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Diplomacy in Action

OPANAL Commemoration of 45th Anniversary of the Treaty of Tlatelolco

Ambassador Susan F. Burk
Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation 
Panel on Lessons Learned and Good Practices in the Creation and Consolidation of Tlatelolco
Mexico City, Mexico
February 14, 2012


It is a pleasure for me to participate in the commemoration of the 45th anniversary of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, and to offer some thoughts on this panel on lessons learned and good practices in the creation and consolidation of the Treaty. Let me thank OPANAL and the Government of Mexico for arranging this commemoration, and all the participants who are contributing to what I am confident will be a rich and rewarding discussion.

This ground-breaking nonproliferation Treaty was the first to establish a nuclear weapon free zone in a populated area. It is all the more notable as it predates the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

This anniversary celebration comes at a time when the United States has reinvigorated its own efforts to support nuclear-weapon-free zones. Secretary of State Clinton signaled this development at the 2010 NPT Review Conference when she announced U.S. plans to submit the Protocols to the Treaties of Pelindaba and Rarotonga to the U.S. Senate for its advice and consent. She also announced the U.S. intention to engage with the parties to the treaties establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones in Southeast and Central Asia in an effort to address the problems that had prevented our signature of their Protocols.

In May of last year, the U.S. Administration transmitted the Protocols to the Pelindaba and Rarotonga Treaties to the U.S. Senate. Also last year, the United States, the other Nuclear Weapon States, and the member states of ASEAN worked intensively to resolve issues that for over a decade had prevented the Nuclear Weapon States from signing the Protocol to the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (SEANWFZ) Treaty, the Treaty of Bangkok. I am pleased to report that we have resolved our substantive differences and upon completion of some procedural steps, we expect to be able to sign the SEANWFZ Protocol this year.

Finally, we have had preliminary discussions with Kazakhstan and our P5 partners to see what avenues may be possible to address the issues that have prevented U.S. signature of the Treaty of Semipalatinsk.

This process has reminded us that a commitment to cooperate, to discuss issues frankly, and to be flexible in seeking pragmatic solutions, can yield impressive results in the multilateral field. Most of us who participated in consultations with ASEAN on the Protocol to the Treaty of Bangkok were cautiously optimistic at the beginning, but by the end of the year we were amazed at how far we had come, and how quickly. We were also reminded that working together to achieve shared goals not only helps resolve specific issues, it can, whatever the outcome, deepen relationships and increase understanding among all the participants.

Regional arrangements such as nuclear-weapon-free zones have long been accepted as an important part of the multilateral nonproliferation and arms control architecture. As reaffirmed in the Final Document of the 2010 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), nuclear-weapon-free zones such as Tlatelolco can be important regional complements to the NPT and the broader global nonproliferation regime. The establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at among the States of the region concerned, and in accordance with the 1999 United Nations Disarmament Commission guidelines, enhances global and regional peace and security, strengthens the global nuclear nonproliferation regime, and contributes to realizing the objectives of nuclear disarmament.

Clearly, the Tlatelolco Treaty has been a model for nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties. The States Parties to Tlatelolco undertook to prohibit and prevent in their territories the testing, use, manufacture, production or acquisition of nuclear weapons by any means whatsoever, as well as the receipt, storage, installation, deployment and any form of possession of nuclear weapons by the Parties themselves or on their behalf by anyone else. The drafters of the nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties that came after Tlatelolco embraced these same core obligations. At the same time, each of these subsequent treaties also reflected additional unique provisions that took account of specific regional concerns, or reflected new developments in the international nonproliferation architecture.

The Protocols to the Treaty of Tlatelolco also established a model for the undertakings the nuclear-weapon-free zone parties could seek from the Nuclear Weapon States, and other states, as appropriate, in support of the specific zones. The states that signed and ratified the Protocols to the Treaty of Tlatelolco, including the United States, undertook to respect the Treaty, not to contribute in any way to the performance of acts involving a violation of its basic obligations, and not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the Treaty parties. These same basic undertakings have been repeated in protocols to other nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties, including that of the Treaty of Bangkok.

For the United States, nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties offer a way to codify our negative security assurance policy in a legally binding framework. We have undertaken such legal commitments with respect to the Parties to the Treaty of Tlatelolco, and are working to expand the number of countries receiving such a legal assurance through our efforts on other nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties.

In 2010, the United States issued a new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) that, among other points, reflected the decision to update and strengthen the declaratory policy that is the basis of our long-standing negative security assurance. In a shift away from the previous “calculated ambiguity” to reflect the 21st Century security environment, the NPR made clear that the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations. The NPR further indicated that the U.S. would respond conventionally if states eligible for this assurance used chemical or biological weapons against the United States or its allies and partners. This updated negative security assurance represents a firm and reliable statement of U.S. policy and is specifically intended to underscore the very real security benefits that derive from adherence to, and compliance with, the NPT and other nuclear nonproliferation obligations.

The United States appreciates the close relationship between OPANAL and the International Atomic Energy Agency (the IAEA); both organizations have a key role to play in global efforts to stem the further spread of nuclear weapons and to make the peaceful benefits of nuclear energy available to all.

The Treaty of Tlatelolco explicitly recognizes the importance of the IAEA in verifying compliance with the parties’ safeguards agreements. The United States is committed to ensuring that the IAEA is empowered to fulfill this critical mission. To that end, we welcomed the entry into force this year of Mexico’s and Costa Rica’s Additional Protocols to their comprehensive safeguards agreements with the IAEA. We encourage all states to bring an Additional Protocol into force as soon as possible.

The United States also is deeply committed to helping expand global access to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Through President Obama’s Peaceful Uses Initiative, now embraced and administered by the IAEA, we have pledged $50 million by 2015 to help increase member states’ access to peaceful nuclear energy. These efforts focus on IAEA projects relating to human health, water resource management, food security, and nuclear power infrastructure development. We have welcomed the opportunity to fund projects under this initiative that have benefited many Tlatelolco members, individually and collectively. We look forward to continuing these partnerships.

Finally, the United States is committed to reducing the role and numbers of nuclear weapons, and to reinforcing the nuclear nonproliferation regime, upon which so much of our security depends. A world without nuclear weapons remains our goal, and the agenda to achieve that vision outlined by President Obama in Prague nearly three years ago remains our program of work.

By reinforcing the global nuclear nonproliferation regime, nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties that reflect the long-standing common principles first articulated in Tlatelolco make a singular contribution to this goal. They strengthen the foundation for step-by-step efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons.

By keeping Latin America and the Caribbean free of nuclear weapons, and establishing a model for other regions to follow, the Treaty of Tlatelolco has set the pace and remains one of the most important – and successful -- multilateral mechanisms supporting the global norm against the spread or use of nuclear weapons. Today, we celebrate the wisdom of its drafters, and recommit ourselves to work together to build on its promise.

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