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African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Nears Realization
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Brittany Griffith

Mozambique on March 26 became the 26th country to ratify the Pelindaba Treaty, which means that the treaty needs only two more ratifications before an African nuclear-weapon-free zone enters into force.

Currently, there are three regions with nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties in force: Latin America and the Caribbean, the South Pacific, and Southeast Asia. Central Asia has developed the Central Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty, but it has yet to enter into force. The Pelindaba Treaty opened for signature in Cairo on April 11, 1996, after being approved by African heads of state and endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 1995. Countries that adhere to the treaty commit not to possess, acquire, or develop nuclear weapons or encourage the development of nuclear weapons by any state. At present, all African countries are already non-nuclear-weapon states and parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which has the same requirements.

Ratifying countries are required to declare all capabilities that could be used for the manufacture of nuclear explosive devices. Each party agrees to comply with comprehensive International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards and inspections. Additionally, the treaty establishes the African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE), another mechanism to monitor compliance. AFCONE will work with the IAEA to oversee and encourage programs using nuclear science and technology for peaceful ends.

The treaty text notes that the existing nuclear-weapon-free zones enhance the security of parties to the Pelindaba Treaty and that the establishment of other nuclear-weapon-free zones, especially in the Middle East, would further promote security.

Like other nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties, the Pelindaba Treaty includes a negative security assurance protocol, a measure by which the five recognized nuclear-weapon states pledge not to use those arms against states in the zone. The negative security assurances protocol drafted in the Pelindaba Treaty requires signing parties not to use, threaten to use, or aid other countries in using nuclear weapons against countries in the African nuclear-weapon-free zone. Additionally, each state to ratify the protocol agrees not to assist in or encourage the pursuit of nuclear weapons by a nuclear-weapon-free zone country. Thus far, China, France, and the United Kingdom have signed and ratified the negative assurances protocol while Russia and the United States have signed but not yet ratified. In the event of a chemical or biological weapons attack against the United States or its forces carried out by a state-party to the Pelindaba Treaty, the United States has warned that it might respond with any available option, suggesting possible nuclear retaliation. (See ACT, April 2005.)

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Corrected online January 21, 2009. See explanation.

Posted: June 11, 2008