On 29 August, the international community observed the second International Day against Nuclear Tests. The UN General Assembly created the event in December 2009 through the unanimous adoption of resolution 64/35.
This year, the International Day against Nuclear Tests also marked the 20th anniversary of the closure of the nuclear weapons test site at Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan. According to UN resolution 64/35, the day is “devoted to enhancing public awareness and education about the effects of nuclear weapon test explosions or any other nuclear explosions and the need for their cessation as one of the means of achieving the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world”. The UN Office for Disarmament will be hosting two events at the UN Headquarters in New York to commemorate the day – a high-level workshop looking at meeting the targets of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) action plan and an informal meeting of the General Assembly.
Since December 2009, a number of global developments and initiatives have contributed to the quest for a nuclear weapon free world, including the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit in April 2010 and the NPT Review Conference in May 2010. Both meetings produced ambitious action plans, including promoting ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the treaty banning nuclear explosions by anyone, anywhere in the world, including the atmosphere, underwater and underground.
Africa is also doing its part towards contributing to a world free of nuclear tests. The continent is still dealing with the consequences of nuclear tests in the Sahara undertaken by France in the 1960s. In response to these nuclear tests, African states proposed the creation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone and in 1961, 14 African states put forward UN General Assembly Resolution 1652(XVI) calling an all member states to “refrain from carrying out or continuing to carry out in Africa nuclear tests in any form”. In 1964 the Summit of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) adopted the Declaration on the Denuclearization of Africa at its first ordinary session. Subsequently, the UN General Assembly endorsed the OAU Declaration in resolution 2033(XX). The following year, France ceased nuclear testing in the Sahara. African states continued to push for the denuclearisation of the continent throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s and, in 1996, the Treaty of Pelindaba, Africa’s nuclear-weapon-free zone treaty, opened for signature.
Thirteen years later, the Treaty of Pelindaba came into force in July 2009, and although it seemed that the initial momentum to denuclearise Africa had slowed down, this important issue is returning to the continental agenda.
Recent developments, such as the establishment of the African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE) and the Forum of Nuclear Regulatory Bodies in Africa (FNRBA), indicate a renewed interest and commitment by African states to ensure that nuclear weapons are not manufactured, tested, stockpiled, or acquired by any means on the continent. On 14 June 2011, Ghana became the 154th state to ratify the CTBT, bringing the number of African states parties to 39.
However, two African countries (Mauritius and Somalia) still have to sign the CTBT and 12 African countries still have to ratify the Treaty (Angola, Chad, Comoros, Republic of Congo, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, Swaziland and Zimbabwe). The treaty requires 44 specific nuclear-technology-holder countries to sign and ratify before it can enter into force as per Annex 2 of the treaty. These ‘Annex 2′ states include four from Africa – Algeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt and South Africa. To date, three of the four Annex 2 states have ratified the CTBT, only Egypt must still ratify.
Importantly, the CTBT and the Treaty of Pelindaba are mutually reinforcing in both their ‘no-test’ obligations and their socio-economic benefits for Africa. At present, 31 African states have ratified the Treaty of Pelindaba and the treaty’s implementing body, the African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE) is being established. Since the entry into force of the treaty in July 2009, the African Union has convened two meetings – the First Conference of States, which took place in November 2010 and the First Ordinary Session of AFCONE in May 2011. In addition, the 12 commissioners of AFCONE have been elected for a three-year term and are from the following countries: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mauritius, Senegal, South Africa, Togo and Tunisia.
Although nuclear tests have been banned in Africa, the continent must play a stronger role in ensuring nuclear tests are banned everywhere in the world. In order to send a clear message that nuclear tests are unacceptable, all African states must urgently ratify and implement international and continental treaties and conventions including the Treaty of Pelindaba and the CTBT. The bodies responsible for these treaties have the necessary expertise to assist states with the process of proper domestication. African states must also fully participate in – not just attend – international meetings on nuclear safety and security matters.
Finally, African states must support and empower regional organisations such as the African Union, AFCONE and the Forum of Nuclear Regulatory Bodies in Africa in order for these bodies to enhance and solidify the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation agenda on the continent and to carry the views of African states to the international community.
Broodryk is a researcher in the Arms Management Programme of the Institute for Security Studies (Tshwane/Pretoria)