Monday, February 27, 2012

Africa and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Noel Stott, Senior Research Fellow, Transnational Threats and International Crime, ISS Pretoria

In May 2012, the first in a series of three preparatory committee meetings for the 2015 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) will be held in Vienna, Austria.

In 2010, African States Parties to the NPT praised the fact that 190 States were able to adopt a final document at its 8th Review Conference held at the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York from 3 – 28 May. Of the previous seven review conferences, only three have managed to adopt a final consensus document: in 1985, 1995, and 2000. The document consists of a 64-step action plan and the Conference President’s interpretation of States Parties’ review of each article of the NPT.

The NPT, which entered into force in 1970 and was extended indefinitely in 1995, is based on three mutually reinforcing pillars: to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament, and to preserve the right of states to the peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology. As such, it presently represents the only binding commitment in a multilateral treaty to the goal of nuclear disarmament – a vision shared by many of an eventual world without nuclear weapons – given that the threat of use or actual use of nuclear weapons, either by design or by accident, continues to be one of the most fundamental threats to global human and environmental security.

Although the Review Conference did produce a final document, many compromises were made, especially by Non-Nuclear Weapon States and specifically by members of the Non-Aligned Movement, including all African States. As a result, the Non-Aligned Movement has promised to maintain pressure on the Nuclear Weapon States to make real progress in eliminating their nuclear arsenals over the next few years and to “vigorously pursue” a world free from nuclear weapons by the year 2025.

As a lead up to the upcoming meetings in Vienna, in May and to continue to ensure that African States build on the momentum created by the 2010 Review Conference, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and Wilton Park, which is considered one of the world’s leading institutions for in-depth discussion of international policy issues and challenges will be co-hosting a Conference titled ‘Africa and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime’ outside Pretoria, South Africa from 4 to 7 March 2012.

The conference objectives are to assess the present and future role of Africa in the nuclear non-proliferation regime and the prospects for a more co-ordinated policy in light of the current NPT Review Cycle, the need for increased technical co-operation and assistance, the imperative to prevent toxic dumping in Africa and the need to enhance the role of African States in disarmament and non-proliferation initiatives more generally. Often perceived as marginal to the steps needed for total nuclear weapon disarmament, having declared the continent and its associated islands a nuclear weapon-free zone in 1996, Africa makes up almost a third of all NPT States. As such, African States have a crucial role in advocating for the need forall to take the necessary steps in achieving the ultimate goal of a world entirely free of nuclear weapons, while all should also be ‘allowed to enjoy the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes’ – as Tanzania argued at the 2010 Review Conference.

Only by strengthening the capacity of African states to participate in the 2012-2015 review cycle and the development of an African programme to implement the 64-point action plan, can we build on the momentum created by the success of the 2010 NPT Review Conference and thus fully participate in making sure that nuclear weapons are forever relegated to history’s dustbin

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