Latin America can reconcile ban treaty with disarmament agenda in NPT review process

Dual Degree M.A. Program Global Security, Nuclear Policy, and WMD Nonproliferation (MGIMO-MIIS-PIR Center) graduate (2016–2019); Research and Communications Officer, OPANAL
February 14, 2018

The 51st anniversary of the Treaty of Tlatelolco is seeing yet another nuclear disarmament move in Latin America. Out of the five countries that have ratified the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), three belong to Latin America and the Caribbean. While the region is taking the lead in promoting a nuclear-weapon-free world, it is necessary to reconcile nuclear and non-nuclear states in the 2020 NPT review cycle and find common ground on practical steps towards nuclear disarmament.

Mexico and Cuba became the most recent states parties to the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, by depositing their instruments of ratification on 16 and 30 January 2018, respectively. Also known as the nuclear ban treaty, as of today only five countries have ratified the instrument, three of them being from Latin America and the Caribbean. With 18 states signatories and 3 states parties, the region has taken the lead, once again, in the international efforts towards nuclear disarmament. There is no better way to pay homage and to commemorate this February 14th which marks the fifty-first anniversary of the opening for signature of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean.

This new impetus of the region exemplifies how long-standing and robust diplomatic tradition in the sphere of multilateral disarmament negotiations have contributed to the strengthening and consolidation of the nuclear non-proliferation regime for many years. In this new era, with the likelihood of the entry into force of the ban treaty in the near future, it commences the goal of establishing what some experts have called a “big nuclear-weapon-free zone”. However several challenges are coming ahead in the upcoming years, and the region should be prepared to face all of them if it wants to advance towards the creation of a nuclear-weapon-free world in practice, rather than on paper.

Perhaps the biggest challenge, so far, has been the establishment of a constructive and positive dialogue between the nuclear-armed states and the nuclear ban treaty advocates on ways to further advance towards nuclear disarmament. But how to discuss nuclear disarmament without escalating rhetoric? Since the inception of the humanitarian initiative and its rapid evolution into the nuclear ban treaty, nuclear-armed states and their allies have been using condescending language for qualifying nuclear ban advocates for their promotion of the ban treaty, which is fundamental to get rid of. The other side, however, is not exempted of criticism. It would be preferable to separate the political success that represents the Treaty from the value of the Treaty itself, which is not letter-perfect and needs further strengthening, but it is also far from “irremediably damaging” the nuclear non-proliferation regime established by the NPT.

Either in favor of or against the TPNW, it is important to engage in a substantive and respectful dialogue, in which both sides recognize the merits and flaws of this initiative. In a time when incendiary rhetoric has apparently become the new normal, a de-escalated dialogue is crucial for the future of the ban treaty, as well as for the sake of the current NPT review process. Both sides are responsible of doing that. They have to come up with constructive ideas on how the NPT and the TPNW are going to coexist. The real danger to the nuclear non-proliferation regime is a continued visceral attitude and lack of pragmatic discussions. Let’s not forget that one of the lessons of the Treaty of Tlatelolco is that nuclear-weapon-free zones are not designed to be an end in themselves, but a proactive contribution to other efforts to prohibit and prevent the use of nuclear weapons. Taking the same attitude to the TPNW and agreeing on disarmament agenda in the NPT review process may help to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the NPT with a productive 2020 NPT Review Conference.