On 30 October, the WMD Project organised a side-event celebrating the entry-into-force of the Treaty of Pelindaba. Thirteen years after it officially opened for signature, the African Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Pelindaba) has finally come into force with the twenty-eighth deposit of its ratification instrument by Burundi on 15 July 2009. The Treaty, which covers the entire African continent as well as its surrounding islands, ensures that nuclear weapons are not developed, produced, tested, or otherwise acquired or stationed in any of the countries on the continent. Entry-into-force of the Treaty of Pelindaba confirms Africa’s resolve to strengthen the global nuclear weapon-free regime and contribute to international nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation processes.
The event was co-hosted by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) with Nigeria, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs and the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies.
The speakers were Ambassador Bukun-Olu Onemola, Nigerian Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN and Dr Patricia M. Lewis, Deputy Director and Scientist-in-Residence, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies. Noel Stott chaired. There were 40 people in the room with a number of comments and questions being asked from the floor.
Noel Stott made introductory remarks, congratulating Africa on this great achievement, especially in the context of the international momentum around nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation issues. He also discussed the focus of the WMD project and urged African delegates present to become involved in the workshops and other events planned for late 2009 and 2010 – especially in preparation for the 2010 Review Conference of the NPT. He then introduced the two speakers for the event – Ambassador Bukun-Olu Onemola, Nigerian Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN and Dr Patricia Lewis at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.
Ambassador Onemola congratulated Africa for becoming part of the nuclear weapon free Southern Hemisphere. Importantly, he commended the work of ISS on the Treaty of Pelindaba, mentioning that our publications are very useful and accessible. He also stressed the importance of the challenging time ahead, in terms of operationalising the Treaty of Pelindaba, through the first meeting of States Parties, and the establishment of the African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE) as stipulated by the Treaty.
Dr Lewis discussed the long road Africa has taken to finally become a zone free of nuclear weapons and mentioned that Africa has been at the forefront of the establishment of nuclear weapon free zones since the 1960s. However, she also emphasised the challenges around “popularising” the security debate around nuclear weapons, especially on a continent where many other challenges – such as HIV/AIDs, poverty, malaria, and civil conflict – often occupy most of the time and resources of African governments. In addition, she argued that the Treaty of Pelindaba should be considered in light of its impact on the socio-economic development of Africa – through the use of nuclear technology – and not solely on the security dimension. Dr Lewis also highlighted some other challenges – such as the role of North African states, such as Egypt, who also identify themselves within the Middle East region, and therefore may not be able to ratify the Treaty of Pelindaba until the Middle East region becomes a nuclear weapon free zone. This does not mean that these countries should be left out of the process, as States such as Egypt have a lot of knowledge and experience on nuclear issues.
There were a few questions from the audience around the next steps for the Treaty of Pelindaba and on ways to make the general public aware of the Treaty and its implications. It was agreed that more could be done to raise awareness on the African continent about nuclear-related issues. One of the key goals of the WMD project is to transfer knowledge about the Treaty of Pelindaba, and the NPT in a more accessible manner, and to determine Africa’s future role in the field of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.