A nuclear-weapons-free Arctic?

Changing climatic conditions in the Arctic have brought regional security concerns into renewed focus, and security relations in the north are in turn inevitably affected by confrontations in other parts of the world. Nevertheless, the region continues to develop as a “security community” in which there are reliable expectations that states will continue to settle disputes by peaceful means and in accordance with international law. In keeping with those expectations, the denuclearization of the Arctic has been an enduring aspiration of indigenous communities and of the people of Arctic states more broadly.

But proposals for establishing the Arctic as a nuclear-weapon-free zone (NWFZ) face major challenges, not the least of which is the effort to accommodate states that are still in possession of nuclear weapons, the US and Russia, as members of a zone whose primary principle is to ban the possession of nuclear weapons by any state within such a zone. The way forward is thus to promote the progressive denuclearization of the Arctic, reduce nuclear risks and the role of nuclear weapons in the security policies of the US and Russia, and to preserve the existing non-militarization of the surface of the Arctic Ocean through a treaty. To that end, the mandate of the Arctic Council should be broadened to include Arctic security concerns, and re-energized disarmament diplomacy should seek to improve global strategic relations that will be conducive to further reductions in nuclear arsenals, and to encourage non-nuclear weapon states in the Arctic to formalize and entrench their collective status as a zone free of nuclear weapons.

A briefing in the Disarming Arctic Security section of The Simons Foundation website discusses the feasibility and characteristics of an Arctic nuclear-weapon-free-zone. A version of the briefing is also available as a Policy Brief for the Australian Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament.

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