By Emilio Godoy
Latin America and the Caribbean are discussing ways to step up supervision of the use of nuclear materials in the region and contribute to the creation of more nuclear weapon free zones around the world, on the 45th anniversary of the treaty that banned nuclear arms in the region.
“Disarmament is still our priority” Vera Machado, under-secretary of political affairs in Brazil’s foreign ministry, told IPS. “It is a legitimate interest of nuclear weapon free countries to receive a binding guarantee that the countries that do have them will not use these weapons against them, or threaten to use them.”
The official was one of the delegates of the 33 countries attending a conference in Mexico City held to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, also known as the Treaty of Tlatelolco.
The states party to the treaty agree to prohibit and prevent the “testing, use, manufacture, production or acquisition by any means whatsoever” and the “receipt, storage, installation, deployment and any form of possession of any nuclear weapons.”
The anniversary, celebrated on Feb. 14-15 with a commemorative ceremony and international seminar, was also attended by representatives of international bodies and non-governmental organisations from different regions of the world.
The Treaty of Tlatelolco created the Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (NWFZ) in 1967 – the first of the five such zones that currently include 114 countries around the world, in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.
Mexico was the driving force behind the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which was opened up to signature in the foreign ministry in Tlatelolco on Feb. 14, 1967, making this country the pioneer in nuclear disarmament in the region. The treaty went into force in April 1969.
Mexico, Argentina and Brazil use nuclear material for peaceful purposes, such as the generation of electricity.
Argentina and Brazil created the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC) in 1991 to monitor the exchange and use of nuclear materials. The agency is considered a model in this field.
The issues discussed at the seminar included the need to draw broader attention to the Treaty of Tlatelolco; the elimination of stocks of fissile materials still held by several states parties; the passage of nuclear submarines and radioactive waste through the region; and the advances made towards global disarmament.
“A regulatory architecture that complies with the Treaty of Tlatelolco is still needed,” Irma Argüello, president of the Nonproliferation for Global Security Foundation in Argentina, told IPS. “It is important for third countries to stop bringing nuclear technology and weapons into our region.”
Two issues that have awakened interest in Latin America are Iran’s nuclear programme, staunchly opposed by a group of countries led by the U.S., and Argentina’s complaint that Britain sent a nuclear-armed submarine to the Malvinas/Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic.
The idea is for the Latin American and Caribbean NWFZ to serve as a model for a similar scheme in the Middle East.
“These zones create new realities in which people live and develop new ways of thinking and new possibilities; they counteract the feeling of impotence, inevitability and submission,” Kimiaki Kawai, programme director of peace affairs of Soka Gakkai International (SGI), told IPS.
For that reason, “These zones have a huge potential of moderating power,” he added.
The Tokyo-based SGI forms part of a coalition that launched a global campaign for a summit meeting of world leaders calling for the total elimination of the nuclear bomb.
SGI wants the summit to be held in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 2015, the 70th anniversary of the nuclear bombings that virtually annihilated the two Japanese cities.
Latin America’s NWFZ “is a good example for the Middle East,” said Tibor Toth, executive secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). “There is a concept more than a dream, different than it was in Latin America in the 1960s.”
In recent years there have been some developments, but one may ask if they have been enough,” he remarked to IPS. “We have to move beyond the ‘realpolitik’ of non-proliferation and disarmament.”
Opened to signature since 1996, the CTBTO only needs to be ratified by eight more states to enter into force.
The idea of a NWFZ in the Middle East emerged in November 2011 during a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which reports to the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council.
There are more than 22,000 nuclear warheads in the hands of Russia, the United States, France, China, Britain, Israel, India and Pakistan.
Taking the Treaty of Tlatelolco as a starting point, Latin America and the Caribbean want to prepare for the review conference of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which has been in effect since 1970, although there is a widespread view that international nuclear disarmament mechanisms are paralysed.
“It is important for negotiations to take place in a constructive atmosphere,” said Machado. “We must go beyond the constantly repeated arguments, in order to be able to create a NWFZ in the Middle East.”
Israel, India and Pakistan have not signed the NPT, while China, Israel, Egypt, Iran and the United States have not ratified the CTBTO.
“Issues like transparency, monitoring and ratification are important for the operation of these zones,” Toth said.
Kawai said the global movement against nuclear weapons must be strengthened, in order to offer a promising vision for the future. “We hope that NWFZ experiences are shared among governments and citizens, especially in regions like North-Eastern Asia and the Middle East.”
Another matter of interest is the signing of bilateral accords between NWFZ states parties and the IAEA to oversee the use of nuclear materials. So far, around a dozen states have signed such agreements.