Atomic Pulse

NTI in Africa: Regional Workshop in Ghana Aims to Strengthen Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Two weeks ago, shortly before COVID-19-related guidance prompted NTI and many other organizations to halt all travel, I returned from a workshop in Accra, Ghana hosted by NTI and the African Center for Science and International Security (AFRICSIS) The workshop convened approximately 35 senior officials, practitioners and technical experts from across Africa with the goal of expanding engagement and action in the region toward strengthening the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). We also discussed areas where countries could collectively focus efforts in advance of the 2020 NPT Review Conference (RevCon) – scheduled for late April but now likely to be postponed until later this year or possibly 2021.

A brief bit of background: The NPT has been the cornerstone of international efforts to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons for five decades by preventing the global spread of nuclear weapons, promoting cooperation on the peaceful use of nuclear technology, and working towards disarmament. But as the world marks the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the NPT this year, the NPT regime increasingly is on shaky ground—and although the number of global nuclear weapons has decreased precipitously since the end of the Cold War, the risk of nuclear use has increased in recent years.

Indeed, the international community has become increasingly divided over the role of nuclear deterrence, the vision of nuclear disarmament and the commitment of states to arms reduction, and the steps required to prevent nuclear weapons use. For these reasons, NTI in 2018 launched the Global Enterprise to Strengthen Nonproliferation and Disarmament (GE)—a multi-year initiative to facilitate a sustained, integrated, and creative dialogue to advance shared interests in support of the NPT’s goals.

Building on the work of the Global Enterprise, NTI is working with partners around the world to host a series of regional workshops. These workshops are designed to discuss regional non-proliferation and disarmament concerns and priorities; highlight potential opportunities for governments to contribute to strengthening the NPT; and develop and build support for practical steps, new initiatives, and tangible commitments that demonstrate the ability of NPT States Parties to work together.

Our first workshop was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in December 2019, and the second in Accra finished on March 5. Both workshops were completed with the help of expert partner organizations in the region—NPSGlobal in Latin America and AFRICSIS in Africa—and included participation from government and nongovernmental experts.

The takeaways from both workshops are clear: Latin American and African governments have a major role to play in sustaining and strengthening the NPT, including during the upcoming NPT Review Conference (the RevCons are held every five years), whenever it now takes place. Both workshops also revealed that while there are increasing tensions among the nuclear weapon states, and between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states, an overall strong commitment to the NPT remains. Moreover, there are plenty of practical ways for states to work together to reduce nuclear threats and create the necessary foundations for further disarmament.

In Accra, participants reinforced the importance of moving toward global nuclear disarmament and employing stringent nonproliferation measures to ensure that non-state actors do not attain nuclear weapons. Participants also focused on ways to safely deliver the peaceful uses of nuclear energy to the continent without sacrificing robust safety and security (for example, continuing close cooperation with the International
Atomic Energy Agency). We were also fortunate to welcome the participation of Dr. Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) who provided opening remarks for the participants. The CTBTO also sponsored several next-generation technical and policy experts to participate in the workshop and discuss the importance of engaging younger generations in the nuclear community.

Overall, the workshops put a spotlight on the different priorities for governments across regions. In the United States and Europe, the discussion typically focuses on specific arms control treaties, risk reduction measures, and the relationship between the global security environment and the future of nuclear disarmament. In Rio and Accra, the discussion instead focused on fulfilling previous disarmament and non-proliferation commitments by Nuclear Weapon States, the advancement of nuclear energy programs, and ways to work together to reduce the risk of nuclear weapons and achieve nuclear disarmament.

As a follow-up to the workshop, NTI commissioned a discussion paper from Segakweng Tsiane, Lead Consultant of T3000 Consultancies in Botswana, to explain the future of Africa’s Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone Treaty and the role of African organizations in nonproliferation and disarmament. The view expressed in this paper is solely that of the author and does not necessarily reflect those of NTI or of other Global Enterprise participants.

Next year, we look forward to our third regional workshop, this time in the Asia Pacific region, where we can again promote broader engagement on NPT issues, understand regional perspectives, and share ideas developed by the Global Enterprise with a wider audience.

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