7] The model treaty has been revised several times. Draft 4 is available in the Peace Depot Working Paper No.1 E, “A Model Treaty on the Northeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone,” November 2005. The most recent version, draft 7, is available in the appendix of the book in Japanese. Hiromichi Umebayashi, “Hi-kakuheikichitai – Kakunaki Sekai eno Michisuji” (“Nuclear Weapon Free Zone – A Pathway to the World without Nuclear Weapons”), Iwanami-Shoten, September 28, 2011.
[8] “Transparency of nuclear weapons: the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative,” NPT/CONF.2015/PC.I/WP.12, 20 April 2012.
[9] Statement by Ambassador Xolisa Mabhongo, on behalf of the New Agenda Coalition, at the First PrepCom for the 2015 Review Conference of NPT, 3 May 2012.
[10] Foreign Ministry Statement of the DPRK, “DPRK Foreign Ministry Vehemently Refutes UNSC’s Presidential Statement,” Korea Central News Agency, April 14, 2009.
[11] Siegfried S. Hecker, “Redefining denuclearization in North Korea,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 20 December 2010.
[12] David von Hippel and Peter Hayes, “Engaging the DPRK Enrichment and Small LWR Program,” Nautilus Institute Special Report, December 23, 2010.
[13] Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), “DPRK Foreign Ministry Spokesman on Result of DPRK-U.S. Talks,” February 29, 2012.
[14] Morton H. Halperin, “A Proposal for a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone in Northeast Asia,” Global Asia Vol. 6, No.4, winter 2011.
[15] KCNA, “Joint communique between DPRK and USA,” October 12, 2000.
[16] For example, see note 7.
[17] Peter Hayes, “A Breakthrough Six-Party Summit in 2013? Why Not?,” Global Asia, Vol. 7, No.4, Winter 2012. Papers presented at the workshop can be seen at projects/by-name/korea-japan-nwfz/workshops/gridlock/
[18] See for example; Peter Hayes & Richard Tanter, “Key Elements of Northeast Asia Nuclear-Weapons Free Zone (NEA-NWFZ)”, September 26, 2012. ; Hiromichi Umebayashi, “A Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone with a three-plus- three Arrangement,” March 13, 2012. Also see note 7.
[19] See:
[20] See note 5.
[21] Andrew Mack, “A Northeast Asia Nuclear-Free Zone: Problems and Prospects,” Chapter 11 of Nuclear Policies in Northeast Asia, UMDIRI95I16, United Nations, 1995
[22] Kumao Kaneko, “Japan Needs No Umbrella,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, March/April 1996
[23] See note 6.
[24] John E. Endicott, “The Moscow Memorandum,” Moscow, Russia, 11 October 1997. The text in its entirety can be found in the document cited in note 5.
[25] Cheon Seongwhun & Tatsujiro Suzuki, “The Tripartite Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Northeast Asia: A Long-term Objective of the Six-Party Talks,” International Journal of Korean Unification Studies, Vol. 12, No. 2, 2003, pp. 41-68.
[26] See note 7.
[27] J. Enkhsaikhan, “Mongolia’s non-nuclear status – en important element of Northeast Asia security,” Single State NWFZ: progress and prospects, Blue Banner, Ulaanbaatar, 2007.
[29] Suh Jaejung, “Wither the Korean Peninsula? – The U.S., Korea and Northeast Asia at a Critical Juncture,” The Fourth Busan International Symposium, 20 November 2008.
[30] “Korea-Japan Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (KJNWFZ) Concept Paper,” Nautilus Institute, May 6, 2010.
[31] See note 1 and 2.


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