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An Arctic fit for Santa: adding the Arctic to the nuclear-weapons-free world.

MATT ROBSON reflects on the huge costs of global military expenditure, 10 times more is spent on destroying humanity than is spent on humanity's survival. He reviews the progress being made in establishing regional nuclear-weapons-free zones (NWFZs), and the urgent need for the Arctic to be free of nuclear weapons as an ecologically vital and vulnerable region of the Earth.

The price of 'defence'

We live in a world of contrasts. Billions of our fellow citizens live without adequate, shelter, food or clothing. Almost half the world's population (3.15 billion people) in 2005 have to try and live on less than us$ 2.50 per day. (1) They lack adequate health care, if they get it at all, and little quality education. The great majority in this situation live in the so-called developing world. But a sizeable number who go without live in the richest countries.

The wealth of the world's richest seven individuals is greater than the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the 41 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (567 million people). (2) Yet those whom Bob Dylan called the Masters of War have determined that, rather than meeting the basic needs of humanity and preventing the global disaster that is global warming, military spending will take priority, and this spending will increase. The internationally respected Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reported in April 2012 that world military expenditure in 2011 totalled US$1.74 trillion, $249 for each person on the planet. (3) Of that sum SIPRI found that the USA, which increased its military spending by 81 percent since 2001, now spends 43 percent of the global total. This is six times that of China, against which the USA pursues a policy of containment.

A recent Brookings Institution Report found that the world's 9 nuclear powers (including North Korea) spent US$100 billion in 2011, (4) 6 percent of all total military spending. In stark contrast, spending on the survival of humanity rather than the destruction of humanity is less than a tenth of military spending. OECD figures for 2011 show that total official development aid amounted to US$133.5 billion, (5) just 0.31 percent of Gross National Income. And for that other human-made disaster, global warming, the International Energy Agency has estimated that to halve global C[O.sub.2] emissions by 2050, US$45 trillion must be invested. (6) This is a large sum, but only two thirds the budgets of death for nuclear and conventional weapons.

This obscene spending on armaments has of course been a bonanza for the merchants of death. Sixty three of the hundred top weapons firms are in the USA and Western Europe, and in 2006 their sales were $292.3 billion. In the worldwide economic recession there are no reports of arms merchants having any financial problems. There is always a new war, and new and old dictators to sell armament to. Joseph Stieglitz and Linda Biomes report that the USA spent three trillion dollars on the war against Iraq. (7) They also considered how this enormous sum could have been used beneficially in the USA and the wider world:

A trillion dollars could have built 8 million additional housing units, could have hired some 15 million additional public school teachers for one year; could have paid for 120 million children to attend a year of head start; or insured 530 million children for health care for one year; or provided 43 million students with four-year scholarships at public universities. Now multiply those numbers by three.

They go on to calculate the effect if the money for the war, or even a fraction of it, had been devoted to development goals for the poorest countries:

For sums less than the direct expenditures on the war, we could have fulfilled our commitment to provide 0.7 percent of our gross domestic product to help developing countries, money that could have made an enormous difference to the well-being of billions today living in poverty ... Two trillion dollars would enable us to meet our commitments to the poorest countries for the next third of a century.

How do we turn this imbalance of expenditure to human and ecological needs? If a referendum was held of the world's peoples on whether military expenditure should be greatly decreased and whether nuclear weapons should be abolished and the funds redirected to the goals set-out by Stieglitz and Biomes, I would bet on a thumping majority voting yes. Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones are a vital tool to develop the voice of the majority of people as a powerful political force.

Progress: Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zones

Today 115 states with almost 40% of the world's population (Table 1) have committed themselves to rid not only their own territories of nuclear weapons but also to being part of the overwhelming number of countries committed to total abolition.

The Antarctic region was made a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (NWFZ) in 1959 as part of the Antarctic Treaty, which came into force in 1961. Since then NWFZS have spread to encompass outer space, the sea bed and most of the Southern Hemisphere. In the last decade the trend has increased in the Northern Hemisphere with NWFZS established in Central Asia and Mongolia, with others proposed for North East Asia, Central Europe, and the Middle East. (8)

With climate change opening up the Arctic region, (9) bringing with it the possibility of increased resource competition, territorial disputes and militarization, (10) now is the time to establish an Arctic NWFZ similar to the one covering Antarctica, thus freeing both the North and South poles from nuclear weapons and helping to build a more co-operative security environment in the North. The Arctic, like the Antarctic, is crucial to the ecological balance of the whole planet. It is unimaginable now that humanity would accept nuclear weapons or any military activity in this precious environment.

It is more than time that Antarctica is balanced by its polar opposite at the Arctic. The Arctic must be declared a Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone for the sake of humanity, and the world's ecosystems. The Antarctic Treaty, and over 50 years of adherence to its provisions, has set a precedent. Geographic and political differences, particularly states with direct economic and military interests surrounding the Arctic, make for a difficult negotiating process. Even so, with public pressure building for a safer environment, the example of Antarctica has an important role to play in achieving a nuclear weapons-free Arctic.

Challenges to NWFZ Arctic

Global warming has warmed the hearts of energy and mineral extraction companies and the military planners of the Arctic powers. The Financial Times reported, 5 September 2012:

The potential riches in the Arctic are a powerful lure for oil companies with the resources to explore it. According to a 2008 study by the US Geological Survey, the area within the Arctic Circle may hold 90bn barrels of oil and 1,669tn cubic feet of natural gas, respectively 13 percent and 30 percent of the world's estimated undiscovered reserves. Those reserves are being exposed by the retreat of Arctic sea ice. The global warming that, according to most scientists, is caused by burning fossil fuels is making it easier to extract more of those fuels. Arctic sea ice in August hits its lowest extent since records began 33 years ago.

Access to these riches or potential riches has led to increased military activity in the fragile environment, in particular by Canada, Russia and the United States. This military activity includes use of nuclear-armed and powered submarines and nuclear capable bomber fleets. When Russia planted a flag on the seabed of the Arctic in 2007 it led the Canadian Defence Minister to state: 'This isn't the 15th century. You can't go around and just plant flags and say: "We're claiming this territory".' The Canadian response was to announce construction of two new military installations and eight patrol ships to protect its part of the Northwest Passage sea route. (11)

The military jostling of nuclear powers continues unabated. The preparation for the resource grab continues with same frenetic energy. The indigenous peoples of the Arctic territories--Kazakhs, Sami, Vespa's, Karelians, Aluet, Nentses and Komi--are largely ignored, as were the indigenous peoples of all the other regions where the nuclear powers tested and stationed their nuclear weapons and military facilities.

As Alyn Ware, global co-ordinator of the Parliamentary Network for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament has pointed out: (12)

There are also a range of environmental issues that could create tensions and conflict in the region. These include threats of environmental contamination from decommissioned Russian nuclear submarines scuttled in the area (with their nuclear reactors on board), threats to the homes and hunting grounds of indigenous Arctic peoples from climate change, and the possibility of oil slicks from shipping accidents if the Northwest Passage opens up. The US and Russia currently deploy nuclear weapons on strategic submarines that transit the Arctic waters. In addition, Russia maintains strategic naval bases in the region.

NWFZ a Unifying Connector?

All is not bleak for an Arctic NWFZ. Already a seabed treaty forbids stationing nuclear weapons on the Arctic Ocean floor. The majority of Arctic states are nuclear-weapons free. The majority of states are trying to work co-operatively and have a number of agreements for environmental protection in place. But as an international lawyer Donald Rothwell has pointed out: (13)

The current Arctic environmental protection regime is based around a collection of customary international law, fragmented multilateral and bilateral legal instruments dealing with some Arctic issues, and global international instruments that have an impact in the Arctic. Currently there is no unifying connector for these various components of international law which have specific and general application in the Arctic. Unlike Antarctica, there is no regional infrastructure based on international law to facilitate or promote cooperation and the development of new international law.

The security concerns of Arctic states can be dealt with in the international forums that already exist such as the Law of the Sea Tribunal, The International Court of Justice and the Arctic Forum. Although these forums are set up to deal with legal and environmental issues rather than security issues, negotiations for an Arctic NWFZ, as occurred with the Antarctic, could cover the security concerns of all nations. Establishing an Arctic NWFZ would be an important step to getting that 'unifying connector.' It would also build confidence which could assist in promoting peace and security in the region.

Our job is to work towards getting that unifying connector and to developing this new international law. NWFZ's were created by the energy of peoples in many countries. This article is not the place to set out what the building steps are to creating such zones. But clearly in every country, every region and through international actions and forums the tools are there to create a climate of public opinion that becomes so overwhelming that an Arctic free of nuclear weapons and subject to the strongest possible environmental safeguards will be impossible to deny. Afterall, three quarters of all nations support UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's proposal for a treaty to outlaw and eliminate nuclear weapons, according to a study released in January 2012 by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. (14) Nations supporting the ban on nuclear weapons make up around 81% of the world's population Through united action on a global scale we can highlight the fragility of the Arctic, the disaster that is global warming and the need to give the Arctic the type of protection already secured for the Antarctic.






(5) developmentaidtodevelopingcountriesfallsbecauseofglobalrecession.htm


(7) Stiglitz, J.E. & Bilmes, L.J. 2008. The Three Trillion Dollar War--the true cost of the Iraq conflict. W W Norton & Co., London. 311 pp.

(8) For recent assessments, see for example: arrangement/, and

(9) Arctic Impact Assessment Report 2004. Available at with subsequent updates from NOAA at

(10) Huebert, R., H. Exner-Pirot, A. Lajeunesse, J. Gulledge. 2012. 'Climate change & international security: The Arctic as a Bellwether' Arlington, Virginia: Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Available at:


(12) Ware, A. 2012 Indigenous sovereignty and nuclear forces: prospects for a nuclear-free Arctic Available at and%020nuclear%020for.ces.pdf

(13) Rothwell, D. 2008. 'The Arctic in International Affairs: Time for a New Regime?' Brown Journal of World Affairs 15, 241-253.

(14) TowardsTreatyBanningNuclearWeapons, Jan. 2012.

The Hon Matt Robson was New Zealand Minister of Disarmament and Arms Control 1999-2002. He is currently the South East Asia co-ordinator of the Parliamentarian Network for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, PNND.

Table 1. Regions that are now Nuclear Weapons Free Zones.

Treaty       Region          Land           States   Date in force

Antarctic    Antarctica      14,000,000              1961-06-23
Space        Outer Space                             1967-10-10
Tlatelolco   Latin America   21,069,501     33       1969-04-25
Seabed       Seabed                                  1972-05-18
Rarotonga    South Pacific   9,008,458      13       1986-12-11
Bangkok      ASEAN           4,465,501      10       1997-03-28
MNWFS        Mongolia        1,564,116      1        2000-02-28
Semei        Central Asia    4,003,451      5        2009-03-21
Pelindaba    Africa          30,221,532     53       2009-07-15

All NWFZs combined           84,000,000     115      39% world pop
Nuclear weapons states       41,400,000     9        47% world pop
Neither NWS nor NWFZ         24,000,000     68       14% world pop
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Author:Robson, Matt
Publication:Pacific Ecologist
Geographic Code:0ARCT
Date:Jun 22, 2013
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