On 13-14 November, 2013, ILPI’s Nuclear Weapons Project (NWP) organized its 4th regional roundtable meeting on nuclear weapons, in Lagos, Nigeria, in collaboration with ICAN, as well as three Nigerian NGOs (Churches in Action for Peace and Development – CAPAD, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom – WILPF, and International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA). The aim of the roundtable meeting was to bring together key individuals from West Africa, including government officials, academics and civil society actors, in order to share thoughts and ideas on how West African states can contribute to strengthening the humanitarian discourse on nuclear weapons and towards the negotiation of comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons.
The roundtable took place at Best Western The Island Hotel in Lagos, and included a total of 20 participants. Among these were seven government officials (from Nigeria, Liberia, Ghana, Niger, Sierra Leone and Togo) and the rest were NGOs from around the region (i.a. ICAN partners, Church leaders, and Red Cross). The focus of the discussions was on the humanitarian initiative on nuclear weapons and the idea of a ban on nuclear weapons as the way forward.
Summary of discussions
As with the previous ILPI roundtable meetings on nuclear weapons, the discussion was divided into four sessions (lunch-to-lunch), with two of the participants making short introductions to each of the sessions. Most of the participants had been working on disarmament issues before, but not necessarily on nuclear weapons. Much of the first day was therefore geared towards capacity-building and education on the issue. During these first sessions it was made clear that the traditional approaches to controlling nuclear weapons had very little prospects for success, and that the plethora of acronyms and technical discussions (from NPT to CTBT, FMCT and SSODIV) rendered the issue of nuclear weapons inaccessible to most people. This was particularly the case from a campaigning perspective. Relatively little time was spent talking about the actual humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, but there nevertheless seemed to be broad acceptance in the group of the argument that no-one would be safe from the impact of nuclear weapons, regardless of whether they possess them or not – and regardless of whether they form part of a nuclear-weapon-free zone.
With the backdrop of a nuclear weapons machinery unable to deliver real results, the conclusion was quickly drawn that the humanitarian approach to nuclear weapons is the most promising thing that has happened in this field for many years. Some of the participants had been to Oslo in March, and shared stories of their experience. The joint statements at the NPT and UNGA also formed part of this narrative. The discussion then moved on to consider where the humanitarian initiative was heading. Many of the participants saw the negotiation of a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons as the logical end goal of the initiative, and gradually the language of a ban/prohibition and the need to start a negotiation process became the main catchphrases of the exchange.
During the second day of the meeting the discussion turned more practical, with a view to how regional cooperation in this area could be done in practice. There was also extended discussion on how best to go about in order to engage stakeholders nationally, herein the media. In the last session, the upcoming Mexico meeting was put back into the discussion and participants were invited to share thoughts on what the next step would be, after the Mexico conference. It was mentioned that South Africa had indicated interest in holding a third meeting of the humanitarian initiative, which was welcomed by the participants. It was underlined that if South Africa decided to organize such a conference, there was not reason why other African states would not support it.
Furthermore, the point was unequivocally made that there is no reason to wait until the NPT in 2015 to start work on a ban treaty. There was no guarantee that the NPT would fail, and even if it did, there was no guarantee that it would trigger a process for the negotiation of a ban. With regards to the nuclear-armed states, several of the participants at the meeting expressed frustration and made clear that we cannot wait for them to take the initiative.
Relevant ILPI publications
Humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons
Summarising the presentations made at the Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, this report presents some of the consequences that can be expected from any use of nuclear weapons, and explains in brief terms why the international community would struggle to provide adequate, timely and appropriate assistance to those affected by any such disaster.
About a ban
The idea of a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons has gained traction in the multilateral system over the past couple of years, having been presented and discussed on numerous oc- casions, both among states and civil society. Most recently, a number of states called for the start of negotiations on a legal framework prohibiting nuclear weapons during the High- Level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament on September 26. This paper assesses the pros and cons and the general viability of such a proposal, herein what form a ban on nuclear weapons might take and how it would work, how it would relate to existing regimes such as the NPT, and whether it would in fact be an effective tool for achieving the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons.
An introduction to the issue of nuclear weapons in Africa
This article provides an overview of the issue of nuclear weapons in Africa, with particular emphasis on the process that led to the establishment of an African nuclear-weapon-free zone. The role of African states in international disarmament processes is discussed. So are relevant bodies and groupings with a bearing on disarmament policies that African states participate in. A selection of African states’ experiences and positions with regards to nuclear weapons are also explored. The article ends with an outline of possible future prospects of African states’ engagement for a world free of nuclear weapons.