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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 13, February - March 1997

30th Anniversary of the Signing of the Tlatelolco Treaty:
Statement by UN Secretary-General

'Latin America's Nuclear-Weapon Treaty "pillar" of global regime says Secretary-General, in Message on Treaty's Anniversary,' United Nations Press Release, SG/SM/6163, DC/2575, 20 February 1997

The statement was delivered on behalf of the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, by the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr. Hans Blix, in Tlatelolco, Mexico City, on 14 February.


"When the Treaty was opened for signature 30 years ago here in Mexico City, Secretary-General U Thant declared that 'the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean can, with ample justification, take pride in what they have wrought by their own initiative and through their own efforts'. I am honoured to reaffirm my distinguished predecessor's words, and to add my own praise for this region's concrete contribution to the fulfilment of one of the dominant objectives of the nuclear age: a world free of nuclear weapons.

Thirty years ago, East and West were locked in the cold war, and in an arms race involving both nuclear and conventional weapons. The fears caused by the crisis in the Caribbean in the early 1960s had not been forgotten. ...

From that terror emerged the resolve to denuclearize vast regions of the world. As they had earlier loosened their colonial ties, non-nuclear-weapon States sought and found a way to declare their independence from the nuclear stand-off. Noting that the principle of denuclearization had been applied successfully to the uninhabited areas of Antarctica and outer space, they proposed that a nuclear-weapon-free zone be created in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The United Nations General Assembly endorsed the idea in 1963. Four years of intense negotiations ensued, under the determined stewardship of the eminent Mexican diplomat and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Alfonso Garcia Robles. These efforts led to the landmark treaty that prohibits the testing, use, manufacture, production or acquisition of nuclear weapons over a vast geographic region that is home to tens of millions of people.

The Treaty has now entered into force for nearly all Contracting Parties, covering almost all the States of the region. The five nuclear-weapon States have committed themselves in the Additional Protocols to respect the non-nuclear-weapon status of the region, and not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the Contracting Parties.

And with the establishment of the compliance oversight organization, OPANAL - the Organization for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean - the Treaty broke new ground, stimulating further cooperation among regional parties. The Treaty has also created an unprecedented relationship between a regional control organization, OPANAL, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which jointly provide the institutional framework for compliance and verification. The legal commitment of the parties to IAEA safeguards agreements has brought additional confidence and assurance that international standards for the peaceful use of nuclear energy are being upheld.

These are all major accomplishments. Just as significantly, the Treaty has served as a guidepost for the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones in other parts of the world: the Treaty of Rarotonga in the South Pacific; the Treaty of Bangkok in South-east Asia; the Treaty of Pelindaba covering all of Africa. Though each of these zones has its own regional characteristics and concerns, their creators drew heavily from the experience and example of the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean. More than 110 United Nations Member States are party to these agreements. With Antarctica included, they form a nuclear-weapon-free mantle over a vast, densely populated area of the southern hemisphere.

Efforts are under way to create additional nuclear-weapon-free zones. Their adoption, if mutually agreed by the States of the region and other concerned States, would be a boon to regional security cooperation and would represent a further step in the direction of a nuclear-free world. ...

As the cold war fades farther away, the nations of the world are still redefining their security requirements. Deep reductions in nuclear weapon stockpiles have been made, making the end of the cold war a tangible reality. The elimination of nuclear weapons, a goal shared by all humanity, is a feasible long-range objective. The nuclear non-proliferation regime has been strengthened considerably with the indefinite extension of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the adoption and signature by 140 States of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). I seize this opportunity to urge all the States signatories, especially the nuclear-weapon States, to observe fully the spirit of the CTBT's prohibitions during the time between now and the Treaty's entry into force. ...

Though born of terror and raised with scepticism, the Treaty of Tlatelolco has matured and become a stabilizing force in international relations. Efforts to achieve a world liberated from the threats of nuclear destruction and excessive accumulations of conventional weapons can draw a lesson from its development and evolution. I am convinced that through pragmatism, consensus, confidence-building measures and the dogged perseverance and long-term commitment which allowed the Treaty of Tlatelolco to come into existence and flourish, we can take great strides in fulfilling our obligation to ensure international peace and security in all its dimensions."

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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