Disarmament Back on the Agenda in Latin America


Nuclear Abolition News | IDN
By Daniela Estrada

IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

SANTIAGO - The Chilean capital hosted two very different activities early May that, however, had a common objective: promoting global nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. GERMAN | JAPANESE


The first regional meeting of the independent International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND) took place in Santiago May 1-3, with the support of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO).

The members of the ICNND met with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet May 4.

The president also met on Apr. 28 with Spanish activist Rafael de la Rubia, spokesperson for the World March for Peace and Nonviolence, which will visit 300 cities in 90 countries between October 2009 and January 2010.

De la Rubia told the press in Chile that the global march will set out on Oct. 2 from Wellington, New Zealand and will end on Jan. 2, 2010 at the foot of Mount Aconcagua in Argentina.

A group of activists will make the complete three-month 160,000-km march, which will include smaller marches by demonstrators along the way.

"Marches will be held in every city," de la Rubia explained. "In one place, it will be three kilometres, in another, seven or 15. The rest will be bus, boat or train rides."

Bachelet was the first head of state to explicitly declare her support for the World March for Peace and Nonviolence.

The question of nuclear disarmament has gained a new international prominence in recent months.

The presidents of the United States and Russia - which have 95 percent of the existing 26,000 nuclear warheads – released a joint statement on Apr. 1 committing themselves to restart negotiations on a new treaty that would limit and reduce the number of U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads.

Presidents Barack Obama and Dimitry Medvedev announced negotiations "to pursue new and verifiable reductions in our strategic offensive arsenals in a step-by-step process, beginning by replacing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with a new, legally-binding treaty."

The announcement was widely hailed, by the European Parliament in particular.

But just a few days later, on Apr. 5, North Korea, which has acknowledged having a nuclear development programme, launched what it described as an experimental communications satellite into orbit, which according to the United States and its allies was a long-range missile capable of reaching the state of Alaska.

The incident was a reminder of the risk that the number of nuclear weapon states could grow, or that nuclear arms fall into the hands of terrorist groups or a rogue state.

Politicians, experts and activists agree that the change in administration in the United States opened up new possibilities for making effective progress towards gradual nuclear disarmament.

That is precisely the aim of the World March for Peace and Nonviolence and the ICNND, a high-level initiative launched by the Australian and Japanese governments in September 2008 to revitalise global disarmament efforts.

The ICNND is co-chaired by former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans and former Japanese foreign minister Yoriko Kawaguchi.

Australia is a large global supplier of uranium, and Japan is the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack (the atomic bombs dropped by the U.S. on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.)

The ICNND commissioners include former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000), former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland (1981, 1986-1989 and 1990-1996), former U.S. defence secretary William Perry and former Chinese United Nations ambassador Wang Yingfan.

The commission, which plans to publish a report at the end of the year, decided to hold its first regional meeting in Latin America because of the region’s "political and moral leadership" in the area of nuclear disarmament, Gareth Evans said in the Chilean capital.

The world’s first nuclear weapon free zone was established in Latin America and the Caribbean in 1967, under the Treaty of Tlatelolco. All 33 countries in the region are parties to the Treaty, which was reaffirmed in 2003. The other nuclear weapon free zones are Africa, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.

Because of its leadership in that area, Evans urged Latin America to play a more active role in the debates on the next Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), to be held in May 2010.

The third session of the conference preparatory committee is taking place May 4-15 in New York.

The NPT recognises only five countries as nuclear weapon states: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – the five countries that had such technology when the treaty was signed in 1968, which are also the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

The aim of the treaty, which has 189 signatories, is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament.

But today, the "nuclear club" also includes India, Pakistan and Israel, while North Korea is widely believed to have nuclear weapons and Iran is suspected of having an active nuclear weapons programme.

The 2010 NPT review conference should strengthen several aspects of the treaty, especially the compliance verification process, Evans, co-chair of the ICNND, told IPS.

An appropriate mechanism is required to bring a country before the U.N. Security Council and to achieve a swift response, in case a country is doing something that it should not be doing, under the treaty, he said.

He also called for expanding the institutional capacity of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and providing it with more resources.

In Evans’ view, nuclear non-proliferation, disarmament and the expansion of nuclear energy are issues that need to be tackled together, because the lines separating them are blurry.

It is not possible to get very far on non-proliferation without serious commitments on disarmament, said Evans, who stressed the importance of getting the nuclear states to sign a serious commitment in 2010.

The ICNND’s short-term agenda – for the next four years – also includes ratification and implementation of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the completion of negotiations for a draft fissile material cutoff treaty in Geneva.

It would also be important to resolve the specific problems of Iran and North Korea, said Evans.

Although he acknowledged that it is a "very ambitious four-year agenda," the former Australian foreign minister said that with the political momentum generated by the new U.S. leadership, "I think much more is possible."

The ICNND hopes that nuclear weapons will have been reduced to a minimum in the world by 2025.

Evans, who has visited each of the world’s nuclear-armed nations, said the strong support for the commission is "quite interesting," because there are have been many previous commissions and many previous reports.

The co-chair of the ICNND said he believes that if the commissioners are able to produce a report that is pragmatic and realistic, that takes into consideration the political and security problems of countries and does not only speak in abstract terms about grandiose visions, and that has dates, targets and action plans, the initiative could be "quite influential."

Because these issues are complex and difficult, the pressure has to come from three directions, said Evans: first, from up above, from the United States and Russia, because they have 95 percent of all existing nuclear weapons. Nothing will happen without leadership, he stressed.

But pressure must also come from peer groups, from governments, including those of Latin America, which have an important role to play, he added. Furthermore, it must come from below, from civil society and NGOs. All of these activities send out important messages, he maintained. – By Arrangement with IPS (04.05.2009)