CUNCR Presentation: 10th UN Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference

CUNCR Presentation: 10th UN Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference

Cuncr’s event at the 10th NPT Conference: African perspectives on Human security: United Nations Charter Reform for Democracy and a World Free of Nuclear Weapons

The 2022 Non-Proliferation Treaty conference was held at the United Nations headquarters in New York on August 1-26. Ecologist and Economist research scholar and CUNCR board member Vernita Fort attended the conference on behalf of CUNCR and organised an event titled “African perspectives on Human security: United Nations Charter Reform for Democracy and a World Free of Nuclear Weapons” on August 23rd. In addition to Fort, speakers included Dr SharYahr Sharei, CUNCR’s executive director and international law scholar, Dr Anissa Haddadi, CUNCR’s Schwartzberg’s fellow and decolonial researcher, Shalonda Spencer, activist and researcher on Women Peace and Security and Dr Vincent Intondi, Professor of history and Director of the IRJC at Montgomery University.

The panel highlighted the linkages between the undemocratic nature of international politics, the marginalisation of Africana and anti-colonial voices in the fight for nuclear disarmament and the need for a UN Charter review conference. In taking a postcolonial historical approach, presentations recontextualised the formation of our current international state system as a historical process concomitant with the rise of capitalism and the invention of the concept of race as an agent of this capitalism and the politics of domination and supremacy. In looking at the erasure of dissenting voices coming from the Global South, the presentation asked a series of questions concerning the nuclear and global orders: how is the structure of the international undemocratic? How is the construct of race playing a role in the organisation of international politics? How are nuclear politics reproductive of racist norms? How have African perspectives shaped the fight for nuclear disarmament? Concerning the role of NPT, the event examined the treaty’s lack of institutional capacities and the constraint it put on realising its mission. Finally, the event proposed the operationalisation of Art.109 of the UN Charter as a path toward democratising international politics. More specifically, Art. 109, paragraph 3 promises a UN Charter review conference which, if triggered, could help us turn the United Nations into a more equal, responsible, and accountable agent.

The event started with a talk by Vernita Fort whose presentation recontextualised the formation of our current international state system as a historical process concomitant with the rise of capitalism and the invention of the concept of race as an agent of this capitalism. From the othering and dehumanisation of Latin Americans paved by Christopher Columbus’s 1492 discovery to the slave trade and the legal codes that enforced it, the expansion of colonisation and the anti-colonial and decolonial moments, the Global South has always been an active agent in the shaping of the international. Yet, the marginalisation of the Global South’s history masks how its actors have fought against the normalisation of supremacy as a central norm of the political field. This is further exemplified by the role of Africana voices in the fight against nuclear weapons. For example, the NAACP and the US civil rights movement were very vocal about the need to denuclearise. They also joined forces with African and Caribbean movements that fought against nuclearism. Furthermore, as she reminded us, the logic of inequality and domination perpetrated by international politics stands in sharp contrast with Art. 28 of the Human Declaration of Human Rights, which stipulates that “everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realised.” Finally, Fort concluded by explaining how a UN charter review could bring us closer to making such rights a reality for all.

Dr Anissa Haddad’s presentation focused on France’s nuclear tests in the Algerian Sahara Desert in the regions of Reggane and In Ekker between 1960 and 1966. As she noted, the decision to conduct the testing in Algeria proved especially controversial as testing started during the Algerian armed struggle for independence (1954-62). Dr Haddadi outlined the African response and mobilisation against the testing, which led to an international protest movement. Beyond the Algerian case, African leaders questioned the structure of the global nuclear order at large. Yet, the French state blatantly ignored their warnings and concerns about the impact of the testing on their populations, environment and sovereignty. Today we know that the tests caused mass contamination, yet the extent of the horror of what took place is still buried in the sands. As recently shown in the videos made by the Algerian artist Ammar Bouras, testimonies from survivors mention the deaths of many locals and highlight the processes of dehumanisation through which the nuclear logic unfolds. Further drawing from the works of Jamaican writer and scholar Silvia Wynter, she highlighted how nuclearism is motored by dehumanisation processes that divide us into humans and non-humans. She concluded by emphasising the need to move international politics beyond such division, arguing that the postcolonial reality advocated by anti-colonial liberation movements called for a rethinking of the “human” beyond the politics of white supremacy.

Shalonda Spencer’s talked about the persistent marginalisation of women in the field of peace and security and the recent efforts by the United Nations and the African Union to become more inclusive. She emphasised the importance of addressing fundamental questions regarding the experiences and roles of women in prevention, peacebuilding, protection and resolution: What is the part of women in conflict prevention? How are women participating in peacebuilding? How are the rights of women protected during conflicts? What happens to them when they become refugees? As she explained, in 2000, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. It aims to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all United Nations peace and security efforts. It also calls on all parties to the conflict to take extraordinary measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, in situations of armed conflict. Her presentation, therefore, provided an overview analysis of African descendant women in Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States since the release of UNSCR1325 and their National Action Plans (NAPs). It also addressed the need to redefine national security for the safety of women and girls, whether or not war and conflict exist. 

This course is also offered as part of the Center for United Nations Constitutional Research’s Youth Climate Ambassador Program. YCA are young activists from around the world who multiply efforts and initiatives to promote effective climate governance. To become a climate ambassador, participants must meet the following requirements:
Dr Intondi’s presentation focused on the intersection of race and nuclear weapons. In doing so, it outlined the various links between civil rights and human rights through its exploration of the use of racism as political discourse within the US context and the rise of the civil rights movement. He provided an overview of his research and book, African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement, which examines Black activists who fought for nuclear disarmament, often connecting the nuclear issue with the fight for racial equality and liberation movements around the world. Beginning with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he explored the shifting response of Black leaders and organisations and the broader African American public to the evolving nuclear arms race and general atomic threat throughout the post-war period. Overall, many in the African American community actively supported atomic disarmament even when the cause was abandoned by other groups during the McCarthy era, allowing the fight to abolish nuclear weapons to reemerge powerfully in the 1970s and beyond. As Intondi made clear, Black leaders never gave the nuclear issue up or failed to see its importance, and by doing so, broadened the Black freedom movement and helped define it in terms of global human rights.

Dr Sharei’s talk centred on NPT’s capabilities: can the NPT deliver nuclear disarmament, and who governs it? He argued that without any institutional structure, budget, power, and enforcement, the NPT treaty is not fit for purpose.  Non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and disarmament are two sides of the same coin. How can we then redesign a common global security system that can finally allow us to get rid of nuclear armament? Sharei drew attention to the great compromise manifested in Article 109 of the UN Charter, paragraph 3, which promised a UN Charter review conference in 1955. Unfortunately, the event was suppressed and never happened. Dr Sharei then argued that shifts in the Charter and the UN are needed to fulfil the objective of Art. 6 of the NPT to end the nuclear arms race. How can nuclear disarmament ever come to fruition unless we transform the UN into a more democratic, powerful and at the same time accountable and responsible institution to govern global challenges? He asked. Finally, he called on states to uphold the San Francisco promise of a UN Charter review, which could trigger a UN system change towards a common global security system. Such change is necessary to deliver nuclear disarmament but would also increase the democratisation and institutional capacity of the UN, Sharei concluded.

Overall, the presentation lasted over two hours as presentations from panellists were followed by a successful Q&A session.