South Pacific Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Rarotonga)
The South Pacific Nuclear-Free Zone (SPNFZ) was established by the Treaty of Rarotonga, which prohibits the possession, acquisition, stationing, or testing of any nuclear explosive device. By prohibiting all nuclear explosions, even those intended for peaceful purposes, the Treaty of Rarotonga’s restrictions exceed those of the Treaty of Tlatelolco. The Treaty of Rarotonga also bans the dumping of radioactive material anywhere within the South Pacific region. As part of the Treaty’s verification control system, state parties are required to apply comprehensive IAEA safeguards to their nuclear activities. The control system also calls for mandatory on-site inspections to assure compliance.
Article 5 of the Treaty upholds each party’s right to remain “free to decide for itself whether to allow visits by foreign ships and aircraft to its ports and airfields…in a manner not covered by the rights of innocent passage, archipelagic sea lane passage or transit passage of straits.” Thus the Treaty does not explicitly prohibit the transport of nuclear weapons through the zone on foreign vessels or aircraft.
The Treaty includes three protocols: (1) the United States, France, and the United Kingdom—all of which control territories in the region—are required to apply the Treaty’s prohibitions to their respective territories; (2) it bans NPT-designated nuclear weapon states (NWS) from using or threatening to use nuclear explosive devices against any party to the Treaty; (3) it prohibits NWS from testing nuclear explosive devices within the SPNFZ.
The Treaty of Rarotonga opened for signature on August 6, 1985 and entered into force on December 11, 1986, following its eighth ratification. The Treaty is now in force for 13 of the 15 Forum members: Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and Western Samoa.
The USSR and China signed and ratified Protocols 2 and 3 in 1988 and 1989 respectively; neither has zonal territories that would require adherence to Protocol 1. However, the United States and the United Kingdom did not sign the protocols for a decade as a result of French nuclear testing in the region. Due in part to protests by inhabitants of the South Pacific, France adopted a nuclear testing moratorium in early 1996. Subsequently, on March 25, 1996, the United States, along with the United Kingdom and France, signed all three protocols. France ratified the protocols on September 20, 1996, followed by the United Kingdom on September 19, 1997. U.S. ratification of all three protocols is still pending.
Graham, T., & LaVera, D. J. (2003). Treaty of Rarotonga. In Cornerstones of Security: Arms Control Treaties in the Nuclear Era (pp. 24-30). Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.
Jones, R. W., McDonough, M. G., & Spector, L. S. (1998). Appendix E: Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones. In Tracking Nuclear Proliferation: A Guide in Maps & Charts, 1998 (pp. 301-305). Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Retrieved from http://www.carnegieendowment.org/files/Tracking_AppE.pdf
South Pacific Nuclear-Free-Zone Treaty (Treaty of Rarotonga). (2010, April 12). Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Retrieved from http://www.nti.org/e_research/official_docs/inventory/pdfs/spnfz.pdf