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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Arms Control Advocates Call for Nuke-Free Arctic Zone

Amid growing military interest in the Arctic, a new report urges nations that border the North Pole region to declare it a nuclear weapon-free zone, the Canwest News Service reported today.

Polar bears examine the now-retired U.S. attack submarine USS Honolulu, shown about 280 miles from the North Pole in 2003. A recent report calls for the creation of a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Arctic region (U.S. Navy photo).

The report's authors, Michael Wallace and Steven Staples of the Canadian Pugwash Group, argue that in light of anticipated future competition over the Arctic's territory and resources, establishing the zone now would be a sensible precautionary measure that would also protect the area's environment from possible nuclear mishaps.

There are five nuclear weapon-free zone treaties covering Latin America and the Caribbean, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Central Asia and Africa.

The Antarctic is also considered a zone, as are the seabed, space and the moon, according to the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

This month, foreign ministers' from the planet's Arctic nations -- Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Russia and the United States -- are set to meet in Canada.

"By acting now we can probably save ourselves a lot of angst down the road," Staples said yesterday. "As countries try to stake their claims in the Arctic and on the resources, let's do this in a blueprint way -- in a coordinated way -- and avoid a mad scramble that could lead to an accident."

The paper advocates a gradual process for ensuring the Arctic remains free of nuclear weapons that would entail Canada taking the first step by declaring the Northwest Passage a nuclear-free-zone. Ottawa's unilateral declaration could be broadened to include other nations, the authors said. However, while Canada claims dominion over the passage, Washington asserts the throughway to be international waters.

Wallace and Staples admit that the establishment of the Arctic as a nuclear weapon-free zone would be "daunting" as military rivalries in the region are growing and Russian and U.S. nuclear weapons submarines still frequent the area.

Another challenge is NATO's central doctrine of nuclear deterrence as a means of forestalling military conflict. All Arctic nations with the exception of Russia are members of the alliance. Additionally, Washington is not expected to sign a zone agreement that would upset current security pacts or its own self-defense interests.

"But despite all of these daunting obstacles, we should not give up before even getting started," the report states