ILPI roundtable discussion in Nairobi, December 2013

News & Events

On 10-11 December, 2013, ILPI’s Nuclear Weapons Project organized its 5th regional roundtable meeting on nuclear weapons in Nairobi, Kenya. The meeting was organized in collaboration with the Africa Peace Forum (APFO) and closely coordinated with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). The aim of the roundtable meeting was to bring together key individuals from Southern and Eastern Africa, including government officials, academics and civil society actors, in order to share thoughts and ideas on how these states can contribute to the strengthening of the humanitarian discourse on nuclear weapons and the negotiation of a comprehensive ban.

The venue for the roundtable, Collingham Gardens, was a small and quiet hotel outside Nairobi. Of the 21 participants, 8 were government officials (from Botswana, Burundi, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia) while the rest were civil society actors and academics. 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
The first session focused on the lack of progress in the existing multilateral disarmament machinery, and the need to think differently in order to move forward. A specific question on whether the NPT as a legal framework was capable of bringing about full nuclear disarmament was answered with an unambiguous no, and already by the end of the first session there seemed to be a consensus in the group for the need for a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons. Some questions were raised, however, with regard to the effectiveness of a prohibition if the nuclear-armed states did not participate, though these questions were convincingly answered by several members of the group. The stigmatizing effect of such a regime was one aspect that was highlighted, and several references were made to previous processes (e.g. cluster, landmines and ATT) when the ’usual suspects’ were against it from the beginning, but that this had not prevented a majority of interested states from putting in place effective prohibitions.

The second session shifted the focus towards the humanitarian initiative, with introductions from the ICRC and from a government official who participated in the Oslo conference in March. The humanitarian narrative was presented as the rationale for why nuclear weapons had to be banned, and it was underlined that it was important to ‘remove politics from the equation’. It was similarly suggested that there was little to gain by engaging in discussions about deterrence and nuclear doctrines, and that the humanitarian narrative was a way of dismissing the security logic of these weapons altogether. Another aspects that was highlighted was that Africa would not be shielded from the effects of nuclear weapons, and that, on the contrary, the effects would have a particularly devastating impact on Africa due to limited resources available for building preparedness and response capacity.

There seemed to be broad acceptance 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. There was also broad support for the idea that a ban on these weapons was the preferable first step towards elimination of these weapons. The humanitarian approach to nuclear weapons clearly resonated with the participants. The discussion was lively, and elicited many enthusiastic comments, herein about the role of African States in bringing about a ban on nuclear weapons. Some of the participants had been to the Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Oslo in March 2013, and shared stories of their experience. Others had participated in the processes that led to the adoption of the CCM and the APMBC, and spoke enthusiastically about the lessons that could be drawn from those processes.

During the second day of the meeting the discussion turned more practical, with a view to how Africa could take the lead in getting negotiations on a ban treaty started. A number of concrete ideas were put forward, including proposals for bringing the issue to the attention of the AU and SADC, and various other regional arrangements. There was also some discussion on how best to engage different stakeholders, including religious figures and celebrities. The upcoming Mexico-meeting was also discussed, and specifically on what role African states could play. It was suggested that national consultations between ministries and civil society prior to the Mexico conference could be useful and that statements during the meeting could include considerations regarding e.g. national preparedness and response capacity. Questions were also raised with regards to the expected outcome of the Mexico conference, and whether this would be the start of a negotiation process. It was underlined that Mexico did not intend to end the meeting with a declaration, but that this did not prevent the states participating from voicing their opinions about where they believed this should lead. There was also some discussion on whether it would be possible to organize a regional statement from African states in Mexico, in which the call for a ban could be included. This was considered difficult given the short time span, but there was much talk about the merits of a common African position on this issue and whether this should be done inside the auspices of the AU or through a free-standing conference in one of the African states. The discussion on this question was not conclusive. Lastly, it was also mentioned that South Africa had indicated an interest in holding a third meeting of the humanitarian initiative, which was welcomed by the participants, but it was also suggested that it might be useful to pursue other avenues as well.

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.