Roundtable discussion in San José

News & Events

On 19–20 November 2015, the WMD project of International Law and Policy Institute (ILPI) organised its tenth regional roundtable meeting on nuclear weapons in Costa Rica

By Torbjørn Graff Hugo
26 November 2015

The meeting was organised in collaboration with the Costa Rican Ministry of Foreign Affairs and brought together 17–18 participants, primarily government officials from Latin America and the Caribbean. The main objective of the roundtable meeting was to bring together key stakeholders from the region of Latin America and the Caribbean, including government officials, academics and civil society actors, to discuss both substantive and process-related aspects of international nuclear disarmament.

Summary of the discussions

The first sessions focused on the status of the Humanitarian Impacts Initiative (HII), including on the effect of the failure of the NPT Review Conference to achieve a consensus  outcome document, and the new resolutions introduced during the recent UNGA First Committee. The sense around the table was that this represented a shift from previous UNGA meetings. On the one hand, this showed that the HII had now been brought back to the UN context, which by some participants was underlined as positive. On the other hand, the development during the UNGA reflected an increased level of polarization among the UN member states on this issue, which could be seen as the result of a shrinking middle ground. According to one participant, it had become more difficult to maintain the typical umbrella-state position; that nuclear weapons should be eliminated, but not prohibited—that they should be abolished, but not as long as they continue to exist.

For Latin America and the Caribbean, it was commented that even though the region had adopted a communiqué at the highest level, this position lacks clarity on a number of questions, including on whether these countries accept the principle that multilateral processes in this field should be ‘open to all and blockable by none’, and on the extent to which negotiation processes should be tried and tested inside the UN before being taken outside (as a last resort).

The second session took the so-called legal gap on nuclear weapons as a starting point. Participants generally seemed to agree that there is indeed a legal gap on this issue, and that one way of describing this gap was as the lack of a comprehensive global prohibition of nuclear weapons. On this basis, the discussions during the second sessions aimed to elaborate on some of the elements and draft parameters that such legal instrument should contain. Part of the session was also spent on the different options presented in a working paper from the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), and while certain differences between the options were highlighted, most participants seemed to agree that all the options in some way would have to include a comprehensive prohibition.

The third session (day 2) picked up on the issue of leadership, which had been touched upon during the first two sessions. If the legal gap on nuclear weapons was to be filled, how could this happen? One aspect mentioned in this regard was the need for regional coordination, according to some of the participants. Preferably, this would be done on the basis of a new CELAC action plan (or similar) that could be adopted early in 2016, and that expressed a uniform position among all the 33 states in the region. It was argued, however, that If CELAC failed to achieve consensus on such a plan, or of the plan remained inconclusive on the key questions (venue, procedure, participation), the states most interested in moving forward on the issue should do so regardless.

The last session of the roundtable meeting continued the discussions from the previous session, with a particular focus on the regional institutions, and on the role the CELAC group could play in terms of bridging gaps (e.g. between NAM and non-NAM states) and in bringing the multilateral agenda forward. These discussions were also enriched by the engagement of the Secretary General of OPANAL and the Mexican MFA over video link.


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.