"Unfortunately it is necessary to confess that at times the actions and more frequently the words of the chiefs of states of the nuclear powers, and especially of the two superpowers, do not seem to reflect a full awareness of what is at stake in this question of the nuclear arms race....To correctly appraise that threat it will suffice to recall that the United Nations General Assembly unanimously declared in 1978, at its first special session devoted to disarmament, that it is 'the very survival of mankind' which finds itself threatened by 'the existence of nuclear weapons and the continuing arms race'."
- Alfonso García Robles, 1982

Alfonso Takes the Field:
The beginning of our story

Alfonso García Robles was born in agricultural Zamora, Mexico in 1911. He studied law for many years, with a bachelor's degree from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and post-graduate work in the late 1930s at the Institute of High International Studies of the University of Paris, and Hague Academy of International Law in the Netherlands. (Observant readers of the bibliography below will notice that his early works were all in French, preceding a massive body of Spanish-language work and a few in English from the late '60s onward.) García Robles entered Mexico's foreign service in 1939, at the beginning of World War Two. He spent many years building up political experience as a representative of his country.

Unlike his friend and colleague Alva Myrdal, with whom he shared the Nobel Prize, there is little personal information about García Robles' life. He did not have a famous spouse or bitter children who wrote books about him; he did not have a long, fancy obituary. He lived his life outside of the limelight, quietly laboring within the United Nations and on the printed page for the issue most important to him: nuclear disarmament.

America's bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which took place after Germany and Japan had surrendered, had an intense impact on García Robles' political identity. As Jackson_Mayhem describes the event,

"At 11:02 a.m., August 9, 1945, 500 meters removed from the surface of the land, a fire erupted in the sky above Nagasaki. 73,884 people passed through that light into death. 18,409 homes were wholly consumed by the fire. 6.7 million square meters of land became at once eerily flat, and the wind whipped the ash about the grey plain. What trees remained were bent and bare."
As Mexico's representative, García Robles took part in the San Francisco Conference in 1945 at which the birth of the United Nations took place. He began to be known around the world for his work toward nuclear disarmament.

Mexico Passes Him the Ball! Robles Shoots it Down the Field! En Fuego!: Robles' Political Career Begins

Every time that in the past a new weapon was invented, people would say - and, as is well known, Nobel himself originally shared this belief - that it was so terrible that it would never be used. Nevertheless it was, and even though it was terrible, it did not make the human race disappear. But, as so rightly stated by that eminent philosopher of history who was Arnold Toynbee, "now we have something that could really extinguish life on our planet. Mankind has not found itself in a similar situation since the end of the palaeolithic age…. In fact, the threat to mankind's survival has been much greater since 1945 than it was during the first million years of history." (from García Robles' Nobel Prize acceptance speech)

Alfonso García Robles had already served as the third secretary of the Mexican Embassy in Sweden in 1939. Now his diplomatic efforts grew, bringing him to serve as:

In the latter role, which Alfonso held in the late 1950s, he played a major part in the United Nations' international Conferences on the Law of the Sea. These conferences, held primarily in 1958, sought to establish general agreements on fishing, conservation, dispute settlement, and other rules on the high seas. During the 1960s and 1970s, these and other oceanic problems spiraled out of control, particularly with the increase in oil mining and commercial fishing. Alfonso became heavily involved in the effort to create what would become international waters.

Meanwhile, he continued to work on nuclear issues. As ambassador to Brazil, he was introduced to the possibility of making Latin America off-limits to nuclear armaments. In 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis terrified the world and brought the issue to an even wider audience, and the Mexican government agreed to support his anti-nuclear policy.

He Passes to Chile! Chile Passes Back! He Takes a Shot!: The Tlatelolco Agreement

There is no doubt that - and I again use here the authoritative concepts of Einstein and Russell expressed almost thirty years ago and which obviously are even more valid today - "it is feared that if many H-bombs are used there will be universal death - sudden only for a minority, but for the majority a slow torture of disease and disintegration". (from García Robles' Nobel Prize acceptance speech)
Alfonso García Robles worked throughout the 1960s to create the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which would ban nuclear weapons from all Latin American nations and territories.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was only one of the contributing factors. His own decades of extensive work had led the president of Chile to agree, that very year, "to oppose all nuclear explosions, sign a convention universally banning nuclear weapons and promoting a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Latin American subcontinent." Representatives of Brazil, Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador soon joined them, and drew up a concrete proposal toward these goals; Brazil itself was a leader among the four, and must have been greatly influenced by García Robles' years of ambassadorship. That December, Mexican president Adolfo López Mateos announced his intention to sign that commitment.

These nations subsequently adopted resolution 1911 of the United Nations General Assembly, which was Chile's "Declaration on the Denuclearization of Latin America of 29 April 1963." García Robles brought the news to the Disarmament Committee in Geneva. By this time, seventeen Latin American countries were sponsoring resolution 1911, and they created a Preparatory Commission (COPREDAL) in Mexico to work on the wording and signing of the final accord.

GOL! GOOOOOOOL!: Robles Gets the Prize!

The fact that lately some circles, not less powerful by their small size, have been actively promoting certain theories, as dangerous as they are illusory, of a "limited", "winnable" or "protracted" nuclear war, as well as their obsession of "nuclear superiority", make it advisable to bear always in mind that the immediate goal of all States, as was expressly declared in the Final Document of the Special Assembly of 1978, "is that of the elimination of the danger of a nuclear war". (from García Robles' Nobel Prize acceptance speech)

In 1967, 22 Latin American nations signed the Tlatelolco agreement, which was named after the location in Mexico where it was created. This was a massive victory: an entire continent had become aware of the horrors of nuclear weapons and nuclear testing, and agreed to work towards its end.

García Robles' work did not end there. In 1972, he became a member of El Colegio Nacional, a small and radical college founded in his hometown of Zamora. He continued to work with the United Nations toward worldwide disarmament, representing his country during the negotiations in Geneva and in the special UNO disarmament sessions begun in 1978. His role was to coordinate all the proposed ideas and viewpoints on disarmament into one document, and he convinced the United Nations to adopt what became known as the "Final Document" of that session of the Assembly, embracing worldwide disarmament at least in theory. In 1981, he became an Emeritus Ambassador. In 1982, of course, he won the Nobel Prize in Peace, and in 1988 he became chair of the U.N. Disarmament Committee.

And the Crowd Goes Wild!: His Honors

As "Hispanos Famosos" puts it, his Nobel Prize was "not only a reward for almost twenty years of work on disarmament, but also vindication of the virtues of patient and methodical negotiation."

Besides the general adulation and Nobel Prize winning that the world had thrust upon him, in 1990 the governments of the United States and Mexico established the U.S.-Mexico Commission, whose main purpose is to create and administrate Fulbright-García Robles scholarships. In the first decade of its existence the Commission awarded 2,033 scholarships to Mexican and United States students and academics who "promote bilateral understanding through educational exchange," as Alfonso García Robles did throughout his life, until his death in 1991 at the age of eighty.

In his speech presenting Alfonso and Alva with the Nobel Prize, Egil Aarvik, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said,

It has rightly been maintained that the first essential condition required for the solution of political problems is the moral courage to look these problems in the face. Frequently this is precisely what is lacking, and this is maybe particularly applicable to the problem of nuclear arms. It is such a temptation to shut one's eyes. It is as though the process of comprehension were obstructed. We are not in a position to pursue our own reasoning to its logical conclusion. At some point or other we recoil, lacking the courage to know what we actually know. The truth concerning the situation that has been created by modern nuclear weapons is so horrifying that in a way it numbs our ability to comprehend it.
Perhaps Alfonso García Robles' greatest accomplishment in this long list is that he kept his eyes and the eyes of the world open to these horrors so well and for so long.

References and Resources

  • A short biography: http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/people/A0820183.html
  • "Nobel Prize Winner Scores Actions of Superpowers": http://www.boston.com/globe/search/stories/nobel/1982/1982e.html
  • Entire Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech: http://www.nobel.se/peace/laureates/1982/robles-acceptance.html
  • Biography and bibliography: http://www.colegionacional.org.mx/GarciaRo.htm
  • Encyclopedia Britannica on García Robles: http://www.britannica.com/nobel/micro/226_81.html
  • Hispanos Famosos: http://coloquio.com/famosos/garciaro.html
  • On the Fulbright-García Robles grant: http://www.comexus.org.mx/2004Ingles/AboutUs.htm
  • Encyclopedic resources on Alfonso García Robles: http://www.geometry.net/nobel/robles_alfonso_garcia.php
  • Nobel Prize site for Alfonso García Robles and Alva Myrdal: http://www.nobel.se/peace/laureates/1982/
  • On The Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean: http://www.iaea.or.at/worldatom/Documents/Infcircs/Others/inf431.shtml
  • Bibliography

    Works in French

    • Mesures de Désarmement dans des Zones Particuliéres: Le Traité visant l'Interdiction des Armes Nucléaires en Amérique Latine ("Disarmament Steps in Some Specific Zones: The Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons from Latin America." Recueil des Cours de l'Académie de Droit International de La Haye, 1971.)
    • Le Panaméricanisme et la Politique de Bon Voisinage ("El Panamericanismo y la Política de Bon Voisinage." Foreword by Alejandro Alvarez, Paris, Les Editions Internationales, 1938.)
    • Premier Congrés Díétudes Internationales ("First Congress on International Studies." Paris, les Editions Internationales, 1938.)
    • La Question du Pétrole au Mexique et le Droit International ("The Question of Oil in Mexico and International Law." Forewords by Julio Escudero, Henri Rolin and J.M. Yepes, Paris, Les Editions Internationales, 1939.)
    • L'Université de Paris á travers les Siécles ("The University of Paris through the Centuries." New York, Editions de la Maison Francaise, 1946)

    Works In Spanish

    • La Cláusula Calvo en el Derecho Internacional ("Calvo Clause in International Law." Foreword by J M Yepes, 1939.)
    • El Panamericanismo y la Política del Buen Vecino ("Panamericanism and the Good Neighbor Policy." Foreword by Alejandro Alvarez, Comité Mexicano para el Estudio Científico de las Relaciones Internacionales, 1940.)
    • La Sorbona ayer y hoy ("The Sorbonne, yesterday and today." Foreword by Jules Romains, UNAM, 1943)
    • México en la postguerra ("Mexico in the Post-War Times." Ediciones Minerva, 1944.)
    • Marco mundial y continental de la Paz ("Peace World and Continental Framework." Ediciones del Departamento Central del Distrito Federal, 1944.)
    • Seis años de actividad nacional ("Six Years of National Activity." Con Agustín Yáñez, José Villagrán, y Jaime Torres Bodet. Secretaría de Gobernación, 1946)
    • La Conferencia de San Francisco y su obra ("The San Francisco Conference and Works." Sociedad Mexicana de Geografía y Estadística, 1946.)
    • Política internacional de México ("International Politics of Mexico." Talleres Gráficos de la Nación 1946.)
    • Ecos del Viejo Mundo ("Echoes of the Old World." Editorial Minerva, 1946.)
    • El mundo de la postguerra ("The Post-War World." 2 volumes, SEP.)
    • La Conferencia de Ginebra y la anchura del mar territorial ("The Geneva Conference and the Territorial Sea Width." FCE, 1959.)
    • La anchura del mar territorial ("The Territorial Sea Width." El Colegio de México, 1966.)
    • La desnuclearización de América Latina ("Latin America De-nuclearization." El Colegio de México, 1965 2nd enlarged edition, 1966.)
    • El Tratado de Tlaltelolco. Génesis, alcance y propósitos de la proscripción de las armas nucleares en la América Latina ("The Tlaltelolco Treaty. Causes, Scope and Purposes of Banning Nuclear Weapons from Latin America." El Colegio de México, 1967.)
    • México en las Naciones Unidas ("Mexico in the United Nations." 2 volumes, Facultad de Ciencias Políticas y Sociales de la UNAM, 1970.)
    • La proscripción de las armas nucleares en la América Latina ("The Ban on Nuclear Weapons in Latin America." El Colegio Nacional, 1975.
    • 338 días de Tlaltelolco ("338 days at Tlaltelolco." FCE, Politics and Law Works Section, 1977.)
    • La conferencia de revisión del Tratado sobre la no proliferación de las armas nucleares ("The Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty." (El Colegio Nacional, 1977.)
    • La asamblea general de desarme ("The General Disarmament Meeting." El Colegio Nacional, 1979.)
    • El comité de desarme: antecedentes, constitución y funcionamiento ("The Disarmament Committee: Background, Incorporation and Function." El Colegio Nacional, 1980.)
    • Organismos Internacionales (Con Miguel Marín Bosch. Terminología Usual en las Relaciones Internacionales, 1. México, Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores: Acervo Histórico Diplomático, 1993.)

    Works In English

    • The Denuclearisation of Latin America (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1967)
    • The Latin American Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Occasional Paper 19. (The Stanley Foundation, 1979)