All CISAC News News May 9, 2022

Nuclear weapon-free zones and the issue of maritime transit in Latin America

Why did Latin American states exclude a prohibition on maritime nuclear transit from their regional nuclear weapon-free zone (NWFZ)?
Guided-missile destroyer USS Higgins (DDG 76) pulls alongside nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68
United States Navy

Abstract

Why did Latin American states exclude a prohibition on maritime nuclear transit from their regional nuclear weapon-free zone (NWFZ)? Latin American countries and nuclear powers shared common anxieties about the dangers of the nuclear arms race in the early 1960s. Thus, they decided to craft a regional nuclear non-proliferation mechanism. Latin American states favoured limiting maritime nuclear transit as part of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, known as the Treaty of Tlatelolco. However, they disagreed on defining transit and the zone of application of a ban, and they faced US opposition. This article identifies issue bracketing as a negotiating tactic Latin America used to ensure a successful treaty codification. It argues that Latin American states bracketed the maritime nuclear transit issue out of the NWFZ discussions and onto the agenda of the negotiations establishing ocean governance rules in the 1970s. The Latin American construction of a NWFZ questions assumptions in international law and nuclear politics studies about the agency of the global South in the global nuclear order. Latin American concessions in Tlatelolco were not impositions from nuclear powers. Their compromises were strategic decisions that helped them promote their governance preferences.

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