From April 27 to May 22, the United Nations will host the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). This is an important, high-profile conference, and Latin American delegations will participate in the discussion regarding the future of nuclear weaponry.
According to the United Nations’ website, the NPT Review Conference will discuss topics such as “nuclear disarmament, including specific practical measures; nuclear non-proliferation, including the promoting and strengthening of safeguards.” It is worth keeping in mind that only a handful of nations possess nuclear weapons: China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. Additionally, pariah nations like North Korea “could have enough material for 79 nuclear weapons by 2020” while Iran has a shadowy nuclear program which Tehran claims is solely for civilian purposes. (One issue that will likely be at the top of the NPT agenda is the recent deal over Iran’s controversial nuclear program.)
On a personal note, the author of this commentary has attended numerous events on nuclear issues in Washington DC. One issue that has been raised regarding the upcoming NPT conference, as has been the case with previous ones, is the difference of positions that nuclear weapon states have compared to those that do not have such weapons. In short, nations that already have nuclear weapons are focused on non-proliferation, namely to prevent more nations from obtaining them (case in point: Iran). On the other hand, nations that do not have nuclear weapons (which is the grand majority of the world) are focused on disarmament, meaning they are striving to convince countries that have nuclear weapons to dispose of them.
As for Latin America and the Caribbean, the two regions constitute a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ), dating back to the 1967 Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, most commonly known as the Treaty of Tlatelolco. The Treaty came into force in October 2002 when Cuba ratified it – now all 33 Latin American and Caribbean states have done so. The treaty’s major tool for monitoring nuclear activities in these two regions is its nuclear watchdog: the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (OPANAL).
Nevertheless, it is worth noting that in spite of this treaty, two Latin American nations have attempted to develop a nuclear weapons program. Brazil and Argentina pursued these deadly weapons during the 1960s-1980s, when they were ruled by military governments that largely distrusted one another. This distrust, however, dissipated after the countries’ return to civilian rule. In fact, in an effort to promote confidence building, in 1991, the two governments created an agency to ensure the peaceful use of their nuclear materials, the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC).
As for Latin America and the NPT itself, a majority of Latin American states have ratified most of the NPT-related agreements, like Bolivia, Colombia and Peru. However, it is worth noting that Argentina and Brazil have accessioned, but not ratified, into the NPT (Buenos Aires did so in 1995 while Brasilia signed in 1998).
It will be interesting to see if the region and other nuclear weapons-free states can maintain some kind of momentum to pressure countries that have nuclear weapons to disarm. There have been a number of recent conferences on disarmament in preparation for the 2015 NPT summit. Just this March, there was a Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Switzerland. One of the speakers was Ambassador Luiz Filipe de Macedo Soares, the current Secretary-General of OPANAL. During his speech, Ambassador de Macedo highlighted the level of integration and cooperation in Latin America and the Caribbean, when he stated that “no other region has been paying so much attention at the highest level to this critical issue. No other region has been able to reach this level of convergence.”
In his Geneva speech, the OPANAL Secretary-General also discussed what he, his agency and the members of the Treaty of Tlatelolco want to see in the rest of the world regarding the future of nuclear weapons. Specifically, Ambassador de Macedo said that “the negotiation of a universal and legally binding instrument banning nuclear weapons cannot be delayed [moreover] it is crucial that nuclear-weapon States eliminate the role of nuclear weapons from their doctrines, security policies and military strategies.”
This is quite the ambitious list of goals. However, the recent Iran deal and success of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, as well as other NWFZs around the world (i.e. Africa), highlights that non-proliferation is possible. Ideally, the next step will be disarmament.