ILPI roundtable discussion in Montego Bay, August 2014

News & Events

On 20–21 August 2014, ILPI’s Nuclear Weapons Project convened its 8th regional roundtable meeting in Montego Bay, Jamaica. The meeting was organized in collaboration with the International Centre for Environmental and Nuclear Sciences at the University of the West Indies (ICENS-UWI) and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. The Permanent Mission of Jamaica to the UN in New York was also closely involved in the planning of the meeting.

A total of 27 individuals from 14 different countries attended the roundtable. 12 of the participants were government officials, from 7 different countries (Costa Rica, Grenada, Jamaica, Mexico, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Trinidad & Tobago), while the rest were a mix of civil society, academics, and the Red Cross / ICRC. The meeting stretched from lunch to lunch. Conforming to the usual practice at the roundtable meetings arranged by the Project, each session was opened by introductory remarks from two pre-selected participants. The discussions were carried out under Chatham House rules, and moderated by ILPI.

Before the first session commenced, an optional training course was offered. The training course was held by two of the participants, who gave a presentation of the genesis of nuclear weapons, the NPT, and the Treaty of Tlatelolco; the current status of nuclear disarmament; and a history of previous efforts to ban specific weapons. Other participants contributed with their knowledge and views when the session was opened for questions and comments. The course was intended to provide the participants with the necessary facts to be able to participate constructively in the discussions.

Summary of discussions

In the first session, the participants discussed the experience of the Caribbean in previous disarmament and arms regulation processes. Several of the participants pointed to the active and progressive engagement of CARICOM (the Caribbean Community) in the process leading up to the ATT. It was noted that while the CARICOM had not held a unified position from the beginning, the Caribbean countries ultimately came to the negotiating conference with a strong common position. It was noted that it would be good for CARICOM to be more visible in forums dealing with nuclear disarmament, and that CARICOM’s engagement with OPANAL should be increased. Participation could potentially be enhanced by making better use of information and communications technology. It was also noted that CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) had an important role to play, and that it could act as a platform for joint statements and other actions.

Several participants voiced their opinion that resolute normative leadership was needed in the region. One participant observed that both Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago had taken on such roles in the past. It was remarked that nuclear disarmament is not of the highest priority for most Caribbean countries, and that more work should be done to sensitise governments, ministries and publics.

In the second session, the discussion moved to the humanitarian initiative on nuclear weapons. It was opined that the humanitarian initiative is really about how nuclear weapons are relevant for the policy issues of the 21st century. Some of the key findings of the conferences were highlighted. One participant underlined the need for more research on the regional and sub-regional impacts of nuclear weapon detonations. In the context of the Caribbean, the fragile marine environment was noted as a significant concern.

Most participants were of the opinion that Vienna was a good opportunity for Caribbean and Latin American states to take a progressive stance. It was noted that Vienna could be a place to start discussing the ingredients of a political response to the challenge posed by the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. It was further mentioned that all successful elimination/disarmament processes have been preceded by a legal ban of the weapon in question. Several participants also remarked that it would be futile to wait for the nuclear-weapon states to take action on disarmament. The humanitarian initiative was seen as a democratization of the discussions about nuclear weapons, and it was suggested that it represented an opportunity for the non-nuclear weapon states to take matters into their own hands.

In the third session, the participants moved on to discuss what CARICOM could do both at the Vienna Conference and beyond. It was mentioned that while CARICOM did not have a common position on the humanitarian initiative, it did have a shared position on nuclear weapons, as well as on the human right to life. This could potentially be used as a springboard for a position on the humanitarian initiative. As a practical measure, it was suggested that CARICOM member states could meet in the margins of the UN First Committee in New York in October, with a view to discuss how to take the issue forward.

As the third session drew to a close, the participants discussed the New Agenda Coalition’s (NAC’s) working paper no. 18 submitted to the Preparatory Committee of the NPT in 2014. The paper draws up four options for implementing “effective measures” for disarmament: (1) a nuclear weapons convention, (2) a simple(r) ban treaty, (3) a framework agreement, or (4) a hybrid of the first three. It was noted that one way of looking at the options is to ask ‘who can drive the process?’ For example, while a convention establishing benchmarks for disarmament logically would have to be driven by the nuclear-weapon states, a process to negotiate a treaty banning nuclear weapons could be led by the non-nuclear-weapon states, and would not depend on the adherence of the former in order to be effective. One participant rehearsed the slogan that a process should be ‘open to all and blockable by none.’ The discussion did not go much into detail about the question of where a ban should be pursued, but it was asserted that a process to ban nuclear weapons should somehow be linked to the UN.

In the fourth and last session the discussion turned towards more practical measures that could be taken in order to move the disarmament agenda forward, and in particular with regards to the humanitarian initiative and the goal of a ban treaty. It was suggested that CARICOM and individual Caribbean countries could partner with other regional or subregional groups, such as Southeast Asia and Africa (e.g. ECOWAS). Those regions would have similar interests to those of the Caribbean, one participant contended. The importance of including the CARICOM secretariat in this work was also underlined.

As for possible actions, it was suggested that both individual Caribbean countries and CARICOM could make joint statements e.g. at the UN First Committee in October, the Vienna Conference in December or at the Review Conference of the NPT in 2015. Ahead of this, countries of the region should coordinate to discuss strategy and actions.

Regional page
Latin America and the Caribbean

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.

Humanitarian initiative at a glance
A global discussion about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons has intensified in recent years. This brief overview presents excerpts from key documents and statements in this discussion, and combines this with information drawn from the statistical report Counting to Zero about the role that different States have played in support of this initiative.

An introduction to the issue of nuclear weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean
This article provides an overview of the issue of nuclear weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, with particular emphasis on the establishment of the Latin American and Caribbean nuclear-weapon-free zone, including some of the unusual terms of the treaty and on how the zone came to incorporate states that were initially reluctant to join. With this as a backdrop, the paper also considers the role of Latin American and Caribbean states in the ongoing efforts to prohibit and eliminate all nuclear weapons.

Relevant legal documents

The treaty of Tlatelolco
The treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean or the treaty Tlatelolco was the first treaty to declare a populated area a nuclear-weapon-free zone. The treaty was opened for signature on 14 February 1967, entered into force on 22 April 1968 and has been ratified by all 33 signatory states.

Treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons
The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons’ (NPT) objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament. The NPT represents the only binding commitment in a multilateral treaty to the goal of disarmament by the nuclear-weapon states.