Co-Author: Camille Jewell
Our Communicator of the Month series showcases individuals whose voices have made a lasting impact on our country. In 2023, we recognize 12 Proponents of Peace who were dedicated to resolving conflict and envisioned a world without violence. Whether they advocated for civil education classes or found the common link between the civil rights and peace movements, the efforts of these activists mitigated hostile conditions in many of the world’s most divided countries — including our own. Their cooperative processes led to negotiation, reconciliation and growth — and are still teaching us how to connect back to our shared humanity, even in times of strife.
“Mankind is confronted with a choice: we must halt the arms race and proceed to disarmament or face annihilation.” — Alfonso Garcia Robles
March 20, 1911 — September 2, 1991
Alfonso Garcia Robles, affectionately known as “Mr. Disarmament,” stands as a remarkable figure in the archives of history, revered for his tireless dedication to peace and the promotion of nuclear weapon-free zones. The impact of his life’s work was felt in his home region of Latin America, but also across the world.
Born in Zamora, Mexico, he pursued a law degree at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) before venturing abroad to the Institute of Higher International Studies in Paris and the Hague Academy of International Law in the Netherlands, where he honed his skills in diplomacy.
Garcia Robles’ work in Mexico’s foreign service played a crucial role in shaping global relations. As a delegate to the 1945 San Francisco Conference that established the United Nations, he contributed to the foundation of an organization that aimed to promote international cooperation and prevent future conflicts. Later, his diplomatic journey took him to Brazil, where he served as ambassador from 1962 to 1964. Following this role, he became the state secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, further solidifying his influence in shaping Mexico’s foreign policy. From 1971 to 1975, he represented his country again at the United Nations, navigating international relations and promoting peaceful dialogues.
In 1975-76, Garcia Robles assumed the esteemed position of foreign minister, where he continued to champion peace and disarmament on the global stage. He then took on a critical role as Mexico’s permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament of the United Nations, leading efforts to reduce arms proliferation and foster a safer world.
His defining moment came during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, a period of heightened tension between the United States and the former Soviet Union. His visionary leadership and unwavering commitment to peace came to the forefront as he played a pivotal role in transforming Latin America into a nuclear weapon-free zone. The historic Tlatelolco Agreement of 1967, signed by 14 states in Mexico City, marked a groundbreaking achievement in disarmament, solidifying Latin America as the world’s first region to rid itself of nuclear weapons.
With nuclear weapons banned in those countries, Garcia Robles saw an opportunity to do more. He went on to help draft the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The NPT’s purpose was to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, promote disarmament, and encourage countries to work together to find peaceful uses for nuclear technology. Although the NPT did not ultimately prevent nuclear proliferation, the treaty was a major success for advocates of arms control.
His relentless pursuit of peace did not go unnoticed. In 1982, he was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Alva Myrdal, a Swedish sociologist, diplomat and politician, for their invaluable contributions to disarmament and the promotion of nuclear weapon-free zones. This prestigious honor served as a testament to his enduring impact on the global stage.
Garcia Robles left an enduring legacy of peacebuilding. His remarkable life continues to inspire others to champion peace, embrace compassion and strive for a harmonious global community.