21 years on, SA remains ‘lesson in nuclear disarmament’

1 December 2014

It has been 21 years since South Africa dismantled its nuclear weapons programme, and the country’s progressive disarmament policies continue to play a significant role in the global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime.

Speaking at a seminar to mark 20 years of democracy and disarmament in South Africa, Johann Kellerman from the Department of International Relations and Co-operation outlined how the country’s foreign policy had, since 1994, been committed to peace, human security and disarmament for both conventional (including small arms) and weapons of mass destruction capabilities.

“This policy forms an integral part of South Africa’s commitment to democracy, human rights, sustainable development, social justice and environmental protection,” he said.

The seminar, held on 25 November, was hosted by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in collaboration with the Oslo-based International Law and Policy Institute and the Pretoria Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Since South Africa’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1991 and the decision to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme in 1993, the country had played a leading role in international disarmament and non-proliferation forums. “There are many lessons that can be learned from the South African case,” said Noel Stott, a senior research fellow at the ISS.

“The importance of this country’s nuclear weapons programme is not so much that it developed one, but that it voluntarily dismantled it. This offers useful insights into how other states can disarm and why such a decision would improve global human security.”

Nic von Wielligh, author of Die Bom: Suid-Afrika se Kernwapenprogram (The Bomb: South Africa’s Nuclear Weapons Programme), discussed South Africa’s decision to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme and place all its nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

“When conditions change and the deterrent is no longer required, there must be the political will to dismantle the weapons, allow international inspections, and be totally transparent about it,” said Von Wielligh.

Global movement

South Africa is a strong proponent of the humanitarian initiative, a global movement that has placed the potentially catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons on the international agenda.

In support of this initiative, the country made key contributions to the Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Oslo, Norway in March 2013 and in Nayarit, Mexico in February 2014. The next conference will be hosted in Vienna, Austria in December 2014.

Sarah Swart, the regional legal adviser of the ICRC, spoke about the importance of this initiative for the debate on disarmament.

“According to an assessment carried out by the ICRC from 2006 to 2009, the means to assist a substantial portion of survivors of a nuclear detonation are not currently available in most countries, and is not feasible at the international level. There is therefore a humanitarian imperative to prevent the use of nuclear weapons in the first place.

“The world is at a critical juncture regarding nuclear weapons. The Red Cross Movement will continue to call on all states to ensure that nuclear weapons are never again used and to pursue negotiations to prohibit their use and completely eliminate nuclear weapons through a legally binding instrument, in accordance with existing obligations.”

Source: Institute for Security Studies