The humanitarian initiative in the field of nuclear disarmament is gaining momentum. With the international community now more aware of the risks and catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons, the need to close the gap in international law to produce complete nuclear disarmament becomes more important.
To help identify the next steps in creating legally binding measures to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), the International Law and Policy Institute (ILPI) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) co-hosted a closed African roundtable from 17-18 February.
The meeting brought together 20 diplomats, academics and civil society representatives (invited to participate in their personal capacity) from 12 different countries, nine in Africa. Participants explored both substantive and process-related aspects of an international legally binding instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons. The feasibility, scope and potential elements of such an instrument, as well as the role of African states, were also discussed.
One of the main achievements of the humanitarian initiative is that it has allowed non-nuclear weapon states and civil society the opportunity to challenge the status quo. Despite some hesitancy towards the UN Open Ended Working Group on Taking Forward Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations (OEWG), the potential involvement and participation by African states in the group was considered. Participants agreed that the OEWG was crucial to the process of prohibiting nuclear weapons.
Suggestions regarding the different approaches and potential elements of a legally binding instrument included:
- The so-called ‘step-by-step’ approach was unlikely to achieve nuclear disarmament;
- A simple prohibition treaty might not be the ideal way forward either, but it could constitute an important interim step towards the goal of complete elimination;
- The next step could involve mobilising the international community to negotiate a comprehensive convention;
- A framework agreement, whereby different legal elements could be added gradually through protocols, could increase the likelihood of umbrella states taking part in the negotiations.
Participants did not express a clear preference for either the ban approach or the framework agreement, but most agreed that waiting for the nuclear-armed states or the umbrella states to take the lead was not a viable option.
During the discussion on the negotiation of the proposed measures, participants underlined the importance of inter-regional efforts. Participants also emphasised that African states have demonstrated their valuable leadership role in other disarmament processes, including the Convention of Cluster Munitions and the Arms Trade Treaty. Highlighting the urgency, one participant remarked that the longer the process takes, the more opportunities will be available to detractors to put negative pressure on African states.
Noting that the issue of nuclear weapons is often not considered a priority in Africa, participants suggested that empirical research on victims affected by nuclear weapons testing on African soil be undertaken, providing evidence to reinforce arguments for disarmament.
The meeting highlighted the important role of African civil society, such as the ISS, and argued that it is imperative that awareness of nuclear weapons disarmament is raised in every possible forum, in co-operation with African states. Stakeholders should also consider the role and value that National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies may provide.
Some suggestions on the way forward and follow up actions:
- Build on measures that already exist, such as the Ezulwini Consensus.
- Involve African parliamentarians and high-level politicians in the debate.
- Increase partnerships with African civil society, academia and the media.
- Consider a coalition between the nuclear weapon-free zones.
- Use International Humanitarian Law committees to raise awareness nationally.
- Use the 20th anniversary of the 1996 signing of the Treaty of Pelindaba to create awareness regionally.
- Use the humanitarian pledge as a tool to mobilise states.
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