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Nuclear Disarmament South Africa

NPT Non-nuclear Weapon State
Formerly Possessed Nuclear Weapons


Arsenal Size

  • South Africa manufactured 6 air-deliverable nuclear weapons of the "gun-type" design. [1]
  • The government halted its nuclear weapons program in 1989 and dismantled existing weapons and production equipment. [2]

Weapons System

  • The weapons produced were non-strategic gun–type weapons. [3]
  • Each of the six nuclear devices contained 55 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU). [4] South Africa possessed enough HEU for a seventh weapon, but this weapon was never completed. [5]
  • The nuclear devices could have been delivered by a modified Buccaneer bomber. [6] A multi-stage booster rocket (RSA 3) may have been a prototype for an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM). [7]
  • The space-launch vehicle (SLV) program was abandoned in 1993. [8]

Destructive Power

  • Each device had an estimated yield of 10-18 kt. [9]

Warheads Dismantled


Medical isotope molybdenum-99
(Mo-99) produced with low
enriched uranium (LEU),
nnsa.energy.gov

  • On February 26, 1990, President Frederik Willem de Klerk ordered the destruction of the six completed nuclear weapons and the seventh partially completed device. [10]
  • President de Klerk announced to South Africa’s Parliament on March 24, 1993 the existence and abandonment of the former nuclear weapons program. [11]
  • IAEA inspections between April and August 1993 confirmed the complete dismantlement of the nuclear weapons program. [12]
  • As of 2015 South Africa still possessed approximately 185 lbs. of HEU in a central facility under IAEA safeguards. [13]

Nuclear Weapons Policies


RSA-3 (Shavit) LEO rocket,
South African Air Force Museum,
Swartkop NJR ZA,
commons.wikimedia.org

  • The apartheid government developed a three-stage deterrence strategy in 1978, fearing a direct invasion or an invasion of South African-controlled Namibia by Soviet-backed forces. [14]
  • The departure of Cuban forces from Angola, Namibia's independence, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union enabled South Africa to abandon its nuclear weapons program in 1989. [15] Isolated from the global economy, the government also recognized that South Africa would benefit more from giving up its nuclear weapons program than maintaining it. [16]
  • Following the dismantlement of South Africa's nuclear weapons, the domestic 1993 Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction Act committed South Africa to abstain from developing nuclear weapons. [17]

Disarmament and Treaty Commitments

  • July 10, 1991: Deposited accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapon state party. [18]
  • April 11, 1996: Joined with other African nations to sign the Treaty of Pelindaba to create a Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone on the African continent. [19]
  • September 24, 1996: Signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) (ratified in 1999). [20]
  • Member of the New Agenda Coalition in support of a nuclear weapons free world. [21]
  • As one of the most vocal state advocates of nuclear disarmament, South Africa supports proposals to create a new legally binding framework containings clear benchmarks and timelines to achieve and maintain a world free of nuclear weapons. [22]
  • South Africa supports the Austria-led Humanitarian Initiative, which calls for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons as an assurance that they will not be used "under any circumstances.” [23] The alternative Australia-led Initiative does not use such language. [24]
  • Endorses the Humanitarian Pledge that was originally presented by the Austrian government at the third international conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Vienna in December 2014. The Humanitarian Pledge aims to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. [25]
  • A high-ranking governmental official unofficially mentioned that South Africa is considering the possibility of hosting the Fourth Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons following up on the Vienna Conference. [26]

Sources:
[1] Roy E. Horton, III, "Out of (South) Africa: Pretoria's Nuclear Weapons Experience," INSS Occassional Paper 27, Counterproliferation Series, August 1999, www.usafa.edu.
[2] J.W de Villiers, Roger Jardine, Mitchell Reiss, "Why South Africa Gave Up the Bomb," Foreign Affairs, November/December 1993, www.lexisnexis.com.
[3] International Atomic Energy Agency, "The Denuclearization of Africa (GC(XXXVII)/RES/577)," Report by the Director General, 9 September 1993, www.iaea.org.
[4] David Albright, "South Africa's Secret Nuclear Weapons," Institute for Science and International Security, 1 May 1994, www.isis-online.org.
[5] International Atomic Energy Agency, "The Denuclearization of Africa (GC(XXXVII)/RES/577)," Report by the Director General, 9 September 1993, www.iaea.org.
[6] David Albright, "South Africa's Secret Nuclear Weapons," Institute for Science and International Security, 1 May 1994, www.isis-online.org.
[7] Department for Disarmament Affairs, Report of the Secretary General, "South Africa's Nuclear-Tipped Ballistic Missile Capability," United Nations, September 1991, www.un.org; "RSA-3" Encyclopedia Astronautica, www.astronautix.com.
[8] Joseph Cirincione, Jon B. Wolfsthal, Miriam Rajkumar, "South Africa," in Deadly Arsenals (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005), pp. 407-418.
[9] David Albright, "South Africa's Secret Nuclear Weapons," Institute for Science and International Security, 1 May 1994, www.isis-online.org.
[10] Adolf von Baeckmann, Garry Dillon, Demetrius Perricos, "Nuclear Verification in South Africa," IAEA Bulletin, 1995, pp. 42-48, www.iaea.org.
[11] Adolf von Baeckmann, Garry Dillon, Demetrius Perricos, "Nuclear Verification in South Africa," IAEA Bulletin, 1995, pp. 42-48, www.iaea.org.
[12] Adolf von Baeckmann, Garry Dillon, Demetrius Perricos, "Nuclear Verification in South Africa," IAEA Bulletin, 1995, pp. 42-48, www.iaea.org.
[13] Douglas Birch and R. Jeffrey Smith, "South Africa Rebuffs Repeated U.S. Demands That It Relinquish Its Nuclear Explosives," The Center for Public Integrity, March 14, 2015, www.publicintegrity.org.
[14] Roy E. Horton, III, "Out of (South) Africa: Pretoria's Nuclear Weapons Experience," INSS Occassional Paper 27, Counterproliferation Series, August 1999, www.usafa.edu.
[15] "South Africa: Past Nuclear Policies," Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, November 2006, archives.sipri.org.
[16] J.W de Villiers, Roger Jardine, Mitchell Reiss, "Why South Africa Gave Up the Bomb," Foreign Affairs, November/December 1993, www.lexisnexis.com.
[17] "South Africa: Past Nuclear Policies," Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, November 2006, archives.sipri.org.
[18] Status of the Treaty: Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, disarmament.un.org.
[19] Joseph Cirincione, Jon B. Wolfsthal, Miriam Rajkumar, "South Africa," in Deadly Arsenals (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005), pp. 407-418.
[20] Status of Signature and Ratification, CTBTO: Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, www.ctbto.org.
[21] South African Department of Foreign Affairs, "Communique on Foreign-Ministerial-Level Meeting of the New Agenda Coalition in New York," 23 September 1999, www.info.gov.za.
[22] Statement at the 2015 NPT Review Conference General Debate by Ms. Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko, Deputy Director-General, Multilateral Branch, Department of International Relations and Cooperation, April 29, 2015, www.reachingcriticalwill.org.
[23] "Joint Statement on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons," Statement by the Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs of Austria, Reaching Critical Will, April 28, 2015, www.reachingcriticalwill.org.
[24] "Statement on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons," Statement by the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations, Reaching Critical Will, April 30, 2015, www.reachingcriticalwill.org.
[25] Humanitarian Pledge on the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) website, www.icanw.org/pledge.
[26] "South Africa Considers Follow-Up to the Vienna Conference," ICAN Website, May 20, 2014, www.icanw.org.

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This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.

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South Africa

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