South Africa's Nuclear Policy

Ruchita Beri,Research Fellow,IDSA

 

"Apartheid South Africa, as a part of its national security policy, embarked on a nuclear weapons programme. Democratic South Africa sees the international and regional security being achieved by complete nuclear disarmament."

— Alfred Nzo

These words of Alfred Nzo, the South African Foreign Minister, capture in essence the nuclear policy of the South African government past and present. South Africa represents the world's first instance of nuclear rollback, a state which has unilaterally and voluntarily relinquished nuclear weapons. On March 24, 1993, President F.W. de Klerk declared to a special joint session of the South African Parliament that South Africa had developed a small nuclear arsenal and then dismantled and destroyed it. Mainly due to the secrecy surrounding South Africa's nuclear weapons programme there were a number of questions which were left unanswered, particularly regarding the scope and sophistication of the nuclear programme as well as its rationale. What has been the nuclear policy of the new government led by President Nelson Mandela of the African National Congress (ANC) ? Ever since the establishment of the democratic government, South Africa has been making strides in the international arena. It is the present Chairman of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and is set to assume the Chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) this year. Moreover it is actively seeking a position in the United Nations Security Council. Of late, it has shown interest in taking a leadership role in matters related to nuclear arms control and disarmament. As a former nuclear threshold power, it feels it has the technical and diplomatic expertise to play a bridging role between Non-Nuclear Weapon States (NNWS), on the one hand, and the Nuclear Weapon States (NWS), on the other. This paper is divided into two sections: the first section analyses the nuclear policy of South Africa in the apartheid era, while the second, in the post-apartheid era.

I

APARTHEID ERA

South Africa's nuclear programme apparently reflects perseverance, patience and technical competence. The scale of the programme was small—at its peak it could produce only one or two weapons a year. When the programme was cancelled, it was poised to develop more advanced weapons, including warheads for ballistic missiles. In the apartheid era, South Africa launched the nuclear weapons programme as part of its national security policy. This was based on the perception of a domestic, regional and international threat, encapsulated in the theory of "Total Onslaught".1 A core stand of this theory was the belief that South Africa was under the total onslaught of Communist forces globally, regionally and domestically. Global Communism was a principal external threat to South Africa and thus the country had common security interests with the West. South Africa considered the Soviet Union as the main orchestrator of global Communism and believed that in Africa this would ultimately lead to a direct conventional assault on its territory. In the view of Admiral Bierman, the Commandant General of South African Defence Forces (SADF) in the early 1970s, " In the final analysis it is a prerequisite for the successful defence of the Southern Hemisphere that the deterrent strategy based on nuclear terror and the fear of escalation should also be applicable in the region."2 This was one of the first pronouncements of a South African interest in nuclear deterrent capabilities.

The political changes in the Southern African region heightened the security concerns of South Africa. The end of Portuguese rule in Africa after the 1974 Lisbon coup and the subsequent accession to power of Communist regimes in Angola (MPLA) and Mozambique (Freelimo) enhanced the encirclement by Communist forces regionally. The mid- 1970s also saw the intensification of the anti-apartheid struggle within South Africa—in the apartheid government's perception, sponsored by the Communist forces. Thus, perceiving itself to be encircled by Communist forces , the South African government promoted a militarist ideology legitimising the use of force by the state to counter that threat, codified in the concept "Total National Strategy" to coordinate its national security planning. This ultimately involved a nuclear deterrent capability. The arrival of Cuban troops in Angola after the establishment of the MPLA regime provided the final stimulus. Defence Minister P.W. Botha spelled out the defence requirements to meet this challenge as "South Africa can establish a balanced defence force to defend itself against terrorism...and this we are fully able to do....Secondly, we must have a deterrent to be able to resist a fairly heavy conventional attack on South Africa."3 This statement was quite ambiguous; however, one could reach the conclusion that both conventional and nuclear capabilities would be pursued by South Africa. Ambiguity became the trademark of the South African nuclear policy in the apartheid era.

Like other threshold countries, South Africa's nuclear programme was also a recipient of external assistance. In the 1950s and 1960s, it received extensive assistance from abroad. Scientists were sent for training to Europe and the United States. The United States also supplied the Safari research reactor which was commissioned in 1965 and was subjected to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. During the ten years, United States supplied about 100 kg of weapon grade uranium fuel, This was suspended in 1975 as a result of international sanctions against the apartheid regime in 1975. Faced with sanctions, South Africa organised clandestine procurement networks in Europe and the United States and also began a secret collaboration with Israel. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, South Africa and Israel reportedly cooperated on a nuclear and missile programme. The 1979 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) document noted: "Israelis have not only participated in certain South African nuclear research activities over the last few years but they have also offered and transferred various sorts of advanced non-nuclear weapons technology to South Africa."4

Enrichment Programme5

The South African Atomic Energy Board (AEB), the predecessor to the Atomic Energy Corporation (AEC), was established in 1948 by an Act of the Parliament. It assumed general nuclear research and development activities at its Pelindaba site near Pretoria in 1961. Activities in the early years were based on the peaceful uses of nuclear technology, and since South Africa is a leading producer of uranium, attention was given to gain material benefit out of these large reserves. In the 1960s, the AEC started researching in methods for producing both separated plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU). The latter part of the programme was abandoned in 1969 because it was not competitive and was draining resources from the enrichment programme. The uranium enrichment programme made steady progress through the 1960s. By the end of 1967, the programme had succeeded in enriching uranium on a laboratory scale through a process based on a stationary wall vortex tube. After an external review of the process, the government decided in early 1969 to develop a pilot plant. Until then, the enrichment programme was a kept under cover; however, as more organisations and individuals became aware of it, the government decided to reveal the programme publicly. In 1970, the Prime Minister , John Vorster, informed the Parliament about the uranium enrichment project and building of the pilot plant (Y-plant) at Valindaba next to the Pelindaba Research Centre. He stated, "The South African process which is unique in its concept is presently developed to the stage where it is estimated that under South African conditions a large scale plant can be competitive with existing plants in the West." Prime Minister Vorster emphasised that South Africa's nuclear research and development programme was directed towards peaceful purposes and that South Africa was prepared to collaborate in the exploitation of the process " with any non-Communist country desiring to do so". He also declared South Africa's willingness to accept international safeguards subject to certain conditions.6

The government also created a separate state corporation, the Uranium Enrichment Corporation (UCOR) to run the enrichment programme. (The UCOR and the AEB were merged into the AEC in 1982). The Y-plant was commissioned in 1974 and began producing HEU in 1978. After overcoming several technical and chemical problems, the plant was able to produce a steady output of HEU for the weapon programme. In addition, the plant produced 45 percent enriched uranium for the Safari research reactor, low enriched uranium (LEU) test assemblies for the Koeberg nuclear power reactors near Cape Town, and LEU blending stock. The plant was originally designed to produce about 10,000-15,000 separate work units (SWUs) a year, but the design improvements increased its potential annual output to 20,000. Chemical reactions and inefficient mechanical processes ("mixing") caused losses in the enriched uranium output and the plant never achieved its design output. Assuming that it averaged about 10,000 SWUs per year, the plant could have produced about 60 kg of 90 percent enriched uranium in a year, or roughly enough for one of the devices of South African design. Because the plant was also producing enriched uranium for reactor fuel, it never produced weapon-grade uranium at that rate. During its lifetime, the Y-plant produced a total of about 400 kg of uranium enriched above 80 percent, the minimum enrichment used in South Africa's nuclear weapons. The Y-plant closed in 1990—the first official hint that the still secret weapons programme had ended. Next door to the Y-plant, South Africa built a much larger (300,000 SWU/annum) semi-commercial plant for the Keoberg power station's need of 3.25 per cent enriched material. It was commissioned in 1984 and started full production in 1988. However, it was closed down in 1995 due to the relatively high production costs in a heavily over supplied world market. Apart from this unique enrichment process, South Africa also developed both gas centrifuge and molecular laser enrichment processes. Both these processes have been terminated now due to economic reasons.

Nuclear Explosives Programme

The South African efforts to develop nuclear explosives began in the 1960s under the cover of the Peaceful Nuclear Explosives (PNEs) programme.7 According to the AEC's Chairman, Waldo Stumpf, the early investigations were very modest and restricted to literature studies. Since South Africa has a significant mining industry, these investigations were primarily launched for evaluating the feasibility of employing nuclear explosives for future construction purposes. In 1971, with the HEU in sight, the AEB received permission from the Minister of Mines to begin secret research and development work on the nuclear explosive devices for peaceful purposes. These investigations were based on literature studies, theoretical calculations and preliminary studies of the ballistics of gun-type devices. In addition, limited theoretical studies of implosion devices were conducted, according to J.W Villiers, former Chairman of the AEC, who is widely believed to have headed the nuclear explosives programme in the 1970s. Due to lack of facilities at Pelindaba this research was undertaken at a propulsion laboratory at the Somchem establishment in the Cape province.8 At Somchem, the AEB design team produced a scale model of a gun-type device which, with a projectile constructed of non-nuclear material, was tested at Somchem in the Cape province in May 1974.

There is some disagreement about the shift from the peaceful nuclear explosives programme to weaponisation i.e. the development of a limited deterrent capability. One school of thought maintains that it was already conceived in 1974. According to this view-point, an investigation of the available options convinced Prime Minister Vorster that the most cost effective would be development of a limited nuclear deterrent capability, and the decision was then taken to this effect. However, six years elapsed between the policy decision and its initial implementation. The other view holds that although the development of a limited nuclear explosive capacity and construction of an underground test site was approved by Prime Minister Vorster in 1974, the programme was still civilian and that the formal shift occurred only in 1978. It is difficult to say which interpretation is correct it. In fact, it took a full six years. During the three years, the AEB developed internal ballistic and neutronic computer programmes, conducted experiments to determine properties of materials in the devices, designed and constructed the critical facility at Pelindaba, and experimented with propellants for the gun-type device. The team working at Somchem tested the first full scale model of this device using a natural uranium projectile in 1976. The test proved the mechanical integrity of the design.

Meanwhile the AEB selected the test site in the Kalahari Desert. Two test shafts were completed in 1976 and 1977. In 1977, the AEB established its own high security weapons research and development facilities at Pelindaba, and during that year, the programme was transferred from Somchem to Pelindaba. In mid-1977, the AEB produced a gun-type device without an HEU core. As has happened in programmes in other nations, the development of the devices outpaced the development of the fissile material. A cold test was apparently planned for August 1977. According to officials, the test would have been a fully instrumented underground test with a dummy core. The major purpose was to test the logistical plans for an actual detonation.

How that test was cancelled has been well publicised. Soviet intelligence had detected test preparations and had alerted the United States. US intelligence quickly confirmed the existence of the test site. The Soviet and Western governments were convinced that South Africa was preparing for a full scale nuclear test site. For two weeks, the Western governments pressed South Africa not to test. The test was called off, the site was abandoned and the shafts sealed. However, the nuclear explosives/weapons programme continued. South Africa was suspended from participation in the UN General Assembly and the Specialised Agencies; it was subjected to a mandatory weapons embargo and a voluntary oil embargo in the Security Council and denied its designated seat on the IAEA Board of Governors.

In 1978, a second , smaller device was built by the AEB. It was not until the second half of 1979, however, that enough HEU had been produced to load a device. The second device was consequently kept for demonstration purposes, without ever being converted into a deliverable weapon. By 1979, the government gave the South African Armaments Corporation (Armscor) the job of manufacturing additional nuclear devices. Armscor used the new Kentron Circle facility about 15 km east of Pelindaba (this site was later renamed Advena) for this purpose. The Armscor approached the problem very differently from the AEB. Armscor considered the AEB's 1979 device to be an unqualified design that could not meet the rigid safety, security and reliability specifications then under development by them. Moreover, the first device was not deliverable. Armscor manufactured its first device in 1983, a "prequalification" model which could be kicked out of the back of a plane. The first gun-type device was not completed until August 1987. This model could be delivered by a modified Buccaneer bomber. By the time the programme was cancelled, three more deliverable devices had been completed. In 1985, the government decided to fund a new facility (Advena Central Laboratories) about five minutes away from the Circle building. This was just being completed when the programme was cancelled in September 1989. By the late 1980s, Armscor had been preparing to upgrade seven gun-type devices. These would have been replaced by seven upgraded devices when they reached the end of their estimated life by the year 2000. These replacement devices would have been deliverable by aircraft and most likely also by ballistic missiles, although a final decision about missiles had not been made. Apparently, the weapon scientists were never serious about building implosion devices. According to an Armscor official, a decision to build implosion weapons was still ten years away when the weapons programme was cancelled.

South Africa's Nuclear Deterrent Strategy

South Africa's deterrent strategy , described at the time of disclosures made by President De Klerk, was based on three phases.

* Phase one: The first was " strategic uncertainty" during which South Africa's nuclear capability would be neither acknowledged nor denied.

* Phase two: Should South African territory be threatened militarily then the government would covertly acknowledge the existence of its nuclear weapons to leading Western governments, particularly the United States.

* Phase three: If this partial disclosure failed to lead to the required assistance in defusing the situation, South Africa would publicly acknowledge its capability or demonstrate it with an underground test.

This strategy was designed to bring Western governments to South Africa's aid in the event of an overwhelming attack by the Soviet supported military forces in Southern Africa. However, in the view of some, South Africa's objective of developing a limited capability was to force the West, particularly the United States, to provide a nuclear guarantee to offset the Soviet Union's capacity for "nuclear escalation dominance" in a situation in which South Africa was under attack. Thus, it appears the policy was that of political bluff intended to blackmail the United States or other Western powers into coming to South Africa's assistance.9

Another objective in espousing such a deterrence doctrine was the desire to increase Western concerns about South Africa's nuclear intentions. Though South Africa apparently never intentionally moved beyond phase one, some officials have said that they believed that Western or Soviet intelligence discovered that Armscor had been checking the condition of at least one of the shafts in the Kalahari for a possible underground test during the mid-1980s and that this exercise convinced the Western powers that it was serious about nuclear weapons. This, in turn, led them to start putting pressure on the Soviet Union and Cuba to withdraw from Angola. Whether the weapons and the strategy ever served this purpose has not been proved and is impossible to determine.

1979 Nuclear Test

On September 22, 1979, a US Vela satellite detected an unusual "double flash" indicative of a nuclear test, in an "area of the Indian Ocean and South Atlantic including portions of the Antarctic continent, and the southern part of Africa." In fact, some have claimed it to be a joint Israeli-South African nuclear test.10 South Africa denied that it had conducted a nuclear test. As late as March 1993, the AEC's Chairman, Waldo Stumpf, is reported to have said, " If it was a nuclear explosion, South Africa was definitely not involved. I doubt that it was a nuclear [test] because no radioactive fallout was detected." Eighteen years after the event, Aziz Pahad, the Deputy Foreign Minister, confirmed that South Africa conducted a nuclear test in the South Indian Ocean in 1979. This admission has laid to rest the controversy surrounding the test. The dispute stemmed from the record of two distinct flashes of bright light- indicative of a nuclear test detected by the Vela 6911 satellite over the Indian Ocean in September 22, 1979. However, since the optical data were not corroborated by other information, the Carter Administration vigorously challenged the military and nuclear laboratory analyses. That position was based on the general mistrust of the aging satellites, and refusal to accept supporting data from other sources. As a result, the Administration assembled a panel of scientists from academia, which decided the event could not be classed as a nuclear test without conclusive supporting data.11

Denuclearisation

According to the South African officials, the changes in the security environment in the late 1980s, both regionally and internationally, played an important role in their country's denuclearisation.12 After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the independence of Namibia, the cessation of hostilities in Angola and the withdrawal of the 50,000 Cuban troops from that country, there was a remarkable improvement in the security situation, thereby, making a nuclear deterrent superfluous. The election of F.W. De Klerk as the President in 1989 precipitated this strategy. De Klerk embarked on a programme of political reform to normalise South Africa's international relations. He also appointed a committee to consider the benefits and liabilities of maintaining the nuclear deterrent and of joining the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In November 1989, the committee recommended complete dismantling of the nuclear weapons programme, a decision which De Klerk approved. This involved the decommissioning of the pilot enrichment plant (the Y-plant was closed on February 1, 1990) and to dismantle and destroy the nuclear devices. The committee advised against publicising the nuclear arsenal and its dismantling for the fear of inviting Iraq like sanctions. In fact, the decision to terminate its nuclear weapons programme opened the prospects of accession to the NPT. Until then, South Africa had not shown any interest in joining the NPT. When the NPT draft treaty was being debated at the 1968 UN General Assembly, South Africa outlined its official attitude. Its main concern was that the IAEA safeguards might infringe its commercial secrets mainly related to gold and uranium extraction technology and later also its enrichment programme. It was also concerned that the potential benefits from any peaceful applications of a nuclear explosion might be withheld—contrary to Article V of the NPT. Moreover, it expressed doubts about the credibility of the security guarantees provided by the NWS to the NNWS signatories. South Africa followed this stance till 1989. Towards the end of the 1980s, the government realised that accession to the NPT would have distinct advantage for South Africa's international relations, specially those with African countries. However, the more plausible reason for South Africa's 1991 decision to sign the NPT and accept IAEA safeguards was its "concern about the future." The South African government did not want any undeclared nuclear material or infrastructure falling in the hands of the ANC.13

South Africa joined the NPT on July 10, 1991. The safeguards agreement entered into force on September 16, 1991. The stockpile of HEU was put under IAEA safeguards. In an attempt to intensify its non-proliferation efforts in the last few years, the De Klerk government worked to establish a strict regime to control the export of sensitive nuclear missile and chemical technologies. On June 23, 1993, De Klerk signed the Non- Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction Act which prohibits South African citizens from assisting in any programme related to construction of nuclear weapons. This was one of the last policies which the apartheid government made in relation to the nuclear issue, the most constructive of them being the rollback of the nuclear programme.

II

POST-APARTHEID ERA

In the post-apartheid era , the ANC-led government which came to power in April 1994, has continued South Africa's non-proliferation efforts. Given the ANC's anti- nuclear stance in the past, it is not surprising. For years, the ANC led efforts to expose and cancel the nuclear programme. The bulk of its members remain firmly opposed to nuclear weapons. President Nelson Mandela has declared that South Africa must never again allow its resources , scientists and engineers to produce weapons of mass destruction. This has been reflected in the further implementation of the national non- proliferation policy by the new government. It has acceded to all major conventions on weapons of mass destruction—the NPT, Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)—and the supplier groups—the Zangger Committee, Nuclear Suppliers Group and Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). It played an important role in the completion of the Pelindaba-African Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone Treaty in 1995. This treaty commits African states not to research, develop, stockpile manufacture or otherwise possess or have control over any nuclear explosive device. It is also participating in the preparations for a possible Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT). During the review and extension conference of the NPT, it played a key role.

NPT Review and Extension Conference

South Africa's role in the extension of the NPT has won it praise from some and criticism from others. The South African position was presented at the review and extension conference of the NPT by Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo. In a statement, he committed South Africa to an indefinite extension of the NPT without any preconditions or linkages. He also proposed changes to strengthen the review process and yardsticks for assessing progress in implementing the treaty. Some Western analysts hailed South Africa's role, arguing that it played a key role in ensuring the survival of nuclear non-proliferation. But some in South Africa dismissed its intervention as a sell-out of the non-aligned position on extension. The criticism levelled against South Africa has primarily sparked from the shift in its position on the NPT extension. Initially, it appears South Africa extended tentative support for a fixed extension and its position was close to the official NAM stance. South Africa's representative at the third preparatory meeting (PrepCom) said that South Africa...."calls on State parties to comply with all the provisions of the treaty, whether they relate to non- proliferation, disarmament or peaceful uses."14 Moreover, the South African position differed from the ANC's, which was put forward at the ANC-convened 1994 conference on the "Nuclear Policy of the Democratic South Africa." The ANC's Denis Goldberg was the key protagonist at the meeting, drawing attention to the NPT extension question and advancing three proposals :

* South Africa should not opt for limited extension, as this would undermine the non- proliferation regime;

* it should support a 15-year fixed period extension ;

* and it could not support permanent extension without serious modification of the non- proliferation regime, addressing disarmament by the five nuclear powers and the conclusion of the CTBT.15

South Africa did not accept this advice. The government had an internal review of the extension issue before the conference began. In the review, it was decided to support indefinite extension. Abdul Minty, an official at the Department of Foreign Affairs claims that South Africa might have supported the NAM; however, he felt there was no official NAM position. This argument appears to be weak, and there were other factors which influenced the South African decision. The first was related to its own security situation. According to Nzo, "South Africa took the decision to destroy nuclear weapons and become a state party to the NPT because we saw our own security being guaranteed by its provisions. It is for this reason also that South Africa has become an active sponsor of an African nuclear weapon-free zone treaty, which will be indefinite."16 The United States may have pressurised South Africa too. It is well known that in the months preceding the conference, the United States was employing a quiet carrot and stick policy to drum up support for an indefinite extension. According to a news report, Princeton Lyman, the US Ambassador to South Africa, had warned Nzo on March 10, 1995, that an unwelcome position on the NPT would affect Washington's view of Pretoria's "non-proliferation credentials." And that failure to support an indefinite extension "would constrain the ability of the nuclear supplier states to engage in the peaceful nuclear cooperation."17 Hinting probably at the South African bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group. However, the South African officials insist that they did not "cave in" to the US pressure. They opine that the position which South Africa reached on the basis of national consensus was similar to the one the US wanted it to take.18

In doing so, it endorsed some of the NWS' arguments, i.e. rejecting the linking of permanent extension to conclusion of the CTBT, other nuclear disarmament measures or a time-bound framework for disarmament, thereby adopting a narrow interpretation of Article VI. At the plenary session of the conference, South Africa's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alfred Nzo, stated that it supported, in principle, indefinite extension "without any preconditions or linkage to other nuclear disarmament measures such as CTBT." South Africa also endorsed the NWS' argument that fixed period extension would erode confidence in the NPT, endangering the non-proliferation regime. This implicitly rejected the non-aligned countries position that limited extension sought to strengthen rather than weaken the NPT. South Africa expressed the fear that placing conditions or extending it for a fixed period, might lead to termination of the treaty. South Africa's stance also stemmed from the position that the NWS had an upper hand in the negotiations. It rejected the linkage on the grounds that "...(this) raises the question, inter alia, of what would happen if for one or other reason, the conditions were not met"—implying that nothing would. Therefore, it claims to have sought a middle course between the two positions.

South Africa's middle course is explained in the terms that while acceding to the NWS' position for the indefinite extension of the NPT, it also attempted to put pressure on them for their Article VI commitments by suggesting that the NPT process be strengthened. It also suggested yardsticks for assessing progress towards nuclear disarmament. These were in the form of non-binding "Principles for Nuclear Non- Proliferation and Disarmament", which were subsequently adopted by the conference for future review conferences.

* restating a commitment to the non- proliferation of nuclear weapons;

* strengthening and full adherence to IAEA safeguards agreement;

* access to nuclear material and technology for peaceful purposes;

* progress in the cut- off convention

* progress in the reduction of nuclear weapon arsenals;

* commitment to establishing nuclear-free zones;

* enforcing binding security assurances for non- nuclear states.19

The key objection to South Africa's position is that it removed the only source of leverage on the NWS, because the treaty's extension can no longer be linked to dismantling of their arsenals. The "Principles" which it proposed and were adopted to ensure strengthened review processes are not binding and do not set deadlines for their goals. In the absence of a binding time-frame, the nuclear powers are free to adopt their own notions of the right time to disarm. This was a logical consequence of South Africa's endorsement of the restrictive reading, since a time-frame would have implied a form of linkage.

South Africa claims to have bridged the gap between the two sides at the review and extension conference—that it nudged the conference towards a compromise. However, this is strictly not true. The review conference deadlocked on language addressing the implementation on Article VI. Despite agreement on indefinite extension, the 1995 extension conference ended without narrowing the divide between the conflicting positions on nuclear disarmament. In the view of some, this was partly due to the NWS stressing extension at the expense of a review of the treaty's implementation. The NWS were more concerned about the survival of the treaty than in pushing forward the disarmament agenda.

CTBT

South Africa is a signatory to the CTBT. On August 6, 1996, President Nelson Mandela had announced that following the passage of the comprehensive nuclear test ban text through multilateral negotiations, South Africa intended to sign the treaty at the earliest opportunity. Which it did on September 25, the day the treaty opened for signature. South Africa believes that the treaty would not only establish an internationally legally binding obligation on the states which signed and ratified it but also establish a norm in international law from which no state could escape. It would achieve the end of nuclear test ban explosions and inhibit the proliferation of nuclear weapons both horizontally and vertically.20

South Africa views the CTBT as an instrument of disarmament and non-proliferation and feels that the CTBT is an integral part of the programme which will lead to the full implementation of Article VI nuclear disarmament obligations of the NPT. Paragraph four of the Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament identifies the initial elements of such a programme of action for nuclear disarmament.21

South Africa also opposed linkages of any kind to the treaty negotiations. It viewed linkages as a way to "block progress on all fronts," therefore, not to be relied on. It rejected the proposal made by Egypt of linking the CTBT to a pledge made by the NWS towards non- use of nuclear weapons and signing of the FMCT. Similarly, South Africa rejected India's proposal of placing the CTBT in a disarmament framework as part of a step-by-step process aimed at achieving complete elimination of all nuclear weapons within a time-bound framework.22

PrepCom I & II

The NPT is to come for review in the year 2000. At the two Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) meetings held up to now, South Africa put forward its proposals. At the first session of the NPT PrepCom for the year 2000 review conference held in New York in April 1997, South Africa pushed for time to be specifically allocated at the next PrepCom to address the issue of security assurances. It proposed that the PrepCom should decide to take up the work on security assurances envisaged in the "Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament" with a view to completing this work before the year 2000 so as to make recommendations to the review conference. The issue at stake, according to the South African delegate, was granting of legally binding security assurances to the NNWS parties of the NPT, thereby fulfilling the undertaking which should be given to the states which have voluntarily given up the nuclear weapons option, becoming parties to the treaty. It was stated that the argument that declarations made by the NWS are sufficient or that these assurances should only be granted in the context of nuclear weapon-free zones are not valid. Neither is the argument that such an initiative would not fall within the mandate of the PrepCom. South Africa's proposal was accepted by the Chairman.23

However, at the second PrepCom, South Africa was not successful. Its request for special time to be devoted to nuclear disarmament at the 1999 Prepcom was rejected by the Chairman. South Africa had argued that such a step would provide the NWS with the structured opportunity to state what they are doing; the NNWS could then engage the NWS as to "the practical steps and systematic and progressive efforts" which have been identified; the international community could then jointly support or assist initiatives undertaken or agreements achieved. Such a discussion in 1999 would prepare the way for the establishment at the 2000 Review of a subsidiary body to Main Committee I, which traditionally includes Article VI among many other issues such as nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear weapon-free zones and security assurances. The subsidiary body on nuclear disarmament would then be ingrained into future Reviews and Prepcoms, thus putting a clear spotlight on NWS actions, or lack thereof, in implementing Article VI.

But apparently this spotlight was precisely what the Western NWS (with Russia) objected to. In the Chairman's consultations, the South African proposal was repeatedly rejected by the US, the UK, France and Russia. The NWS argued that the traditional Main Committees, which allow for working groups are sufficient for these discussions. This showed the reluctance of the NWS for a debate on the comprehensive programme to eliminate nuclear weapons.24

Implications for India

Since the dismantling of the apartheid regime, India's relations with South Africa have strengthened. This is obvious with the signing of the Strategic Partnership Accord between the two countries in March 1997. South Africa's nuclear policy in the post-apartheid era has emerged as a constant irritant in the relations between the two countries. India had hoped that the inauguration of President Mandela's government in South Africa would give a fillip to its effort towards achieving comprehensive nuclear disarmament. The ANC in the past had been quite vocal in its support to nuclear disarmament. It "shared the commitment of the United Nations to general and complete disarmament under effective international control as resolved by the General Assembly at the special session on disarmament in 1978."25 In the recent years, however, there has been a dilution in the stance of South Africa and it has apparently supported the Western approach towards nuclear arms control . This was quite visible during the negotiations of the NPT and the CTBT. While the decision of the previous government to accede to the NPT may have been motivated by the desire not to bequeath a nuclear capability to a government dominated by the ANC, there are few doubts on the decision in Pretoria . India and the other members of the G-21 have in the past called for the establishment in the Conference on Disarmament, of an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament to start negotiations on a phased programme with the eventual aim of eliminating nuclear weapons within a time-bound framework.26 South Africa, while appreciating India's position does not agree with its time-bound programme of nuclear disarmament. It appears to favour a step-by-step approach (incremental) without a firm time-frame being defined.

South Africa's position on nuclear non-proliferation is linked to the foreign policy focus of the country. The Mandela government has stressed the economic basis of its foreign relations. The European Community (EC) and the United States are its largest trading partners, therefore, South Africa would not benefit from alienating them. To quote Alfred Nzo, South African Minister of Foreign Affairs, "Although we believe our future will be closely linked to the development of the South-South concept, there are certain realities that we dare not ignore. The US and the G-7 countries constitute the undeniable economic power base of the world today. These countries are essential to the economic well-being of the developing world, including South and Southern Africa. Furthermore, the G-7 countries have been most supportive of the GNU and have been generous in their commitment to our economic process. For this we are grateful, and we will continue to build on this sound foundation in the future."27 These thoughts were echoed by President Mandela at last year's ANC conference where he said, "We will need the fullest cooperation of the developed countries of the North to achieve our objectives of an African renaissance."28 The South African position in the field of nuclear disarmament could be also be explained through their desire to avoid being isolated in the world community. After years of being dubbed a pariah, from the South Africans' perspective, it had very little to lose and a lot to gain in terms of "diplomatic dividends" from the negotiations on nuclear disarmament. At the same time, South Africa did not want to alienate its neighbours in the region. After facing years of destabilisation, the establishment of the ANC government had brought forth an era of peace and stability in Southern Africa, and the continuance of the nuclear weapons programme and not signing the NPT and CTBT could have given the wrong signals.

In the backdrop of the Indian nuclear tests, South Africa has enhanced the efforts towards global nuclear disarmament. It appears to have been quite disenchanted by the NPT review process and the slow progress towards disarmament, mainly due to the rejection of its proposal for devoting special time at the second PrepCom. In fact, in what seems to be a clear endorsement of the traditional Indian stand, South Africa joined the NAM countries just ten days after India conducted its nuclear tests in condemning the NWS for maintaining their atomic arsenals without any participation in the post-Cold War era. They called for a universal and legally binding multilateral agreement for total elimination of such weapons.29 It is difficult to ascertain whether there is truly a shift in its position: some have accused South Africa of "posturing" in its attempt to win over the non-aligned countries for their support in its bid for a position at the United Nations Security Council. Whatever be the case, it is hoped that perhaps India can influence the Mandela government to reconsider its position on this thorny issue and work together for a more peaceful and nuclear-free world.

 

NOTES

1. See K. Grundy, The Militarisation of South African Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988).

2. Robert S. Jaster, South Africa's Narrowing Security Options, Adelphi Papers, 159 (London: IISS, Spring, 1980), pp. 4-6.

3. Ibid., p. 28.

4. David Albright and Mark Hibbs, "South Africa: The ANC and the Atom Bomb," The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, April 1993, p. 36.

5. This section is based mainly on Waldo Stumpf, Birth and Death of the South African Nuclear Weapons Programme, a paper given at the conference "50 Years After Hiroshima" organised by USPID and held in Castigioncello, Italy, September 28 to October 2, 1995.

6. South Africa would in no way be limited in promotion of the peaceful application of nuclear energy; it would not run the risk of details of the new process leaking out as a result of the safeguards inspection system; and the system would have to be implemented on such a basis as to avoid interference with the normal efficient operation of the particular industries. (One of the main reasons for continuing this research was the possibility of selling enriched uranium in the international market under appropriate safeguards.)

7. See n. 5 for details on South Africa's nuclear weapons programme.

8. Somchem is one of the South African defence manufacturing units, involved in the development and manufacture of explosives, propellents and rocket launchers. Until the early 1990s, Somchem was an Armscor facility, it is now a division of Denel.

9. Darryl Howlett and John Simpson, "Nuclearisation and Denuclearisation in South Africa," Survival, vol. 35, no. 3, Autumn 1993, p. 158.

10. See Seymour M. Hersh, The Samson Option (New York: Random House, 1991) pp. 271-283.

11. Aviation Week and Space Technology, July 21, 1997.

12. On this issue, see J.W. de Villiers, Roger Jardine, Mitchell Reiss, "Why South Africa Gave up the Bomb" Foreign Affairs, vol. 72, no. 5, November/December 1993.

13. See Albright and Hibbs, n. 4.

14. See Zondi Masiza and Chris Landsberg, "Fissions for Compliments: South Africa and the 1995 Extension of Nuclear Non-Proliferation" Policy: Issues and Actors, vol. 9, no. 3, September 1996, p. 23.

15. See Denis Goldberg, A Nuclear Policy for a New Democratic South Africa, unpublished paper presented at the ANC Nuclear Policy Conference, February 11-13, 1994.

16. Tom Zamora Collina, "South Africa Bridges the Gap," Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, vol. 51, no. 4, July/August 1995, pp. 30-31.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid.

19. Alfred Nzo's address to the NPT conference in New York, April 19, 1995.

20. See statement by K.J. Jele, at the General Assembly on September 9, 1996, GA/9081.

21. See statement made by Ambassador J.E. Selebi, South Africa's permanent representative at the CD on January 25, 1996, CD/PV.722.

22. See Masiza and Landsberg, n. 14, p. 37.

23. Peter Goosen, "Security Assurances: A South African Perspective and Approach," UNIDIR Newsletter, no. 37, 1998.

24. Douglas Roche, "An Analysis of the Second Preparatory Committee Meeting for the 2000 Review of the Non-Proliferation Treaty" April 27-May 8, 1998 Geneva.

25. See ANC, Foreign Policy Perspective in a Democratic South Africa, December 1994.

26. Sally Morphet, "The Non-Aligned and their 11th Summit at Cartagena, October 1995," The Round Table, no. 340, October 1996, pp. 455-463.

27. See speech by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alfred Nzo, in the National Assembly on May 18, 1995, in Chris Landsberg, Garth le Pere and Anthoni van Nieuwkerk, Mission Imperfect: Redirecting South Africa's Foreign Policy (Johannesburg: Foundation for Global Dialogue and Centre for Policy Studies, 1995) p. 115.

28. See "Mandela Outlines ANC Foreign Policy to Conference," SAPA News Agency, Johannesberg, December 16, 1997 in BBC's Summary of World Broad- casts (SWB) Part 5, Africa, Latin America & the Caribean, p. A/4.

29. SWB, AL/3234, May 23, 1998, p.L/1.