Sat, Apr 05, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Forum urges nuclear-free zone

MEANINGFUL?Some academics said that making a stand against atomic arms would be beneficial, but others wondered just how practical such a declaration would be

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Academics yesterday debated the possibility of setting up a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Taiwan Strait with many concerned that such a proposal would be unrealistic in the face of pressure from Beijing.

Hsieh Shu-yuan (謝淑媛), professor of international law who serves as a visiting academic at the Academia Sinica, argued in her paper released at an international seminar yesterday that the setting up of a zone in the Strait serves Taiwan's interest.

While Beijing has yet to renounce the use of force against Taiwan, Hsieh said that Taipei should seek to engage in various security arrangements, such as joining its neighbors in a Theater Missile Defense system and establishing a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Taiwan Strait.

Regional states, which use the Strait as a major trade route, should embrace the establishment of a zone in area, Hsieh said.

The mechanism, once established, could prevent a future arms race in the region and even pressure China into abandoning its threat of force, especially with nuclear weapons, she argued.

Hsieh said China remained the major stumbling block to the realization of such an initiative, while arguing that Taiwan could go for a unilateral declaration of the Strait as a nuclear-weapons-free zone following the Mongolian pattern of 11 years ago.

The then Mongolian president, Punsalmaagiin Ochirbatin, in his address to the UN Security Council in 1992 declared his nation to be a nuclear-weapons-free zone, adding his government would endeavor to have its status internationally guaranteed, according to Hsieh.

But other participants had different concerns.

"If we reduce nuclear weapons, does it make conventional weapons more likely to be acquired, to be threatened with, to be used?" said Robert Henderson, senior strategic analyst and editor of R+E+A Group, an Ottawa-based think tank, during a break from Hsieh's presentation.

Calling Hsieh's proposal a "good idea," Henderson said that Taiwan is threatened by increasing numbers of high-tech weapons and not so much by nuclear weapons.

David Carlton, senior lecturer in international studies from the University of Warwick, outlined his concerns in general terms over the feasibility of any zone initiatives.

"There are always complications as to who you include and who you don't, and whether it's worthwhile to have a regional arrangement from which a key actor is excluded because they won't participate," Carlton said outside of the conference venue.

"Another [question] is whether it is necessary for more than one state to take part in the agreement," Carlton said.

"In theory, you could have a state, like Mongolia, on its own declaring itself a nuclear-weapon-free zone. How meaningful is this?" he asked.

"Is there any difference from a non-nuclear-use declaration?" Carlton asked.

"If it is going to be very narrowly based -- ?in other words, a unilateral decision by a particular government -- ?is that a proper use of the term, or is it simply a unilateral declaration of policy by a given government?" he added.

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