South Africa Flag for South Africa

Country Spotlight

From the 1940s-1990s, South Africa’s apartheid government engaged in research and development of weapons of mass destruction. In 1989, however, its decision to end the nuclear program made South Africa the only country to achieve a nuclear weapon capability and voluntarily relinquish it. In 1993, it also ended its biological, chemical, and ballistic missile programs.

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Region   Sub-Saharan Africa

1982 Armscor builds South Africa’s first operational nuclear weapon

6 Total number of nuclear weapons built by South Africa

1993 Official end of all WMD programs


  • Built six gun-type nuclear weapons during the 1980s
  • Dismantled nuclear weapons program in 1991 and joined the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state
  • Champion of nonproliferation and disarmament in the post-apartheid era, led efforts to establish the Treaty of Pelindaba and the African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE)

South Africa Nuclear Overview


  • Developed biological weapons during 1980s under Project Coast, which was dismantled in 1993
  • Utilized anthrax and botulinum toxin to target perceived enemies of the apartheid regime
  • Party to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) since 1975

South Africa Biological Overview


  • 1989 test launch revealed South Africa's ballistic missile program, developed with help from Israel
  • Ended missile and space launch programs in 1993 in response to sanctions and international scrutiny
  • Member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC)

South Africa Missile Overview


  • Developed chemical agents, including mustard gas, sarin gas, and BZ, under Project Coast (dismantled in 1993)
  • Believed to have used chemical agents against perceived enemies of the state
  • Member of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) since 1995

South Africa Chemical Overview

Treaties and Regimes Memberships

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The NPT is a treaty aimed at limiting the spread of nuclear weapons through the three pillars of non-proliferation, disarmament, and peaceful use of nuclear energy.

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Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) bans the use, possession, testing, and transfer of nuclear weapons under international law.

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Pelindaba Treaty

The African Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone (ANWFZ) Treaty of Pelindaba established the African continent as a Nuclear-Weapons-Free-Zone.

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Biological Weapons Convention (BWC)

The BTWC mandates the elimination of existing biological weapons and prohibits developing, stockpiling, or using biological and toxin weapons.

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