Cuba’s Accession to the NPT

Jean Du Preez
August 5, 2008

Cuba’s Accession to the NPT: A Step Toward Strengthening the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime

On September 14, the Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque announced to the United Nations General Assembly that his government will accede to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and will ratify the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco). This is an important and historic achievement in strengthening the international nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation regime. Cuba’s accession to the NPT — the treaty most universally adhered to — would not only significantly strengthen the treaty in its universal and regional applications, but it would also solidify the non-nuclear weapons states’ position in support of the total elimination of all nuclear weapons.

Welcoming the Cuban announcement, United Nations Under-Secretary General for Disarmament Affairs Jayantha Dhanapala and President of the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference stated that “the NPT has long been the most widely subscribed to disarmament treaty. With Cuba’s welcome decision to adhere to the NPT we will have 188 parties, with only three countries in the international community remaining outside. Cuba’s decision to ratify the Tlatelolco Treaty – the first nuclear-weapon-free zone treaty in the world – completes the universality of this Treaty in the Latin American and Caribbean region. These steps undoubtedly strengthen the process of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.”

Cuba’s accession to the NPT will also enhance non-nuclear weapons states’ continued efforts to hold the nuclear weapon states to their unequivocal undertaking, given at the 2000 NPT Review Conference, to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament. This commitment binds all NPT States parties. The reaffirmation of the Cuban position that the elimination of nuclear weapons should be “under strict international verification” is in line with the principled position of the majority of NPT States parties, including members of the Movement of Non-Aligned countries. Of further importance is the fact that Cuba would be bound by all the provisions of the treaty, in particular the obligations not to contribute to the spread of nuclear weapons. Cuba has of course concluded an additional protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Cuba’s decision to accede to the NPT would pave the way for the government to bring this protocol into force and to conclude a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA as required under Article III of the NPT.

The Cuban decision to ratify the Treaty of Tlatelolco will consolidate the nuclear-weapons-free zone in Latin America and the Caribbean and will enhance the effectiveness of the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (OPANAL). Cuba’s ratification of the treaty will complete this nuclear-weapon-free zone — the first such zone to which all states in the region belong. In this regard IAEA Director General Mohamed El Baradei welcomed Cuba’s announcement to accede to the NPT and to ratify the Treaty of Tlatelolco and said that, “the Tlatelolco Treaty provides a good model for other regional nuclear-weapon-free zones to follow.” He added that “universal adherence of all countries in regions having nuclear-weapon-free zone arrangements is important to further strengthen the nonproliferation regime.” Cuban ratification of the treaty would further strengthen the commitment by the vast majority of states to consolidate large parts of the world as zones free of nuclear weapons. Including Cuba, more than 100 states are presently part of nuclear-weapon-free zones in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco), the South Pacific (Treaty of Rarotonga), South-East Asia (Treaty of Bangkok), and Africa (Treaty of Pelindaba). Support furthermore exists to establish nuclear-weapons-free zones in areas such as the Middle East, South Asia, and Central Asia. The Cuban decision will also solidify attempts by the member states of the Tlatelolco and Pelindaba treaties to free the South Atlantic Ocean from nuclear weapons.

Cuba’s decision to accede to one of the most important international treaties and to ratify one of the oldest regional nonproliferation agreements deserves recognition by the international community as a major step by the Cuban Government in fulfilling its international responsibilities. It is also especially welcome at a time when international nonproliferation, disarmament and arms control treaties are under pressure from decisions by the United States to withdraw from negotiations on the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) Verification Protocol, to withdraw from the 1972 Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-ballistic Missile Systems (ABM Treaty), to not ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), etc.

An interesting aspect of the Cuban Foreign Minister’s statement is that the decision to ratify the Treaty of Tlatelolco was taken “despite the fact that the only nuclear power in the Americas [referring to the United States] pursues a policy of hostility towards Cuba that does not rule out the use of force.” This pronouncement refers to the undertakings by nuclear weapons states parties to the NPT not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against member states of nuclear-weapons-free zones, in this case the Treaty of Tlatelolco. This seems to imply that Cuba does not wish to be included as part of those states that are considered to be a threat to international peace and security as in the case with Iraq. The timing of this decision, in light of possible military intervention in Iraq and considered against the background of allegations that Cuba has violated its obligations under the BTWC, could be an attempt by the Cuban government to be seen as a responsible member of the international community rather than another state posing a threat to international peace and security.

The Cuban Foreign Minister’s statement, in the context of current challenges to multilateral solutions to international security related concerns (such as terrorism), makes an implied linkage between universal adherence to the NPT and the need to support multilateral initiatives to resolve these concerns. Cuba has traditionally been a strong proponent of multilateral action, in particular through the United Nations or international treaties as the only mechanisms to deal with challenges to international peace and security.

The impact of the Cuban decision to accede to the NPT will strengthen the NPT states’ parties resolve to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons through universal adherence to the treaty in the face of the challenge presented by those states (India, Pakistan, and Israel) that remain outside the treaty. Traditionally, NPT member states included Cuba in this category of states that possess nuclear weapons. To this end, the Chairman of the 2002 Preparatory Committee for the 2005 NPT Review Conference, Ambassador Henrik Salander from Sweden stated that “the decision by Cuba is indeed very welcome and reinforces the fact that the NPT is a successful treaty, despite its problems. With Cuba as a State Party, the issue of universality becomes more clear-cut and the spotlight is more focused on the three significant countries outside the treaty.”

Whatever the motivations may be behind the Cuban government’s decision to accede to the NPT and to ratify the Treaty of Tlatelolco, this decision should be warmly welcomed by the international community. The forthcoming First Committee session of the United Nations General Assembly, as well as the 2003 Preparatory Committee and subsequent meetings of the State Parties to the NPT, will enable Cuba to fully participate as a member of the international nuclear nonproliferation regime. To this end, the Cuban government’s decision should be seen as a serious political commitment to be a responsible member of the international community and to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.

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