The President has asked the Senate to approve ratification of the Rarotonga Treaty-which prohibits the possession, use, or testing of any nuclear explosive device and the dumping of any radioactive waste in the South Pacific.
It comes after the Secretary of State Hilary Clinton indicated the Obama administration would ratify the treaty last year.
But the Senates ratification of the treaty remains uncertain.
Presenter: Alma Mistry
Speaker: Dr. William C. Potter, Director, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies; Peter Crail, Nonproliferation analyst, Arms Control Association
MISTRY: The South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone or Rarotonga treaty, was signed by eight countries in 1985, after the South Pacific Forum supported New Zealand's proposal to create a nuclear weapons-free zone in the region. In 1996 the United States signed onto the treaty, but hasn't yet formally ratified it. Bill Potter is the Director of the James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Washington DC. He says progress stalled during the Presidency of George W Bush.
POTTER: During the Bush Administration in the preceding 8 years I think there was an attitude, if you will, on the part of the Administration that treaties such as those involving nuclear weapons free zones were not significant and they were really not interested in seeing the treaties ratified. So for 8 of the last 10 years, there was simply no interest on the part of the administration. Since the Obama administration is supportive of nuclear weapons free zones and the Rarotonga Treaty is certainly one of those that it is probably most supportive of.
MISTRY: The South Pacific was once a prime testing ground for nuclear weapons. The U-S carried out 106 tests in the region, before 1963, when it signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty. France also conducted tests at Mururoa Atoll in French Polynesia up until 1996, when it signed onto the Rarotonga Treaty. Initially the US clashed with the Treaty's main proponent New Zealand, over its nuclear program. Non-proliferation analyst with the Arms Control Association Peter Crail says those issues were resolved, largely with the election of Barack Obama, who campaigned ran on a strong non-proliferation platform.
CRAIL: One of the reasons it had taken so long has been that the US political difficulties with New Zealand in terms of New Zealand's own anti nuclear policy which conflicted with the US, particularly the US Navy's policy of not confirming or denying whether or not nuclear weapons were on its ships and also issues related to US nuclear power naval vessels. Those considerations have now been put aside as US and New Zealand defence cooperation have increased over the last few years.
MISTRY: Another stumbling block, which led to the delay in ratifying the treaty was the view of some hawkish Senators, who objected to the treaty because they believed it would limit the country's military options They thought the treaty would ban any potential passage of nuclear powered naval vessels or US navy ships carrying nuclear weapons. But Bill Potter says that section of the Treaty is open to interpretation.
POTTER: It has absolutely no bearing on things that are nuclear powered, that is simply not a provision of the treat. Questions of transit are open to interpretation and so that had been one of the more contentious areas of the treaty. But my guess is it that it will be interpreted in a fashion that this will not be objectionable to the US.
MISTRY: He says while it may seem more politically feasible to move the ratification process forward now, it's is still far from a sure thing.
POTTER: These days nothing is predictable in the US Senate and so I'm not sure that there's going to be tremendous opposition to the treaty but I'm not sure that there is tremendous support for it either. Nuclear weapons free zones treaties are not something that many senators are very familiar. I think it remains kind of uncertain whether or not this is going to move forward quickly or whether it will end up getting stuck, because of objections some parties have perhaps not to the Rarotonga treaty per se but the emphasis of this Administration on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.